France reverses position on WTO COVID-19 intellectual property waiver, triggering criticism, protests

In June of 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that intellectual property (IP) rights should "never be an obstacle to accessing vaccines" for the COVID-19 response; however, France continues to support the EU Commission's position blocking the proposed World Trade Organization (WTO) temporary IP waiver, which would facilitate knowledge transfer for the equitable distribution of vaccine manufacturing and medical tools to address the COVID-19 crisis. 

France's failure to support the proposal led by India and South Africa represents a tacit reversal of the country's previous position.

WTO Member states were supposed to discuss the temporary IP waiver at the 12th Ministerial Conference this week, which was postponed due to rising concern over the newly announced variant, Omicron. 

NGOs, including Doctors of the World, Solthis, AIDES, ONE Campaign, Sidaction, Oxfam France, and Global Health Advocates, have sharply criticized France's hypocrisy in labeling global vaccine access as a public good by pointing out France's reluctance to waive IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines. 

French NGOs called on the government to support the initiative led by India and South Africa at the WTO to waive IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines and supplies and recommended that France publically oppose the European Commission's position on maintaining IP rights, suggesting that failure to waive IP rights benefits pharmaceutical companies rather than global health equity.

The reversal of France's original position and the resulting shortages and inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and supplies triggered protests in 10 cities across France on November 30, 2021, organized by the social movement "Brevets sur les vaccins anti-Covid, Stop. Réquisition."

Press release - Global Health Advocates (in French)

News article - Reuters