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Outside voices: Eyeing an investment and trade deal for COVID-19 vaccines

July 28, 2020

The U.S. should join with other nations to forge an investment and trade deal that would ensure all countries equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine, two analysts said on Tuesday.

Chad Bown, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said during a Peterson webinar that to most effectively cease the spread of the coronavirus pandemic globally, countries involved in vaccine production should agree that the proliferation of a COVID-19 vaccine will not favor one country.

The webinar was held to discuss an article Bown and Bollyky wrote for Foreign Affairs, which was published on Monday. It describes and warns of the dangers of what they call “vaccine nationalism.”

“Vaccine nationalism,” Bown and Bollyky write, “will have profound and far-reaching consequences. Without global coordination, countries may bid against one another, driving up the price of vaccines and related materials. Supplies of proven vaccines will be limited initially even in some rich countries, but the greatest suffering will be in low- and middle-income countries.”

Accordingly, the two call for an agreement that “could be forged and fostered by existing institutions and systems.”

“A framework agreement on vaccine sharing would also be more likely to succeed if it were undertaken through an established international forum and linked to preventing the export bans and seizures that have disrupted COVID-19-related medical supply chains,” they write. “Baby steps toward such an agreement have already been taken by a working group of G-20 trade ministers, but that effort needs to be expanded to include public health officials.”

A COVID-19 vaccine trade and investment agreement “should include an investment fund to purchase vaccines in advance and allocate them, once they have been proved to be safe and effective, on the basis of public health need rather than the size of any individual country’s purse,” the article states. “Governments would pay into the investment fund on a subscription basis, with escalating, nonrefundable payments tied to the number of vaccine doses they secured and other milestones of progress. Participation of the poorest countries should be heavily subsidized or free.”

When asked during the webinar how the agreement might be enforced, Bown said “I don’t think we need to make it overly complicated and get 164 [World Trade Organization] members involved -- that would slow things down. I think we need something that is a first step, and then we’ll see how it goes.”

“The critical thing is ... this needs to happen now,” Bown said. “Once somebody discovers [the vaccine] first, the incentives change entirely and it becomes much more difficult to envision how you’re going to get [an agreement].”

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