A pressurized ministerial meeting for Switzerland and the WTO

The 164 members of the WTO gather in Geneva for the long-awaited ministerial meeting, postponed for a year. Fishing subsidies, pandemic, the challenges are important for the institution. Opposed to lifting patents against the coronavirus, Switzerland is under pressure.

Officially organized by Kazakhstan, the meeting, scheduled at least from Tuesday to Friday, had been postponed last year due to the pandemic. States also preferred to transfer it to Geneva. Both Kazakh Head of State Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Confederation President Guy Parmelin will attend the opening.

In institutional crisis since the end of 2019 after the blockade of its appeal court by the United States, the World Trade Organization (WTO) must show that it is still capable of achieving results. But the discussions are “tough” and we must remain “very careful,” general manager Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said a few months ago.

Without a significant deal for nearly a decade, the organization has been at an impasse for nearly a year on the issue of provisional patent lifting on the trade in coronavirus technologies. This has been supported by over a hundred countries and is ardently requested by UN actors and NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Hundreds of unions even appealed to Parmelin, who is due to return to Geneva on Friday for the final part of the negotiations. According to recent estimates, vaccine inequality could cost the global economy 5,300 billion dollars (about 5,000 billion francs) in the coming years.

Difficult situation for Switzerland

But Switzerland, alongside the EU, Great Britain and Norway, remains firmly against this backdrop. It offers with others an alternative with compulsory licenses, which it has not been able to convince so far. “We have taken a step,” Swiss WTO Ambassador Didier Chambovey told the press on Thursday.

For Switzerland, the situation is difficult. She wants agreement on the organization’s response to the pandemic, in particular to limit export restrictions and facilitate trade in intermediate products. But if countries make a trade and health package conditional on lifting patents, it could be forced to block consensus.

A first for those who have always defended the multilateral trading system. “We hope to find a solution on compulsory licenses”, is content to say Mr. Chambovey. Switzerland says patenting would not make it possible to manufacture an additional dose of vaccine until production capacities in developing countries are expanded.

Among other expected negotiations, states are expected to seek a deal after more than 20 years of negotiations on fisheries subsidies, estimated at up to $54 billion a year. The objective is to prohibit subsidies for a vessel that engages in illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing. But also overfishing, in areas that are already overused.

security challenges

According to the UN, 90% of marine stocks are exploited or overexploited. One third of catches are linked to overfishing. Rich states want China not to be able to count on exceptions because of its self-declared developing country status.

In a draft agreement, exemptions are provided for poor and developing countries with fishing volumes below 0.7% of world capacity. In addition to measures to limit the use of forced labor, enough to try to satisfy everyone. But developing states still consider it very favorable to rich countries.

Beyond these key issues, little progress is expected in several negotiations that have been going on for years. The electronic transaction tax moratorium could be extended again, although some countries are still not convinced.

On the sidelines of the meeting, various negotiations, conducted by dozens of countries each time, are advancing more quickly. An agreement on trade in services can be found by more than 60 states, including Switzerland. Savings thanks to this agreement could reach more than 130 billion francs in the medium term.

For Switzerland, the ministerial meeting will be accompanied by significant security challenges. Access to the sites was made difficult as of Thursday. In total, more than 200 ministers are expected to attend this meeting.

This article was automatically published. source: ats

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