WTO ministers reach agreements on fisheries, food and COVID vaccines | Region
GENEVA (AP) — After overnight talks, members of the World Trade Organization on Friday morning reached a series of agreements and commitments aimed at protecting marine fish stocks, expanding the production of Vaccines against covid-19 in the developing world, improving food safety and reforming a 27-year-old trade body that has been back on its heels in recent years.
WTO Director-General Nzogi Okonjo-Iweala, after two sleepless nights in difficult negotiations, concluded the first WTO Ministerial Conference in four and a half years by trumpeting a new sense of cooperation at a time when the world is facing crises such as Russia’s War in Ukraine and a once-in-a-century pandemic that claimed millions of lives.
“The global agreements you have reached will make a difference in the lives of people around the world,” Okonjo-Iweala said, landing what she called an “unprecedented set of deliverables” after 15 months of work. “The results demonstrate that the WTO is indeed capable of responding to the urgencies of our time.
Tears of joy and hugs were exchanged, applause echoed through the concrete halls of the WTO and many ministers launched renditions of “Happy Birthday” to celebrate the belated Monday birthdays of Okonjo-Iweala and of Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal after the deals were finalized.
The deals could breathe new life into a trade body that has come under repeated criticism from former US President Donald Trump’s administration, which has accused the WTO of being unfair to states. United States, and has been caught up in a growing US rivalry with China. In recent years, Washington has neutralized the WTO’s version of an appeals court that adjudicates international trade disputes.
The WTO works by consensus, which means that all of its 164 members must agree on its agreements – or at least not get in the way. The talks sometimes took place behind the scenes or in side conversations because some delegates did not want to be in the same space as their Russian counterparts – as a way of protesting President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which had repercussions far beyond the battlefield, such as on food and fuel prices.
Among Friday’s key achievements was an agreement, which fell short of its original ambitions, to ban both support for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and fishing for overburdened stocks in the world’s oceans. world. It was the first major WTO agreement since the 2013 one that cut bureaucracy on the handling of goods crossing borders – and arguably one of its most important.
“WTO members have for the first time reached an agreement with environmental sustainability at its core,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “It is also about the livelihoods of the 260 million people who depend directly or indirectly on sea fishing.”
She said the agreement is a first step in reducing government subsidies and overcapacity – too many operators – in the fishing industry. But India and some allies won concessions that removed an entire chapter from a proposal that could have threatened certain types of subsidies favoring small-scale artisanal fishing.
The fisheries deal, which focused on subsidies for unsustainable or illegal types of fishing, came with a late addition that will limit its validity to four years unless new rules to tackle overcapacity and overfishing come into play. be adopted. This was a clause requested by some African, Caribbean and Pacific Island countries.
More controversial was an agreement on a watered-down plan to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, which went against advocacy groups who say it didn’t go far enough — and might even do more harm than good.
But Okonjo-Iweala said waiving intellectual property protections “will help ongoing efforts to focus and diversify vaccine manufacturing capacity so that a crisis in one region does not leave others isolated.”
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai hailed a “concrete and meaningful outcome to deliver safer and more effective vaccines to those who need them most.”
Its announcement a year ago that the United States would break with many other developed countries with strong pharmaceutical industries to work on a waiver of WTO rules on COVID-19 vaccines gave impetus to talks around a broader waiver requested by India and South Africa.
But some advocacy groups were seething. Aid group Doctors Without Borders called it a “devastating global failure for the health of people around the world” that the deal stopped short of including other tools to fight COVID-19. 19, including treatments and tests.
“The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful,” said Max Lawson, co-chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and head of inequality policy at Oxfam.
He said the European Union, United States, Britain and Switzerland had blocked stronger text.
“This so-called compromise largely reiterates the existing rights of developing countries to override patents in certain circumstances,” Lawson said.
Big pharma was unhappy that the vaccine waiver was approved, arguing that it sends a negative message to researchers and innovators who have been developing COVID-19 vaccines at lightning speed.
“The decision does a disservice to scientists who have left no stone unturned and undermines manufacturing partnerships on every continent,” said Thomas Cueni, chief executive of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.
Goyal, the Indian minister whose tough negotiating stance had frustrated some developed countries, said the ministerial meeting was a “big boost for multilateralism” and showed progress on issues – like fisheries – that had been dragging on for a long time. decades.
“India is 100% satisfied with the result,” he told reporters in Geneva. “I’m not going back to India with worries.”
Ministers also agreed to avoid imposing some export restrictions that have weighed on the UN World Food Programme, which is trying to offset the impact of rising food prices and the fallout from war in Ukraine on wheat shipmentsbarely and other staple foods of the key producing country.