(Adds quotes from hearing, details on talks)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative
Katherine Tai said on Wednesday she is pushing for a waiver of
COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights because the United
States and drug makers have "an obligation to help save the
world right now."
Tai, speaking at a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing,
said that she views the World Trade Organization talks as a way
to remove the intellectual property issue as an obstacle to
vaccine production. She backed the WTO negotiations last week.
She praised the work of U.S. companies in quickly developing
and producing safe and effective vaccines, adding that on
intellectual property, "The message that I want to give to them
is, 'You can be a hero here.'"
Several Republican senators criticized Tai for "giving away"
U.S. innovations to foreign competitors by supporting the WTO
Tai said she views the talks to be less about preventing
other countries from "stealing" U.S. technology and more about
finding a way to have a positive impact on people's lives by
ending the coronavirus pandemic.
"What we are trying to accomplish is the saving of lives,"
she said, adding that ending the pandemic is a necessary first
step in any trade policy going forward.
"Unless we are able to bring the rest of world's economies
back online, there's not going to be a lot of upside for us in
what we're going to be doing" on trade, Tai said.
Asked by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren whether USTR
would support a broader WTO intellectual property waiver on
COVID-19 treatments, therapeutics, protective equipment and
other medical products, Tai said she is currently only focused
on increasing vaccine access and equity.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Daniel Burns
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)