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Fighting to protect American innovation

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Innovation, in addition to being a critical pillar of the American economy, is also one of the things that sets America apart. Our innovative capacity has made the world a better place by improving living conditions and health around the world. Intellectual Property (IP) protections are at the heart of these discoveries and inventions, giving researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and other creators ownership of their work. Every day we see American innovation at work in the field of medicine, particularly when it comes to the development of hope-giving treatments and cures.

We all agree the United States has a responsibility to help vaccinate the world, which is why we’ve pledged to donate at least 1.1 billion COVID vaccine doses. Getting vaccines to every corner of the world is a noble and important effort, and we are well on our way to doing so without handing over American IP. In March, the U.S. reached the milestone of donating half a billion COVID vaccines to more than 110 countries around the world.

However, where we differ is in our willingness to go back on our word to innovators about protections of their hard-won work. Democrats in Congress have already shown their willingness to sacrifice new treatments and cures through their socialist drug pricing proposal, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the administration’s recent efforts to waive certain obligations under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for COVID-19 vaccines. If successful, however, the dangerous precedent this creates for the future of American innovation cannot be overstated.

We cannot simply hand over the keys to America’s innovation engine, especially not to countries like China and Russia.

The true barriers to access to vaccines are lack of technical expertise, shortage of raw materials, and supply chain infrastructure — not IP. Giving away American IP is not only dangerously short-sided; it won’t solve the challenges of getting more shots in arms. 

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation — the Protecting American Innovation Act — to affirm Congress’s authority over international trade by requiring the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to consult with Congress when negotiating any suspension or modification of trade agreements, including any COVID-related waivers or suspensions. Among other provisions, the Protecting American Innovation Act would also provide for an up-or-down vote on these negotiations, making any changes subject to congressional approval.

I was also pleased to sign on to a letter led by my colleague and Republican Lead of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), and Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) sharing our serious concerns about any agreement to waive IP protections. 

Sadly, Democrats will not join our efforts to protect American innovation, and the Biden administration continues to ignore our advice. WTO’s TRIPS waiver process continues to move full speed ahead with support from the administration. In fact, text of a waiver, which was negotiated with USTR input, was presented to WTO membership earlier this week ahead of today’s TRIPS Council Meeting — without any consultation from Congress. I was already concerned about the implications of this potential waiver, but after seeing the latest version of the text I’m even more concerned this would empower China by giving them the final say in whether they benefit from American IP.  

Just last week I met with WTO Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and reiterated my concerns about a potential TRIPS waiver and how it endangers the innovation we rely on. It was a productive meeting, and I appreciated the opportunity to engage candidly about my concerns. I’ve also spoken directly with USTR Ambassador Katherine Tai about the importance of protecting American IP.

I’m incredibly disappointed and concerned this process continues to move forward, and I will keep fighting to protect American IP. The United States leads the world in life-changing inventions and discoveries. The work our researchers and scientists do every day makes the world a better place, and I believe the government should foster that — not get in the way as the government has done on far too many occasions.

Adrian Smith represents the 3rd District of Nebraska and is ranking member of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.

Tags american innovation COVID-19 vaccines Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

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