Need to redouble efforts to conclude pacts on TRIPS, pandemic response, fisheries subsidies by Feb 2022, says WTO DG

Our Bureau | | Updated on: Dec 03, 2021
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Postponement of ministerial did not mean negotiations had stopped, she said

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has asked all delegation heads from member countries to “redouble’’ their efforts to bridge their differences and conclude agreements on the WTO system’s response to pandemics as well as on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies by the end of February 2022.

“Seven billion people are waiting for us on TRIPS and pandemic response. And 260 million people are waiting for us on fisheries subsidies,” she said at a meeting of delegation heads in Geneva.

Just because the ministerial had been postponed did not mean that negotiations had stopped, she said.

The WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), scheduled on November 30-December 3 in Geneva, had to be pushed back due to the emerging threat from the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, and the Swiss government’s decision to ban direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region last week. Switzerland also imposed quarantine restrictions on travel from other countries, including Hong Kong and Belgium.

The DG referred to a joint letter that the officers of MC12 had sent to ministers from all WTO members, asking them to empower Geneva representatives to resolve outstanding differences so that Ministers could meet in March to adopt agreements.

That letter emphasised prioritising outcomes on pandemic response, including a sensible solution on the proposed intellectual property waiver, suggested by India and South Africa, as well as on fisheries subsidies, where a deal seemed within reach.

The India-South Africa proposal for a temporary waiver of TRIPS provision on vaccines and medical products has been majorly supported by developing nations, including African countries and LDCs. But it continues to face opposition from major developed countries, including the EU. The EU has put forward an alternative proposal of using TRIPS and public health that allows issuing compulsory licences to manufacture patented products during a public health crisis.

"If we were ready to make progress this week, we can finish pandemic response and fisheries subsidies by the end of February, and know where we are on agriculture," Iweala said.

Published on December 03, 2021

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