At an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee at the level of heads of delegation on 23 July, the chairs of several negotiating groups presented their plans to advance talks following delegations’ return from the August break.
Okonjo-Iweala called on members to identify “two, three or four areas that we should focus our attention on from now through MC12” for “meaningful, quality” results.
Ahead of the World Trade Organization (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference at the end of the year, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged members to exercise “focus and flexibility” during the negotiations planned for the fall to enable “meaningful agreements” on fisheries subsidies and pandemic response, among other issues.
At an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) at the level of heads of delegation on 23 July, the chairs of several negotiating groups presented their plans to advance talks following delegations’ return from the August break. Okonjo-Iweala called on members to identify “two, three or four areas that we should focus our attention on from now through MC12” for “meaningful, quality” results.
The Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, set out his plans for the “final lap” in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. He described a two-stage negotiating process where the first stage would address the main differences among members to collectively improve the text, and the second stage would be dedicated to line-by-line, text-based negotiations. Ambassador Wills indicated that a detailed work plan would be sent to all delegations the following week, and said members should aim for a complete agreement text no later than early November.
Recalling the 15 July meeting where ministers asked members to complete negotiations as soon as possible, before MC12, Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged that “a lot of gaps remain to be bridged” on the draft negotiating text. She called for active engagement in the upcoming text-based negotiations by all delegations, asking them to “contribute to finding the necessary compromises” to conclude a fisheries subsidies agreement.
On the WTO system’s response to COVID-19 and future pandemics, Okonjo-Iweala reported on the High-Level Dialogue, which took place on 21 July, where the WTO and the World Health Organization (WHO) convened representatives from vaccine manufacturers, governments, public health advocacy groups, and development finance institutions to explore ways to expand COVID-19 vaccine manufacture to promote equitable access.
Okonjo-Iweala welcomed the appointment of New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker as a facilitator of members’ efforts to “bring together their various pandemic-related proposals into a potential agreement.” She said governments’ ongoing attempts to put in place financing and governance arrangements to be better prepared for future pandemics could be supported by a WTO framework covering supply chain openness and monitoring, increased investment in production, and intellectual property, among other issues.
The Director-General urged members to “move with a sense of urgency” on the negotiations in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council on the proposed waiver of standard intellectual property protections for COVID-19-related vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, hoping for a “practical and forward-looking solution” as “people’s lives are at stake.”
Other issues discussed during the meeting include WTO dispute settlement system reform, agriculture, and special and differential treatment (S&DT). [WTO Press Release]