Remarks delivered by ICC Secretary General at sixth ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council Meeting

  • 12 May 2021

ICC Secretary John W.H. Denton AO delivered these remarks at the sixth ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council Meeting.

The International Chamber of Commerce welcomes the new plans presented by GAVI and CEPI on the creation of a new Supply Chain & Manufacturing Taskforce. The plans are very impressive and I was glad to hear so many of ICC’s suggestions – especially on matchmaking and supply chain transparency – taken up.

We should not lose sight of where we are headed. While it is sometimes hard to fathom, vaccine production is doing much better than many experts predicted this time last year. Airfinity reports we are on track to produce 10.6B doses by the end of 2021. So, if the production plans of existing manufacturers can be executed, we will get close to the 10.8B doses needed to vaccinate 75% of the world.

But there is a big “if” – this will happen only if the supply chains hold up and countries stop hoarding.

So, how do we ensure supply chains hold up?

First, countries must remove existing trade barriers and not impose new ones. Since the complex and fragmented vaccine supply chain has vaccine origination, manufacturing, fill and finish and distribution occurring in different parts of the world, trade barriers anywhere risk derailing production. According to data from the Global Trade Alert, there have been at least 48 trade restrictive measures put in place this year alone in relation to medical goods. These should be removed and instead governments should expedite efforts at the WTO to permanently abolish tariffs on pharmaceutical goods, facilitate submission of trade documents through electronic means (including through implementing Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records), enhance customs cooperation and eliminate domestic preferences for producing essential goods. Additionally, advanced economies should disclose when they will start sharing doses – the world is waiting.

Second, we need massive coordination in investment across the full supply chain. Let’s learn from Operation Warp Speed, which was successful in ramping up supply by setting up purchasing agreements and massively subsidising firms across the entire supply chain. A key lesson there was that the government did not just buy up inputs but actually subsidised all the input suppliers to allow them to add additional product lines – risks they could not otherwise take. Given key inputs come from multiple countries, we will need many governments to subsidise the scaling up of these inputs – without that, there will always be a risk that a shortage of any one input could create bottlenecks on the entire process. But, crucially, for this to work these investment efforts must be coordinated globally – otherwise we risk further distortions in global availability of supplies

Third, I was glad to see take-up of the idea we floated of a global vaccine clearing house to ensure existing manufacturing capacity can deliver for the world, and especially the strong words from Dr Ngozi. A B2B matchmaking platform linking existing producers with the many potential producers across the world would assist forging the necessary partnerships to transfer the necessary tech and know-how. ICC remains ready, willing and able to support any international efforts in this regard and would be pleased to bring in the broader private sector if helpful.

Fourth, transparency is absolutely critical, including on when advanced economies are going to start sharing doses, by what mechanisms and in what volumes. Opacity only encourages hoarding and the imposition of export restrictions, and creates distrust. When we have spoken of the need for a global vaccine supply chain watchtower we think this can best be done by bringing in data from governments, the private sector and publicly available sources to build up a real-time picture of where potential bottlenecks could arise.  Again, the ICC stands ready to help build this out and crowd-in private sector data.

Relatedly, greater transparency is also required from COVAX on when countries can expect shipments – and, if there are bottlenecks or issues getting orders to some countries, how these can be addressed. We are seeing growing frustration from our business network about why doses ordered by governments from COVAX are not being received — if there are bottlenecks, let’s be clear about what they are. From Africa to South Asia to Latin America, the private sector not only requires more information about vaccine rollouts – it needs to know how it can help. Every day I hear about the great work done by chambers and the private sector more broadly in helping build infrastructure and assist with distribution. The more they know and are involved, the quicker we will be able to vaccinate the world.

Fifth, we need a longer-term plan. Enabling tech and knowledge transfer will be vital – especially if advanced countries can’t kick the habit of hoarding vaccines. We need a collaborative approach that effectively engages the pharmaceutical companies to effectively and expeditiously scale regional manufacturing. Many ideas have been tabled on how to do this — it’s time for a no holds barred debate on the best approach under any COVAX 2.0. This will need to be backed by a much bigger financing vision for vaccinating the world beyond the 20% currently envisaged by Covax and taking account of the likely need for yearly booster shots.

Finally, advanced economies must – as a matter of urgency – put up the cash needed to get ACTA fully operational for the remainder of this year. And, to my earlier points, signal their intent to make  the major investments that will be needed to get the virus under control in the long term. We have said this many times, but will say it again – this should not be seen as an act of charity but an investment with an extraordinary rate of return.