Economy. WTO meeting: Wheat, fisheries and vaccines

This Sunday's WTO ministerial meeting will be the first in more than four years.

Economy. WTO meeting: Wheat, fisheries and vaccines

This Sunday's WTO ministerial meeting will be the first in more than four years. There are hopes for agreements on anti-Covid vaccines and fishing. However, the differences are still widening against the backdrop of a possible food crisis.

One of the strongest expectations for the reunion of the World Trade Organization's supreme decision-making body is that it will help to find a solution to the serious food crisis posed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of Trade at the European Commission, accused Moscow of using food and grain as weapons of war.

The declarations of ministers on Sunday will make it clear that war is imminent. The United States and the EU refuse to talk directly with the Russians. Although negotiations have not been halted so far, there is "a real risk that things could go off the rails next Week", according to a Geneva diplomatic source.

The meeting's main issue remains fishing. WTO officials announced Saturday morning that the draft text for removing harmful subsidies from the fisheries sector, which has been occupied by the organization for over 20 years, was now in the hands ministers. It is up to them to attempt to reach common ground on any remaining points of contention.

Santiago Wills stated that "not all issues have been resolved" and that there are still things that members don't agree on or on which I haven’t found common ground. The Colombian ambassador led negotiations and highlighted the recent progress.

The WTO is a consensus-based organization, so the 164 members must agree to the conclusion.

As part of the UN's millennium objectives, the UN must eliminate subsidies that encourage illegal taking or overfishing.

The ambassador noted that progress was made in particular on the controversial subject of "territoriality". However, the text dismissed the notion that disputes over territorial membership could be resolved by a WTO panel.

Also, progress has been made in the definition of the preferential treatment reserved for developing countries. Temporary exemptions are available for subsidies that cause overcapacity or overfishing. However, they do not last forever, with India claiming 25.

Isabel Jarrett of the NGO Pew Charitable Trusts notes that "25 years would have devastating effects on fish stocks." She advocates for a shorter exemption, less than ten.

This text will determine the success or failure of the conference.

Many diplomats have highlighted the intransigence of India and how it could lead to other problems. There is no single issue that India doesn't block. It is quite worrying," says an ambassador based at Geneva. He cites in particular the reforms of the WTO, agriculture, and a file for which ministers must prepare a work plan.

"We see that India is keen to be more involved in international organizations, beginning with the WTO. It is able hold up the finalization the negotiations," Elvire Fabry (researcher in charge of trade policy at Jacques Delors European Institute), says. She explains that she is even concerned about South Africa and India blocking the extension of the moratorium for e-commerce.

Ministers will also be discussing the WTO's response on the pandemic. Two texts will be discussed. The first must enable the circulation of ingredients needed to fight current and future pandemics. The other must allow temporary lifting of patents on anti-Covid vaccines.

This subject is dividing the pharmaceutical industry, who sees it as a weakening in intellectual property. The text is not sufficient to make the text effective for NGOs. It is uncertain what the outcome will be.

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Director General of WTO, acknowledged that it was a difficult process. "We did our best." China has committed not to use the facilities provided to developing countries in this draft agreement.

Because the WTO is unable to reach major agreements, which was the last major agreement that it reached back in 2013, its relevance has diminished. Ms Okonjo Iweala has been in charge of Geneva for just over a year. However, there is no guarantee that major results will be achieved in Geneva.

There is hope that the final ministerial statement will mention reforming the WTO, which Washington has blocked from appeal.

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