Katherine Tai, the top US trade envoy, © Getty Images, FT May 8 2021. “The story behind Biden's decision to back a suspension of Covid patents”, FT, K. Stacey & A. Williams, May 8
K. Tai (US trade envoy) and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, presented her conclusion to Biden in a meeting in the Oval Office arguing that to waive the intellectual property on US vaccine
“was a low-risk way to secure a diplomatic victory for the Biden administration, which had come under fire for not exporting more vaccines and failing to respond quickly enough to the unfolding Covid crisis in India. Litigation was a distant threat given how long WTO negotiations would take and might not happen at all if others including the UK and EU continued to oppose the move.”
This article reveals clearly that Biden (and his team) have a Machiavelli mind, how to show to the world that you care and share something you don’t own and you know perfectly well that it will not work (endless negotiating procedures with WTO members. Lack of knowledge, lake of the proper inputs, lack of training for the local laboratories who will not be able to produce anything of the standard required).
This is a good demonstration of socialism at its best, use moralistic arguments to give the impression that you care for the poor, giving what you don’t own, and knowing that it will not work, you will always be able to say this is ugly capitalists’ fault.
Nevertheless, the President Biden’s advisors miss an economic argument. The long-term economic counterfactual argument might be: how will the best laboratories in the world continue to spend years and research looking for innovative medicines, and provide innovative vaccines at historic speed, if they know that any government might, to win “a diplomatic victory”, be in a position to say that patents are useless given the exceptional circumstances? This is to forget that this US initiative undermines one of the bases of a capitalist system, intellectual property which is one of the drivers of innovation. Incentives, in a free market economy, are important and property rights are among them.