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WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks at the WTO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 12, 2021.

DENIS BALIBOUSE/Reuters

A United States’ proposal to discuss waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines will intensify talks on the issue within the World Trade Organization, the WTO director-general said on Friday.

Speaking at an online conference, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said there were arguments for and against a waiver, but she was “sure (the proposal) will give impetus” to negotiations.

Aside from the patent issue, the WTO chief said there were other aspects that needed to be addressed to improve vaccine supplies, such as reducing export restrictions so that supply chains can work efficiently.

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At the event organized by the European University Institute in Florence, Okonjo-Iweala said it was also necessary to increase production capacity in emerging countries, noting that Africa currently imports almost all its vaccines.

She said she hoped WTO members would “come together” to address all these issues to help increase vaccine volumes.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies. Reuters

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