Four months remain until the start of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which will take place in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December. Members are currently engaged on a wide range of issues where they are hoping to achieve outcomes in the run-up to, or at, MC12, including a global agreement on addressing harmful fisheries subsidies, ensuring rapid and equitable access for products critical in combatting COVID-19, securing progress on agricultural reform, and others.
“We are operating in very challenging times,” Ambassador Castillo said. “For this Conference to be successful and to put the WTO on a positive trajectory, it will be essential that we focus our efforts on a few key areas.”
Processes are underway for this to be possible, the chair noted, including a facilitator-led multilateral process led by Ambassador David Walker (New Zealand) on the WTO response to the pandemic. While work in all areas remains equally important, Ambassador Castillo said, “certain choices will have to be made in terms of what we can deliver by and at MC12, and what work can usefully continue post-MC12 in the way that members deem appropriate, including through work programmes.”
Reporting in her role as chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also underlined the need to focus on priorities in the short time remaining until MC12.
“If we are to achieve anything meaningful, we need to focus on a limited number of issues for delivery before or by MC12,” DG Okonjo-Iweala said. “Given where we are today, intensifying efforts on some areas such as fisheries subsidies, agriculture, the WTO's response to the pandemic, WTO reform and dispute settlement seems reasonable and could take us within the realm of what could be possible for delivery.
“If we deliver successfully on even two of these, that would be a major outcome for the organization,” she declared, urging members to “constructively engage in the intensified processes ahead to ensure that we can deliver meaningful results before and at MC12.”
Much of the General Council meeting focused on the WTO's response to the pandemic. Members considered a joint proposal from 25 WTO members for a General Council declaration proposing a series of trade policy responses to the pandemic as well as separate initiatives from the European Union and Chinese Taipei on trade and COVID-19.
The chair of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Ambassador Dagfinn Sørli (Norway), reported back to members on the TRIPS Council's consideration of the proposal from 16 members plus the African Group and the Least-developed Countries Group of WTO members calling for a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. He also noted that the TRIPS Council has been engaged on a proposal from the European Union for a draft General Council declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and public health in the circumstances of a pandemic.
Ambassador Sørli noted that while delegations remain committed to the common goal of providing timely and secure access to high quality, safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicines for all, disagreement persists on the fundamental question of whether the proposed waiver is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of and access to vaccines and other COVID related products. Likewise, in the discussions on the EU initiative, disagreement persists on the fundamental question of whether this proposal is the appropriate and most effective way to address the shortage and inequitable distribution of access to vaccines and some of the COVID related products, the chair said.
This means that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the revised waiver request and other related proposals, and will therefore continue its consideration of the proposals, including through small group consultations and informal open-ended meetings, Ambassador Sørli said.
In his report to members as facilitator on the WTO's response to the pandemic, Ambassador Walker thanked members for the constructive ideas that he has received so far as part of the consultative process and proposed the launch of thematic sessions in September based on the issues addressed in the proposals and raised in the consultations.
The full agenda of the General Council meeting is available here.