Ahead of the WTO’s Ministerial Conference (MC12), Ambassador Walker of New Zealand seems to have kicked up a storm with over 75 global civil society organisations (CSOs) bombarding the WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo Iweala with complaints about him peddling the rich countries’ agenda to corner greater market access and sidelining India-South Africa efforts towards temporary waiver of intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products.

The CSOs, in a letter to Iweala on November 19, have termed General Council Chair Dacio’s decision to appoint Ambassador Walker to chair a discussion on a declaration titled “WTO response to the Covid19 pandemic” as “scandalous”. The signatories to the letter include CSOs from across continents, including Third World Network, Amnesty International, European Attac Network, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Africa Development Interchange Network, Noor Pakistan et al .

‘Constrains regulatory space’

“Ambassador Walker unilaterally tabled a proposed text which is clearly not designed to resolve the pandemic. Rather, the draft text promotes the same liberalisation demands made by developed countries in various fora and interventions that will further constrain regulatory space and policy tools available to WTO members, while entrenching corporate influence in the institution, drastically undermining the member-driven character of WTO...,” the letter pointed out.

‘Deplorable attempt’

The CSOs say the “Walker process” is an attempt to cover up the WTO’s “vaccine apartheid and inequitable access” at the Ministerial Conference (MC12) from November 30 to December 3 in Geneva. “The Walker process is a deplorable attempt by the WTO to cover up what should be a grave humiliation: its inability to agree to remove key obstacles to resolving the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving intellectual property barriers as per the TRIPS waiver proposal,” said the CSOs in their letter.

Stressing on the need for the forthcoming MC12 to be more equitable, the CSOs called for a halt to all ‘Green Room’. Sources said India has also criticised the Walker Text on the grounds that it talks about reduction of tariffs on goods and removal of export restrictions under the garb of ensuring easier flow of essential goods to handle the pandemic better.

“We need to impose tariffs and put in place export restrictions, when required, to save our people and protect our domestic industry. We cannot give up these protections just because someone says that it is for better pandemic management. There is already the TRIPS waiver proposal that India and South Africa have submitted specifically to address COVID-19 needs, but it is being ignored,” the source said.

In the letter, the CSOs called upon WTO members to engage in a course correction and agree immediately to the TRIPS waiver as proposed and to halt the ‘sham’. Walker process on further liberalisation and imposition of regulatory constraints must focus on real solutions. It also said that the WTO reform efforts should be on removing barriers to development instead of undermining the core fundamentals of the WTO's mandate as a multilateral institution and alter decision-making procedures.