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Countries pushing vaccine IP waivers ‘want to take advantage of the technology’: Fmr. U.S. Commerce Secretary

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Former U.S. Commerce Secretary and Former Washington Governor Gary Locke joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss travel warnings to Germany and Denmark as COVID-19 cases are rising, the push get more vaccinated in developing countries, and the impact of Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. Well, there are new warnings out from the CDC and State Department against travel to Europe this morning. Both agencies are calling on Americans to avoid traveling to Germany and Denmark amid a wave of new COVID infections over in Europe.

Let's bring in Gary Locke, he's a former US Commerce Secretary, also the former governor of Washington. We've also got Yahoo Finance's Alexis Keenan joining in on the conversation. Secretary, always good to have you on the show. Just give me a sense of how you're viewing the situation over in Europe right now. I know you've really been focused on vaccine distribution but this has certainly got to be troubling seeing these cases tick up right at the beginning of the winter months.

GARY LOCKE: Well, obviously, no country and no group of people can relax their guard with respect to the pandemic. And yes, we have boosters and vaccines available in the advanced industrial countries like Germany and the United States, but that doesn't-- that's not an excuse to you know, not wear a mask, avoid being in contact with folks, and just really exercising greater vigilance.

ALEXIS KEENAN: Mr. Secretary, this is Alexis Keenan here. I want to turn and talk about a recent white paper that you published along with two former US Patent and Trademark directors. And in it, you're arguing that there is a push for this group of nations to strip vaccine manufacturers of their patents that are protecting their intellectual property for their COVID-19 vaccines. You say in this paper that if achieved, it would dismantle these internationally recognized legal standards and protections that are really foundational to our economic model and arguably, I suppose the economic model of some other nations and globally. So can you just introduce us to that idea and why you are advocating for not having a waiver that is actually getting some support from the Biden administration in the past?

GARY LOCKE: Well, we very much support what the Biden administration is doing in terms of committing and pledging more than a billion doses of the vaccine. Quite frankly, the world needs about 11 billion doses, and the other wealthy advanced industrialized countries of the world need to step up and commit equally to donations of vaccine supplies to the underdeveloped countries because that's where the pandemic is completely out of control. And we can, and we must do more to supply vaccines to these countries. And not just vaccines, but also the infrastructure, the refrigeration, the people who can go out into the countryside and administer the shots into people's arms.

But this petition to waive and get rid of intellectual property rights, the trade secrets, the patents, the secret sauce behind the technology of the vaccines themselves is being pushed by South Africa and India. But they actually asked for this waiver even before the vaccines were developed. And what they really want to do, and what other countries want is to be able to take advantage of the technology, not so much to produce these vaccines against COVID but to use the technology, the hard-earned research of companies over many, many years, and use that as a leg up to start focusing on other medicines and cures and vaccines for many other types of diseases or illnesses. And so if you take away the protection, I mean, if an inventor spends a lifetime working on research, putting hearts, earned dollars, and blood, sweat, and tears into coming up with something, and then it's given away to a competitor, what incentive do our researchers, our institutions, our colleges and universities, our companies have to invest time and energy into developing life-saving technologies if someone else is going to just take away and basically steal their hard-earned efforts?

ALEXIS KEENAN: And can you touch briefly upon the timing of this decision, when should we expect a decision to be made? We know that WHO push is being made and there is I believe a November 30th to December 3rd deadline, is that right?

GARY LOCKE: Well, there are meetings planned at the WTO in Europe the latter part of this month and they'll be bringing up this issue and considering it. And again, we think that the focus of all these countries should be on maximizing production. Many of our companies you know, whether it's the Pfizer, the Moderna, they've actually given out licenses for free to many of their own competitors. So that those competitors but trust it, who will not use the technology for their own purposes but working with their competitors and even generic companies, generic drug manufacturing companies in India and in South Africa to increase the supply of the vaccine for distribution around the world. So the problem is not the inability to produce the vaccine or not-- the problem is not having inefficient-- excuse me, insufficient companies producing the vaccine, it's the fact that we need to donate more, we need to use the existing capacities 24/7, expand those production lines and then make sure that they can actually be delivered into the arms of people all around the world.

ZACK GUZMAN: Mr. Locke, as we introduced you, former US Commerce Secretary, also former ambassador to China. And an interesting report out from Goldman Sachs kind of looking at potential to see reversals on the US-China tariffs trade front. Of course, you know, relations there have been tricky. President Trump worked hard to kind of fix some of the issues there, didn't go so well. But when you look at kind of what could happen there moving forward under President Biden and the efforts there to strengthen US-China relations, how realistic is it that we could see kind of some of those tariffs unwound moving forward?

GARY LOCKE: Well, certainly, the Trump tariffs have put a huge dent in the pocketbooks of American consumers and American families. The New York Fed and "The Wall Street Journal" during the Trump administration estimated that the impact of those Trump tariffs on all, virtually all Chinese goods coming into America, was costing the average American household anywhere from $600 to $800 more per year. So when you buy things from Target or Walmart or Costco or Home Depot or sporting goods stores, so many of those products are made in China.

And American consumers are now having to pay the extra cost that's imposed when these tariffs were slapped on the goods as they came into the United States. Now, clearly, removing some of those tariffs would be of a big benefit to the American consumer, but China needs to make sufficient progress meeting its commitments to follow the international rules. Because the concerns of American companies, American policymakers, and not just Americans but people and companies all around the world with respect to China's unfair trade practices, those are very legitimate and those have to be addressed.