WTO Ministerial: uncertainty over fishing, Britons join consensus on Covid vaccines

The objective is to remove subsidies that facilitate overfishing and empty the oceans, to temporarily lift patents that protect anti-Covid vaccines, to ensure food security or even to reform the World Trade Organization itself.

The success of this conference will be measured in particular by the conclusion of agreements on health and trade. A first text concerns the facilitation of trade in medical goods necessary for the fight against pandemics, while another concerns the patents of anti-Covid vaccines.

The WTO has been under pressure from developing countries and NGOs since October 2020 to accept a lifting of intellectual property rights on medical means to fight Covid. But faced with the opposition of certain rich countries, where the pharmaceutical sector weighs heavily in the economy, the text on the table only provides for a temporary lifting of patents on vaccines for developing countries.

The United Kingdom had nevertheless expressed its reluctance. But British Ambassador Simon Manley told WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala late Thursday evening that his country was now “ready to join the consensus”.

This decision “demonstrates our commitment to obtaining a positive result at this ministerial conference”, he said, before being applauded by the other negotiators.

“Consensus Builder”

The representatives of the member states of the WTO, who have been meeting since Sunday in Geneva, have begun a marathon of negotiations since Wednesday, ignoring the various deadlines set by Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, stressed to AFP that “the points of view of the different working groups are quite divergent between the members”.

A little earlier, the Indian Minister of Commerce, Piyush Goyal, presented as the obstacle to going around in circles by many delegations, was more positive.

“India is confident that this ministerial meeting will be one of the most successful the WTO has seen in a long time,” he told reporters gathered around him.

Later in the evening, he also maintained that his country “does not stand in the way of anything” but is a “consensus builder”.

To get things done on the most difficult issues, only a few senior officials from the WTO and key countries participate in meetings: a so-called “green room” format.

According to sources familiar with the discussions, the negotiators are haggling over a global package, bringing together all the subjects. This package must then be presented to all the Member States, because at the WTO decisions are taken by consensus.

India to coax

The five days of negotiations were marked by Indian intransigence on several issues. Several sources close to the discussions assure that developing countries continue to have reservations about the draft fisheries agreement, even though it has been severely watered down in the last 24 hours.

Many diplomats have deplored in recent days India’s strong reluctance on several texts, including on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and the extension of the moratorium on customs duties for electronic transmissions.

“India has always been a reluctant trading partner. India is notorious for its reluctance to sign free trade agreements,” Harsh V. Pant, a professor at King’s College London, told AFP.

The pressure for ministers to reach agreements is strong, especially since the WTO has not reached any major agreement since the one concluded in 2013 in Bali on trade facilitation, extended two years later to information technology. ‘information.

The serious global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is one of the world’s breadbaskets, is also a major concern. A statement is under discussion for export restrictions.

Another draft agreement aims to ban export restrictions on purchases by the World Food Programme, one of the UN’s main humanitarian agencies.

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