Collaboration, Innovation, and Open Trade Are Indispensable to Combating Coronavirus

Stephen Ezell May 15, 2020
May 15, 2020

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The global community will only be able to overcome the coronavirus pandemic through intense collaboration, turbocharged innovation, and open trade, uninhibited by artificial barriers or restrictions—particularly when comes to medical supplies and research data. 

That’s why ITIF and 16 other members of the Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance (GTIPA), along with two dozen other think tanks, are issuing A Joint Declaration on the Importance of Collaboration, Open Trade, and Innovation in Tackling COVID-19

Coming at the start of the 73rd World Health Assembly at the World Health Organization in Geneva, the declaration calls on governments worldwide to take seven critical measures that can help save lives now while also preparing countries to better deal with future pandemics and other public health challenges. 

Signatories call on governments to:

  1. Abolish tariffs on medical supplies and medicines;
  2. Reject export bans on medical supplies;
  3. Reduce customs red tape;
  4. Enable the free flow of relevant health data across borders;
  5. Maintain transparency in collecting and sharing epidemiological data;
  6. Increase cooperation with other countries to accelerate drug approvals;
  7. Support innovation, including through maintaining robust intellectual property (IP) rights.

The declaration starts by affirming that international trade is vital for widespread access to medicines, medical devices, and protective equipment, as very few countries are self-sufficient in their production. For this reason, governments should eschew placing tariffs on medical goods and further commit themselves to permanently reducing tariffs on medical supplies, devices, medicines, and vaccines via legally binding World Trade Organization commitments, such as the WTO Pharmaceutical Agreement and the Information Technology Agreement. 

Despite the fact that medical supplies are produced and consumed in nations worldwide, by late April 2020 over 80 countries had instituted some kind of export curb on medical supplies related to COVID-19. Such bans mean medical supplies that are critical for combating the virus aren’t getting to patients who need them. Accordingly, the declaration calls on governments to reject using export bans on medical supplies and simplify customs procedures for essential medical supplies, as Brazil has recently done.

The global community will also need to collaborate if new diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines are to be produced and disseminated at scale to combat the virus. As of May 14, 2020, there were an estimated 250 diagnostic tests deployed or under development (65 testing for an active virus; 185 serological tests to detect for antigens) and 750 clinical trials underway worldwide, including 20 novel vaccine candidates and 730 investigational treatments. 

But governments worldwide have critical steps to take if this wave of innovation is to bear fruit. They need to maintain transparency in collecting and sharing epidemiological and clinical trial data and ensuring that data can cross borders, while respecting privacy rights. Nations can cooperate with others to speed coronavirus drug approvals, avoiding duplication and delay, for instance by referring to determinations made by American or European drug regulators. 

Finally, it’s imperative that governments recognize intellectual property does not constitute a barrier to access to medicines but is in fact a vital enabler for the existence of medicines. As such, governments should eschew issuing compulsory licenses on coronavirus therapies and instead commit to cooperating with the private sector in the quest for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. 

The coronavirus represents the world’s most difficult challenge in more than a generation; only by committing to collaboration, fostering innovation, and keeping trade fair and open will the global community be able to successfully address this dangerous pandemic.

The following GTIPA think tanks have signed onto the Declaration:

Austrian Economic Centre, Austria

Bay Area Council Economic Institute, United States

Bertelsmann Foundation, Germany

Centre for Social and Economic Research, Poland

Competere, Italy

Free Market Foundation, South Africa 

Fundación Eléutera, Honduras 

Fundación IDEA, Mexico

Geneva Network, United Kingdom 

IMANI Centre for Policy and Education, Ghana

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, United States 

Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft, Germany

Institute for Policy, Advocacy and Governance (IPAG), Bangladesh

Libertad y Desarrollo, Chile 

Libertad y Progreso, Argentina

Property Rights Alliance, United States

TicTac, Colombia