“Simply put, the Biden Administration’s support for a TRIPS waiver puts America’s interests last and China’s interests first.”
A group of 16 Republican senators sent a letter on Wednesday to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai denouncing the Biden Administration’s “disastrous decision” to support a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property (IP) rights for COVID-19-related inventions and products. The letter explains that the waiver is not limited to vaccines and “will do nothing to end the pandemic,” but will instead “undermine the extraordinary global response that has achieved historically remarkable results in record time and our nation’s global leadership in the technologies, medicines, and treatments of the future.”
The senators blasted President Joe Biden for purporting to be a “jobs” president while forcing American companies to give away their technology to foreign adversaries. “Simply put, the Biden Administration’s support for a TRIPS waiver puts America’s interests last and China’s interests first,” said the letter.
In order to help the senators, as well as the American public, better understand the Biden Administration’s reasoning for supporting the waiver, the letter asks Raimondo and Tai to respond to 10 questions by June 19, 2021. The questions include implications that the decision may have been influenced by conversations with China’s President Xi Jinping, or based on developing nations’ promises to support Biden’s foreign policy priorities, such as climate policies; they ask for information on who the Administration met with from China, India or South Africa for discussions on the TRIPS waiver, and what they discussed; and whether the Administration plans on making any future IP concessions to foreign nations.
The second question asks for information on whether the Administration plans to waive U.S. IP laws in the event a waiver is passed, since the proposed waiver would not mandate, but simply allow, countries to waive IP protections, and what would happen in a number of scenarios if so. What would happen in the case that a Chinese national is found to have stolen trade secrets, for example—“would they not be prosecuted? And, what of the Chinese nationals currently being prosecuted? Would those cases now be dropped?”
The question further presses for information on how such a waiver would be implemented and the impact it would have on private citizens, as well as U.S. obligations at the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Other questions ask Tai and Raimondo to quantify evidence for supporting the waiver, such as how many countries have ever used TRIPS flexibilities since 2001, what evidence was used to conclude that IP was a barrier to vaccine manufacturing, and the future impact of waiver on the U.S. biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, as well as U.S. innovation overall.
The senators wrote: “Biopharmaceutical manufacturing provides good-paying jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers, whose livelihoods will be adversely impacted by this decision. What will you do to support these workers and how do you reconcile this decision with the Administration’s desire to be a ‘jobs’ president?”
The letter also asks whether the Administration plans to waive IP protections for future potential vaccines and treatments for diseases like malaria, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and how such technologies will be affected by the lack of confidence the decision to support waiver has produced.
Finally, the senators ask Tai and Raimondo if the Administration plans to submit the text of any negotiated waiver to Congress for approval and if it “will commit to respecting the role of the legislative branch and refrain from unilaterally overriding or amending the terms of a Congressionally-approved agreement without approval from Congress?”
The letter was signed by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), James Lankford (R-OK), Mike Lee (R-UT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Todd Young (R-IN), Richard Burr (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Steve Daines (R-MT).
Earlier this month, Senators Tillis and Cotton released a statement following Tai’s announcement on supporting waiver that also called the decision “disastrous.” It continued:
We support distributing vaccines to countries that need them, but not in a way that jeopardizes America’s successful vaccine development. It’s astonishing that President Biden is now providing the Chinese Communist Party with access to America’s intellectual property, medical research, and innovation.