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Op-ed Placement

The US Cannot Afford To Give Intellectual Property Rights to China

Originally Published in The Hill on 6/3/22.

Americans are tired of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) getting a free pass in world affairs. And why shouldn’t they be? In the past two years, the CCP has been a menace on the world stage. They have dodged any semblance of responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic by denying requests by the international community to discern the true origin of the virus. They have shown to be a growing threat to America’s allies in the Pacific, both politically and militarily. They have also openly denied the ongoing, state-sponsored genocide of minority populations throughout China, despite the recently leaked Xinjiang Police Files which reveal these horrific human rights abuses.

So, why should we be gifting China and other countries the intellectual property (IP) rights to American-developed COVID-19 vaccines? India and South Africa — with the support of the CCP and the Biden administration — have proposed to do just that by waiving certain provisions of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

While the Biden administration is proposing a compromise, in which it claims that China would be excluded from the patent waiver, there is still nothing preventing China from obtaining the IP from other countries that are included in the waiver.

Regardless of your opinion on whether or not to take a COVID-19 vaccine, anyone who values the concept of property rights should oppose this WTO proposal. Waiving the TRIPS agreement would set a terrible precedent.

Property rights are a cornerstone of free societies in which one has the right to the fruits of their labor. This is a safeguard against theft and state intrusion, because IP rights provide for recourse through the rule of law. IP rights and protections, therefore, are critical to economic development and serve as a hallmark of American ingenuity and progress.

Waiving IP rights under TRIPS would have a chilling effect on the domestic development of life saving treatments and drugs in the future. If an American company loses its guarantee to secure a return from its own investment, where is the incentive to innovate and create new products in the future?

If the Biden administration goes through with this proposal, it will seriously harm the American economy and American workers. IP rights are necessary for American businesses to operate successfully, and IP reliant industries accounted for upwards of 40 percent of 2019 U.S. GDP, while employing about a third of the U.S. workforce. What happens when Chinese firms flood the market and undercut U.S. companies? American companies, and American workers, suffer.

We’ve seen this before when it comes to products like solar panels, which rely on rare earth minerals. China deliberately crashed the market for rare earth minerals to ensure market dominance. Why should we risk the same thing happening when it comes to American health care innovations?

Beside setting a terrible precedent for the development of future treatment and drugs, waiving TRIPS Agreement protections would make it easy for geopolitical foes like China to access sensitive information belonging to American companies. The CCP is well known for its history of IP theft, whether it be for military technology or commercial products, so why should the Biden administration pave the way for them by granting them access to the United States’ No. 1 asset, our intellectual property?

Proponents of disseminating vaccine-related IP state that they are doing so in order to bolster stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. This is not necessary, seeing as companies around the world have already built-up extensive stockpiles of vaccines. At the same time, demand for vaccines has slowed. This is not late 2020 anymore; there is no need for a massive recalibration of industry to produce additional COVID-19 vaccines.

Property rights are key to a healthy and free society, as well as economic progress. Intellectual property rights are no different. Waiving IP and giving additional production capabilities to bad actors like the CCP does not help end the pandemic. Instead, it only serves to weaken the United States economically and politically. We cannot set this precedent, and the Biden administration must cease its support for this disastrous WTO proposal.

Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks.