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.


(Facebook Photo/City of San Luis, Arizona)...
Associated Press

San Luis authorities receive complaints about 911 calls going across border

Authorities in San Luis say they are receiving more complaints about 911 calls mistakenly going across the border.
2 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Associated Press

Daylight saving time begins in most of US this weekend

No time change is observed in Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.
10 days ago
Mexican army soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamo...
Associated Press

How the 4 abducted Americans in Mexico were located

The anonymous tip that led Mexican authorities to a remote shack where four abducted Americans were held described armed men and blindfolds.
10 days ago
Tom Brundy points to a newly built irrigation canal on one of the fields at his farm Tuesday, Feb. ...
Associated Press

Southwest farmers reluctant to idle farmland to save water

There is a growing sense that fallowing will have to be part of the solution to the increasingly desperate drought in the West.
17 days ago
A young bison calf stands in a pond with its herd at Bull Hollow, Okla., on Sept. 27, 2022. The cal...
Associated Press

US aims to restore bison herds to Native American lands after near extinction

U.S. officials will work to restore more large bison herds to Native American lands under a Friday order from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
17 days ago
Children play in a dried riverbed in Flassans-sur-Issole, southern France, Wednesday, March 1, 2023...
Associated Press

Italy, France confront 2nd year of western Europe drought

ROME (AP) — Bracing for Italy’s second consecutive year of drought for the first time in decades, Premier Giorgia Meloni huddled with ministers Wednesday to start mapping out an action plan Wednesday, joining France and other nations in western Europe grappling with scant winter rain and snow. Meloni and her ministers decided to appoint an […]
19 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
WTO holds big meeting to tackle vaccines, food shortages