Multiple tests: Will Canada respond? Is the WTO system too cumbersome? Is this a better route than waiving intellectual property rights?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED MAY 12, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 12, 2021
News broke late yesterday (May 11, 2021) that a Canadian company, Biolyse Pharma, had agreed to supply Bolivia with 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine for COVID-19, without the patent-owner’s permission.
But the deal cannot go ahead until the Canadian government issues a “compulsory licence” for Biolyse Pharma to make the vaccine in Canada and export it to Bolivia.
Although the objective is to get a cheaper version of the vaccine to a developing country — Bolivia — a lot of the focus will be on Canada, which now holds the key.
Colombian chair says special treatment for developing countries is the most difficult issue
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED MAY 11, 2021 | UPDATED MAY 13,2021
Santiago Wills, chair of the WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations, announced the start of a new phase in the talks on May 11, 2021 with a revised text released publicly for the first time, and accelerated talks leading to an end-game meeting of ministers on July 15.
The latest revision is “a crucial step for presenting a clean draft to ministers,” said Wills, who is also Colombia’s ambassador to the WTO. The latest version includes portions in square brackets, usually indicating disagreement among members.
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED APRIL 21, 2021 | UPDATED AS INDICATED
The drive for a WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies accelerated in 2021 and eventually led to a slightly stripped down agreement at the Geneva Ministerial Conference in June 2022.
The first target had been missed to conclude all or most of the subject by July 2021, but the aim was still for a formal agreement to be struck at the ministerial conference at the end of the year. That was postponed, and negotiators headed into 2022 aiming to conclude as quickly as possible. Agreement was achieved on June 17, 2022.
Updates will be added here for the latest developments, with links to new documents and news items.
June 17, July 13, 2022— WTO members agree on the final fisheries subsidies text (see also identical draft sent to ministers). Article 5, originally on “subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing”, is stripped down to brief provisions on “other subsidies”. The agreement would terminate after four years of entering into force if “comprehensive disciplines are not adopted”, unless the General Council agrees to extend it.
A cover page accompanying the agreement is a protocol, ie, a legal instrument for adding the agreement to the WTO rule book as an amendment annexed to the WTO Agreement. A document certifying that the protocol is a “certified true copy” was circulated on July 13.
The agreement now goes to members to ratify (“accept”) it. It enters into force in the ratifying countries after their number has passed two-thirds of the membership. It does not enter into force in countries that have not ratified it. See explanation.
June 10, 2022 — Chair Santiago Wills submitted his latest draft to the June 12–15 Ministerial Conference, “without prejudice to any Member’s positions or views, whether or not reflected herein”. Attached was a 23-page explanatory note. He told delegations:
“I am very pleased to say that, this evening, I finished working on a revised draft of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies which has been sent to ministers for their consideration at [the Ministerial Conference]. In some places the draft text is my best attempt to suggest an outcome that I think is most likely to attract consensus. In some areas I am delighted to say it is not my work at all. Instead, the text presented came from groups of members with very different starting positions and who, working together, resolved their differences and presented to the plenary a text they could all accept.
“Overall, the draft Agreement sent to ministers this evening represents my best and honest effort at presenting to them a draft that is as clean as possible with only a few decisions for them to focus on, negotiate, and agree. After over 20 years, it is long past time for the WTO to deliver on its promise to agree to rules that will stop subsidies for illegal and excessive fishing.”
February 15, 2022 — “From these various consultations, I got the general sense that members are interested in using the current period to continue trying to make progress toward concluding the negotiations as soon as possible,” the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia told an informal meeting. (Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations reports on consultations with members, WTO news story)
November 24, 2021 — revised 9-page draft (WT/MIN(21)/W/5) and 18-page explanation (WT/MIN(21)/W/5/Add.1) issued as official ministerial documents. See also this WTO news story, including statements by the chair. One issue seems to be settled: it’s proposed as an “agreement”
October 29, 2021 — The WTO website reports a possible breakthrough, but gives no details. Talks chair Santiago Wills says:
“I continue to have a strong sense of optimism that we will conclude these negotiations, notwithstanding the differences that we still need to bridge. The next few weeks will not be easy as this is the time to bridge those differences. I will be continuing to reach out to different members in different configurations, to listen carefully and to prepare the ground as much as possible for MC12 [the November 30–December 3 Ministerial Conference].”
October 4–5, 2021 — As negotiators worked through the chair’s draft, there were signs that transparency might be a compromise alternative to banning fuel subsidies that are not directly for fishing (India’s new proposal; EU willing to consider). But members remain divided on (1) transparency from developing countries although the African Group suggested technical assistance to achieve this might help, and (2) the US proposal for countries to supply information on use of forced labour.
Members remained blocked on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — how to determine fishing is IUU, and whether prohibitions should apply only to IUU boats or to whole fleets containing IUU boats.
Daily meetings are scheduled for October 11–29, going through the draft line by line.
September 24, 2021 — Negotiators discussed new papers from India and the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) countries (with the African Group), with little sign of movement towards compromise. Several delegations said India’s proposal was not oriented towards a solution and “had no element that could help bring about a compromise between members” (see Amiti Sen in Hindu Business Line, September 26, 2021).
If this was an indication of members’ willingness to listen to the new director-general they had picked, then she must be disappointed
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED MARCH 5, 2021 | UPDATED JULY 25, 2021
‘It cannot be business as usual,” she had said when she was appointed. “It cannot be business as usual,” the ambassadors had echoed as they congratulated her. And at the next opportunity they did their utmost to demonstrate the exact opposite.
If Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala needed evidence of how much had to change at the World Trade Organization (WTO), her first few days as director-general offered her plenty to think about. Some who attended the WTO General Council’s first regular meeting of the year said it was one of the worst they could remember.
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 22, 2021 | UPDATED JANUARY 10, 2022
It’s tempting to call it a bombshell. But the warning signs have been around for some time. Nevertheless a new paper from India and South Africa signals a tough ride for the new head of the World Trade Organization’s ambitions to drive negotiations forward.
The paper criticises negotiations involving only part of the WTO’s membership. They are called “plurilaterals” and are seen as a way of breaking deadlock when consensus is elusive.
Okonjo-Iweala faces a crash course in WTO diplomacy, a car crash, or a third way. Which will it be?
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 18, 2021 | UPDATED MARCH 2, 2021
‘Someone has said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing you’ve done for years.” So remarked Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala shortly after she was accepted as the World Trade Organization’s next director-general on February 15, 2021.
She was speaking in an online press conference, outlining her view of where the WTO might be heading and how she might contribute.
Her first statements shed light on her intentions at the WTO and signal possible delicate times ahead. With some forthright suggestions on issues where members are divided, her approach has risks. (See also her acceptance statement in the WTO General Council.)
The director-general’s powers are limited, so don’t expect miracles. And don’t blame her if problems stay unresolved
By Peter Ungphakorn POSTED FEBRUARY 15, 2021 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2021
Now that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been confirmed as the next director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) it’s tempting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the troubled negotiating forum and guardian of the resulting agreements.
First woman director-general. First African. Finally, someone at the helm after almost a year effectively without a leader. All those headlined proclamations are true. The excitement is justified, to some extent.
This was made possible 10 days earlier when the new Biden administration in the US announced its “strong support”for her, ending three months of deadlock.
By then, South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-heewithdrew her candidacy. By overturning the stance of the Trump administration and its US Trade Representative, Robert LIghthizer, Biden paved the way for Okonjo-Iweala to be selected by the necessary consensus.
What follows was written before the deadlock was broken.