One to watch: Bolivia’s bid to import a Canadian COVID-19 vaccine

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.

Continue reading “One to watch: Bolivia’s bid to import a Canadian COVID-19 vaccine”

New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame

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.

The 9-page new text is here, with a 26-page explanation from the chair. See also this WTO news story

Continue reading “New WTO fisheries subsidies text published as talks head for endgame”

UPDATES: the WTO fisheries subsidies talks

Links to some key documents and news

By Peter Ungphakorn

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.

Photo of Wills on the phone during all an all night session
All-round praise: Santiago Wills’ handling of the fisheries subsidies agreement received acclaim at the Ministerial Conference | WTO

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.”

May 20, 2022 — At the end of five days of negotiations, the chair, Santiago Wills briefed the media on progress made and the on remaining differences, and called for agreement on the text in the week of May 30, 2022. His statement to the media is here. See also this Twitter thread, and the WTO website news story.

April 7, 2022 — “In Focus: A Draft WTO Agreement to Curb Harmful Fisheries Subsidies”, a 10-minute video explanation of the draft by Alice Tipping and IISD

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)

December 10, 2021Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations outlines next steps for work in the new year (WTO news story) Fisheries subsidies negotiations aim to conclude as quickly as possible in the new year, the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia reported.

November 26, 2021WTO General Council decides to postpone Ministerial Conference indefinitely (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”

November 18, 2021If ‘fisheries subsidies’ is agreed by WTO ministers, what then? The implications of the next procedural steps are little known. This could still take some time

November 8, 2021‘A lot rests on Members’ shoulders’ — sixth WTO fisheries text circulated, including chair’s statement for media. Links to the chair’s revised 8-page draft (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.2) and 20-page explanation (TN/RL/W/276/Rev.2/Add.1). See also this WTO news story

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.

See also WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies hit “dark” patch, SeafoodSource, October 8, 2021

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).

August 30, 2021WTO members gear up for marathon fishing subsidy negotiations starting September (WTO website)

Continue reading “UPDATES: the WTO fisheries subsidies talks”

Dire WTO General Council meeting shows scale of Okonjo-Iweala’s task

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.

Continue reading “Dire WTO General Council meeting shows scale of Okonjo-Iweala’s task”

India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks

On the day she started her term as new WTO chief, Okonjo-Iweala faced a challenge to her vision

Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’
Participants in the present plurilaterals: Technical note

For a taste of the intense debate on this in the WTO General Council,
see this 13-page extract from the minutes (March 2021 meeting)

There are also signs that the “plurilateral” approach can
produce results. See “‘Plurilateral’ WTO services
deal struck after breakthrough text released

By Peter Ungphakorn

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.

Continue reading “India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks”

New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind

Okonjo-Iweala faces a crash course in WTO diplomacy, a car crash, or a third way. Which will it be?

By Peter Ungphakorn

‘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.)

Continue reading “New WTO head’s first statements sail close to the wind”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away

The director-general’s powers are limited, so don’t expect miracles. And don’t blame her if problems stay unresolved

By Peter Ungphakorn

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.

Continue reading “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away”

US lifts objections that deadlocked the WTO over its next director-general

‘Troika’ had announced Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed broadest support, but US had refused to join consensus

By Peter Ungphakorn

On February 15, 2021, Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was confirmed as the World Trade Organization’s next director-general. The decision was by a consensus of the WTO’s membership. See Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away.

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-hee
withdrew 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.

Continue reading “US lifts objections that deadlocked the WTO over its next director-general”