WTO farm talks: from COVID-19 into 2021. 4 References

Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support. Part 4

By Peter Ungphakorn

In this 3-part series (plus one):

1. The pertinent questions | 2. What’s been happening inside and outside the WTO | 3. Policy responses: from confidence-building to a work programme | (Plus: References, this page)

Based on, with updates,
Chapter 20 (“Lessons from the pandemic for WTO work on agricultural trade and support”) in the CEPR e-book “Revitalising Multilateralism: Pragmatic Ideas for the New WTO Director-General” edited by Richard Baldwin and Simon Evenett

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The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19

Questions and explanations about why the waiver is proposed, why it’s opposed and what it would mean

Update: In a remarkable turn-around on May 5, 2021, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the US would support the waiver and negotiate based on a proposed text. The press release referred only to COVID-19 vaccines, not other products. Tai said:

This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protection, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines


By Peter Ungphakorn

A petition with almost a million signatures was delivered to the World Trade Organization on December 9, 2020, calling for the WTO “to urgently ensure access to lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment for everyone in the world”.

We can overlook the fact that the WTO has no power to “ensure” anything of the kind. What the petition aimed to do was to support a proposal to waive WTO intellectual property rules temporarily where related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delivery was timed for the discussion the following day when members met as the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Council). Since then, the proposal has gone nowhere.

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Behind the rhetoric: Does the WTO need a third ‘safeguard’ against import surges?

And does COVID-19 make it essential even though it was central to the failure to wrap up the Doha Round 12 years ago?

By Peter Ungphakorn

On July 29, 2008, an attempt by a group of trade ministers to conclude the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations collapsed in acrimony.

Pascal Lamy, who had chaired the talks as WTO director-general, said members had converged towards consensus on 18 out of 20 outstanding topics. They had failed on the 19th, he said: the “special safeguard mechanism”.

India’s representative at the time, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, was scathing. “The most important thing was the livelihood security, the vulnerability of poor farmers, which could not be traded off against the commercial interests of the developed countries,” he told journalists.

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Behind the rhetoric: ‘Public stockholding for food security’ in the WTO

This is not the only way to create emergency food stocks in poorer countries. How essential is it?

By Peter Ungphakorn

In late March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated around the world, India announced it had broken a key trade rule.

It told fellow-members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that its domestic rice subsidies had exceeded the limit it had agreed. But instead of facing a possible legal challenge for breaking a commitment, India invoked a “peace clause” agreed in 2014.

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