At their meeting on 12 September, the Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the WTO agreed on future directions for trilateral cooperation. At their third meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Directors-General of WHO, WIPO and the WTO agreed to shift the focus of trilateral cooperation from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic to increasing and broadening support for more effective and sustainable use of flexibilities in the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to increase access to health technologies and to be better prepared for future pandemics.
While acknowledging the critical role of intellectual property (IP) to incentivize innovation, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WIPO Director-General Daren Tang and WTO Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recognized the challenges faced by members to fully implement at domestic level the wide range of available options to secure timely and equitable access to health technologies. This included the TRIPS COVID-19 Vaccines Decision adopted at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2022 as well as flexibilities generally available under the TRIPS Agreement. They agreed that trilateral cooperation should address these challenges by intensifying activities to provide tailored support and information to members, including through joint technical seminars for delegates handling health, trade and IP issues.
To mirror this broader focus of trilateral cooperation, and to respond to members’ evolving needs, the Directors-General agreed to expand the use of the WHO-WIPO-WTO COVID-19 Technical Assistance Platform beyond COVID-19. They agreed that the platform would be adapted to enable members to seek assistance for any issues at the crossroads of public health, trade and IP. It would also be developed as an active communication and resources tool to disseminate information about relevant technical assistance activities and materials.
Noting the multiple crises caused by climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss and their impact on human health, the Directors-General agreed to make climate change and human health the topic of the next session in the series of high-level trilateral policy symposia. The 10th Trilateral Symposium will be hosted by WHO on 14 November 2023 as a public event in hybrid format open to government representatives and other interested stakeholders. The Directors-General noted that the outcome could usefully feed into the health and climate day that will be organized at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in December 2023.
The Directors-General pledged their continuing commitment to progressing trilateral cooperation as a priority for each organisation and as a widely welcomed foundation for informed and evidence-based policy analysis and support for governments to take the measures necessary to promote public health outcomes.
The WHO, WIPO and the WTO have, since 2009, stepped up their cooperation and practical coordination on issues relating to public health, IP and trade. Most recently, the Directors-General met in June 2021 and February 2022 to assess ongoing collaboration and to chart future cooperation on pandemic response.
The trilateral cooperation is intended to enhance the empirical and factual information basis for policy makers and to support them in addressing public health in relation to IP and trade. It has entailed a series of practical technical assistance activities, at the national, regional and multilateral levels, a series of high-level Policy Symposia intended to track emerging issues and inform future policy, and the second edition of the Trilateral Study Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation (2020), which provides a comprehensive overview of the full array of policy issues with bearing on innovation and access to medical technologies.
The information note on An Integrated Health, Trade and IP Approach to Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic complements the Study and was last updated in May 2023. It provides an overview of the challenges encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the responses and initiatives taken to deal with the pandemic.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.