Washington D.C., June 17, 2022—Despite a shaky start, the WTO negotiators delivered a historic trade deal this morning. After hours of negotiations, the 164-country organization adopted the “Geneva Package” with commitments on some very difficult issues, including pandemic response, intellectual property, fisheries, food security, electronic commerce and institutional reform.
For many, this Ministerial was about the continued viability of the WTO. Recent struggles caused by increased protectionism and previous Ministerial Conferences that created few – if any – outcomes, raised serious questions about the rules-based trading system that grew out of the GATT in 1995. Concerns have ranged from relevance to functionality to value.
The WTO adoption of a ministerial decision to waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines raises serious questions and presents a number of risks. This waiver under the WTO TRIPs Agreement will not solve vaccine access issues but, rather, it brings dangerous implications on incentives for innovation for future health challenges and future pandemic preparedness and response. As disappointing and counter-productive as this decision is, business continues to work to advance vaccine literacy and fight COVID-19.
The Ministerial Statement on WTO Reform has charted a path forward for the trade body that is expected to address longstanding concerns and set a process for discussions on how the WTO can be reformed to be fit for purpose.
The “Geneva Package” covers a range of topics. A group of Ministerial Declarations was adopted on WTO response to emergencies covering food insecurity; export prohibitions on World Food Programme food purchases; and WTO pandemic response and preparedness.
A partial deal to curb fishing subsidies was reached; however, it fell short of a fuller agreement that has been under negotiation for more than 20 years. The agreement addresses rules to prohibit subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, while action on subsidies for fuel, ship construction and other areas was left unresolved.
Negotiators wrestled to address divergent views on the continuation of a moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions that has been in place since 1998 but was set to expire at the end of the ministerial. A handful of countries challenged the benefits of the digital economy for the developing world, seeking to end the moratorium, gain policy space to address the digital divide and collect needed customs revenues. Ultimately, delegates agreed to an extension of the moratorium with a commitment to study development impacts and revisit the issue at the next Ministerial Conference.
“USCIB congratulates WTO Director General Ngozi and all participants in MC12 for proving that multilateralism is alive and still functional in Geneva,” said Brian Lowry, USCIB Senior Vice President, who is reporting from Geneva at the ministerial meeting as an NGO delegate.
Several concerns about agriculture went without resolution. “The lack of a declaration on these concerns was a disappointment to some but the overall success of MC12 is noteworthy,” said Lowry.
About USCIB: USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development, and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world. USCIB is the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and Business at OECD. More at www.uscib.org.