What will happen? Private life patents and American Supremacy or the right to life of peoples?

By Riccardo Petrella*

Will the US emperor consent to the suspension of vaccines patents or will the principle of private property and the defence of American supremacy prevail?

Is there any hope?

One wonders: what influence will the recent decision by Canada, Israel and the Brazilian Senate (the latter even against Bolsonaro’s will) to approve the use of “compulsory licencing”, i.e. the exceptional power of the State, according to Article 31 of the WTO Trips treaties, to allow the local production of the vaccines against Covids-19 without the authorisation of the patent holders, have on the discussions on 5 and 6 May at the level of the WTO General Council?  Specifically,  will it incite US President Biden to take a stand in favour of suspending the patents? And how will the dramatic escalation of the pandemic in India weigh in? Will the ‘arithmetical’ fact that the Indian death toll remains (according to an unbearable view) ‘insignificant'(!?) out of a population of 1.4 billion people, lead the economic and financial powers of the most powerful state in the world to maintain their arrogant opposition to the provisional suspension?

Strong doubts

It is highly foreseeable that Biden will try to adopt a position that will above all avoid changing the ‘sacrosanct’ (!?) principle of private property rights over living beings without undermining the world supremacy of the US pharmaceutical industry and antagonising the entire world of American (and European) business and finance (2).

To this end, it will be able to play a strategy on two fronts. The first front  is to considerably increase the financial resources of the COVAX instrument in order to speed up and expand the number of doses transferred to the 92 low-income countries (of course, with public money from the rich countries and the “help” of a few large “philanthropic” foundations in the manner of the Gates Foundation).

The second front is to speed up and make more efficient the logistics of local production and distribution/marketing of vaccines through greater industrial cooperation between multinational companies and their subsidiaries and subcontractors, as well as between  sea, air and road transport companies. To this end, a crucial role will be played by I  strengthening the digitalisation of health systems and local public structures (vaccination centres, mobilisation of public institutions and civil society associations involved in “development aid” and the fight against poverty, etc.). Massive investment in logistics and digitalisation, even in poor countries, would certainly be of interest to the financial markets of developed countries and would perpetuate the technological and economic dominance of the countries of the “North” while at the same time favouring the enrichment of the local oligarchies of the “South”.

These two fields of action would show that the US president had taken up “the cry of the world’s desperate people”, that he had resumed world leadership in the fight for development, people’s well-being and aid against poverty on an equitable basis, and that he had also safeguarded the principle, dear to the dominant rich countries, of affordable access to the “economic” goods essential to life.

A strategic choice that will be touted as being inspired by ‘humanitarian’ and ‘solidarity’ aims (the Christian and Catholic world as well as the progressive secular world will, for the most part, be easily attracted to it) and welcomed by the supporters of ‘good’ capitalism, corporate social responsibility and public intervention in support of the social market economy.  In doing so, The US president  would remain consistent with what was stated in a public document from the US government on 31 March 2021: “The Biden Administration is also committed to advancing global health security to save lives, promote economic recovery, and develop resilience against future global pandemics or crises. It looks forward to working with trading partners to collaborate on initiatives to address the global health and humanitarian response”. (3) Biden would not create any further divisions within American society. He would also have the full support of the EU, which has always fiercely opposed the temporary suspension of patents.

This choice would not change anything at the systemic level, leaving intact the structural factors and processes that are at the origin of the current major environmental, social, human and economic crises.

Last hope? I hope with pleasure that I am wrong.

(1 In the past, Brazil and Thailand have adopted compulsory licensing in six cases.  The same applies to some low-income countries.

(2) Among the top 15 pharmaceutical companies in the world, 8 are US, 2 CH, 2 UK, 2 EU, 1 J. www-fiercepharma-com.translate.goog/special-report/top-20-pharma-companies-by-2019-revenue

(3) See Online PDF 2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report.pdf, p.15


* Riccardo Petrella (La Spezia, Italy, August 5, 1941) – Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth. Founder of the International Committee for the World Water Contract, Prof. Emeritus of Globalisation at the Catholic University of Louvain and member of The WPF’s Scientific Committee, Italy. Article sent to Other News by the author.