WTO holds big meeting to tackle vaccines, food shortages
GENEVA The head of the World Trade Organization foresaw a bumpy and rocky road as it opened its fourth-highest-level meeting in four years on Sunday. It addressed issues such as pandemic preparedness and food security, and overfishing in the world’s oceans.
At a time when many question the relevance of WTO, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala hopes that the meeting will involve more than 120 Ministers from the group’s 164 members countries and make progress towards reducing inequality and ensuring fair trade.
Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged the Geneva-based trade body needs reform but said she was cautiously optimistic that a deal might be reached on at least one of the meeting’s main ambitions like fisheries or COVID vaccines.
” The road ahead will be bumpy. Okonjo-Iweala stated that there may be some landmines along the way. “We’ll have to navigate those landmines and see how we can successfully land one or two deliverables.”
In her opening address, she said a “trust deficit” had emerged over the years following the failure of negotiations known as the Doha Round more than a decade ago.
” The negative advocacy of some think tanks, civil society groups here at Geneva and elsewhere who believe that the WTO is not working in people’s favor adds to the negativism,” she stated. “This is, of course, not true, although we’ve not been able to clearly demonstrate it.”
She cited an array of crises facing the world such as the COVID-19 pandemic; environmental crises like droughts, floods and heat waves; and inflationary pressures that have been compounded by food shortages and higher fuel costs linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine. She noted higher prices are”hitting poor people the hardest.”
“With history looming over us, with that multilateral system seemingly fragile, this is the time to invest in it, not to retreat from it,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “This is the moment to summon the political will to show the WTO that it can be part of the solution for the multiple crises, global commons, that we face The WTO chief stressed that trade has lifted 1 Billion people out of poverty, but that poorer countries and people in richer countries are often left behind.
Blocked ports in Ukraine have prevented exports of up 25 millions of grain from the European breadbasket.
Ministers will discuss whether to lift or reduce export restrictions to food in order to assist countries that are facing shortages of wheat, fertilizer, and other products due to the war in Ukraine. They will also decide whether to increase U.N. support for the World Food Program in order to help poor countries around the globe.
“I strongly urge the WTO members with the capabilities to commit at MC12 to exempt their donations to the World Food Program from any export restrictions,” said Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, referring to the 12th ministerial conference at the WTO.
Okonjo-Iweala hopes the member nations, which make decisions by consensus, also can strike an agreement about whether to temporarily waive WTO’s protections of intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines.
This topic has been the subject of months of conflicting negotiations. While the pharmaceutical industry wants to protect their innovations, advocacy groups argue that the pandemic’s devastation warrants an exemption from the usual rules. Developing countries claim they need better access and protection to vaccines. Some experts and diplomats believe that after two decades of WTO efforts, the WTO is now closer to a deal than ever before.
The draft text regarding fisheries aims at limiting government subsidies for fishing boats and workers who participate in illegal, unreported, and unreported fishing. Also, it could exclude workers from developing countries.
“This agreement was crucial for the 260 millions of people around the globe whose livelihoods are dependent on marine fisheries,” Okonjo Iweala stated. “It is also central to the sustainability of our oceans, where the latest studies show close to 50% of stocks for which we have data are overfished.”
An umbrella group of nongovernmental groups, “Our World Is Not For Sale,” said over 50 NGOs were stripped of access that they had been previously granted to attend the opening day events.
WTO spokeswoman Daniel Pruzin stated that “space limitations” at WTO and events within the organization meant that they were unable to grant access to accredited NGOs access. He also said that access would be granted for the remainder of the ministerial, which will begin Monday.
The World Trade Organization was established in 1995 to replace the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It has been slowly unraveling, often because U.S. objections have largely hampered its dispute-resolution process.
The WTO has not produced a major trade agreement in many years. The WTO has not produced a major trade agreement in years. The last one was almost a decade ago. It was an agreement that reduced red tape on goods crossing borders and was billed by lower-income countries as a boost.
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