AP

WTO holds big meeting to tackle vaccines, food shortages

Jun 12, 2022, 5:34 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 6:11 am

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Trade Organization predicted a “bumpy and rocky” road as it opened its highest-level meeting in 4-1/2 years on Sunday, with issues like pandemic preparedness, food insecurity and overfishing of the world’s seas on the agenda.

At a time when some question WTO’s relevance, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hopes the meeting involving more than 120 ministers from the group’s 164 member countries yields progress toward reducing inequality and ensuring fair and free 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 will be bumpy and rocky. There may be a few landmines on the way,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “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 negativism is compounded by the negative advocacy of some think tanks and civil society groups here in Geneva and elsewhere who believe the WTO is not working for people,” she said. “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 time to summon the much-needed political will to show that the WTO can be part of the solution to the multiple crises, the global commons that we face.”

The WTO chief insisted that trade has lifted 1 billion people out of poverty, but poorer countries – and poor people in richer ones – are often left behind.

Blockaded ports in Ukraine have impeded exports of up to 25 million tons of grain from the key European breadbasket.

Ministers at the meeting will consider whether to lift or ease export restrictions on food to help countries facing a shortage of wheat, fertilizer and other products because of the war in Ukraine. They also will decide whether to increase support for the U.N.’s World Food Program to help needy countries around the world.

“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.

The topic has generated months of contentious negotiations. The pharmaceutical industry wants to protect its innovations while advocacy groups say the pandemic’s devastation merits an exemption to the usual rules and developing countries say they need better access to vaccines.

Some experts and diplomats say two decades of WTO efforts to limit overfishing in the world’s seas appears to be as close as it ever has to reaching a deal.

The draft text on fisheries aims to limit government subsidies — such as for fuel — to fishing boats or workers who take part in “illegal, unreported and unreported” fishing, or national subsidies that contribute to “overcapacity or overfishing.” Some workers in developing countries could qualify for exemptions.

“This agreement is crucial to the 260 million people around the world whose livelihoods depend directly or indirectly on marine fisheries,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “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 spokesman Daniel Pruzin said that because of “space limitations” at WTO and events inside, “we were unfortunately unable to grant accredited NGOs access, both civil society groups as well as business groups.” He said they would be granted access for the rest of the ministerial starting Monday.

The World Trade Organization, created in 1995 as a successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, has seen a slow unraveling — often because U.S. objections have largely hamstrung its dispute-resolution system.

The WTO hasn’t produced a major trade deal in years. The last one, reached nearly a decade ago, was an agreement that cut red tape on goods clearing borders and was billed as a boost to lower-income countries.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Colorado River settlement center of new Navajo Nation push...

Associated Press

Tribes say their future is at stake as they push for Congress to consider Colorado River settlement

Navajo officials are celebrating the signing of legislation outlining a proposed Colorado River settlement that would ensure water rights.

1 day ago

Arizona doctors California abortions...

Associated Press

Arizona doctors can come to California to perform abortions under new law signed by Gov. Newsom

Arizona doctors can temporarily come to California to perform abortions for their patients under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

2 days ago

Father convicted of first-degree murder in northern Arizona...

Associated Press

Arizona man convicted of first-degree murder in starvation death of 6-year-old son

A northern Arizona father was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday in the 2020 starvation death of his 6-year-old son.

2 days ago

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom next to his lawyer Todd Blanche before the start ...

Associated Press

Trump hush money trial enters new phase after defense rests without testimony from former president

Donald Trump's hush money trial is now closer to the moment when the jury will begin deciding the former president's fate.

4 days ago

UoA student convicted of first-degree murder after killing professor...

Associated Press

Former Arizona grad student convicted of first-degree murder in 2022 shooting of professor

A former University of Arizona grad student was convicted of first-degree murder after fatally shooting a professor on campus two years ago.

4 days ago

Rudy Giuliani bankruptcy filing defamation lawsuit...

Associated Press

Ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona’s Kelli Ward plead not guilty in fake elector case

Giuliani appeared remotely for the arraignment that was held in a Phoenix courtroom. His trial will take place in October.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

WTO holds big meeting to tackle vaccines, food shortages