Countries around the world have been urged to adjust their tariff regimes for bio-manufactured products such as vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bio-pharmaceutical products are essential to healthcare delivery in both high and low-income countries and are used for a wide range of scenarios, from preventing infectious disease to treating conditions such as arthritis, cancer and diabetes.
However, the strain caused by COVID-19 has revealed the limits of the current global manufacturing and trade environment, which is struggling to keep up with demand.
Writing for the World Economic Forum, Thaddeus Burns, head of life science, government and public affairs at Merck, and Jennifer Brant, CEO and founder of Innovation Insights, said governments need to invest more in manufacturing and research and development (R&D) facilities for these products to boost capacity.
However, this can only happen if nations have coherent policies in related areas such as trade. At present, many countries impose customs duties on the import of these items, which hampers such efforts.
"Tariff reduction provides a clear opportunity to improve access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics globally," wrote Mr Burns and Ms Brant.
"Actors in the business of developing, producing and moving health products around the world see firsthand how tariffs can interrupt the efficient operation of supply chains, from R&D to the manufacturing and distribution of final products."
To address this, the pair highlighted a new proposal on Health and Trade that has been submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO). This offers recommendations for a potential route towards new action that will reduce and remove global tariffs on health products, as well as their raw materials and inputs.
"WTO members should seize this opportunity. To provide predictability and legal certainty, they must aim for more than temporary tariff reductions as part of the COVID-19 response," Mr Burns and Ms Brant said.
This is not something that can be undertaken by any one country, and multilateral action will be essential in ensuring health products and related materials are able to move freely along global supply chains at the lowest possible cost to both manufacturers and patients.