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U.S. backs delaying WTO decision on COVID therapies, tests

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(Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday urged delaying a deadline for a World Trade Organization decision relating to the production of COVID-19 treatments and tests, the U.S. trade representative’s office said.

“Real questions remain on a range of issues, and the additional time, coupled with information from the USITC, will help the world make a more informed decision on whether extending the Ministerial Decision to COVID-19 therapeutics and diagnostics would result in increased access to those products,” U.S. Ambassador Katharine Tai said in a statement, referring to the United States International Trade Commission.

An agreement had been reached over the summer on a partial waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines as well as certain rights for tests and drugs.

A six-month time frame had been set to agree to extend the partial IP waiver, Reuters previously reported, citing a document shared with other WTO members.

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The USITC study would focus on “key components, the production process, intellectual property protections, and a description of the supply chain” as well as information on global manufacturing and production data, and information on the global market for COVID-19 products, among other areas, the USTR’s office said.

Tai’s office said it had looked at arguments from both supporters and opponents of extending the WTO decision and that “in both cases, the views concern both the system as a whole – whether existing WTO intellectual property protections are an impediment to access to medicines or a critical element of innovation.”

Both sides also presented views on “the specific characteristics of the markets for COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics,” it said in the statement.

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(Washington newsroom; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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