Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’

Brand new, decades old, or in between? Exclusive or applying to all members? Proper negotiations or just talk? Which is which, and what are the subjects?

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JANUARY 3, 2022 | UPDATED MARCH 24, 2022

As World Trade Organization (WTO) members struggle to reach consensus on numerous issues, many see talks among “the willing” as the way to modernise the organisation and in many cases to update its trade rules. But the approach is controversial.

These talks and resulting decisions among only some WTO members are called “plurilateral” to distinguish them from “multilateral” activities and agreements among the WTO’s whole membership.

Continue reading “Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’”

WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?

A closer examination—paragraph by paragraph—of the re-draft shows how little has changed and how much may still lie ahead

UPDATE
‘Quad’ raise hopes of a COVID-19 deal and revival for the beleaguered WTO
March 2022. This leads to the compromise decision, June 17, 2022, at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva

THE DISCUSSIONS IN THE WTO
An overview of the discussion to February 2022 is in 8 reasons why countries disagree over a WTO intellectual property waiver
An earlier summary of how members responded to this text is in a box at the end, along with an example of the chairman’s report to the General Council.

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 25, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 20, 2022

The long-awaited revised proposal related to the COVID-19 pandemic, to waive obligations on intellectual property protection, was finally circulated to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 25, 2021.

This will allow the first negotiations to proceed in the WTO’s intellectual property council since the US swung behind the idea of a waiver, if not necessarily in the form proposed. (The council’s official name is the TRIPS Council — for “trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights”.)

A closer examination of the contents shows that a lot may still have to be negotiated. In other words, this is not just about accepting or rejecting the waiver — to waive or not to waive. What is in the text and what is left out are all significant. We can expect some rough times ahead.

Continue reading “WTO COVID-19 waiver: does the new draft move the talks forward?”

Voting in the WTO? It won’t happen

Why nothing has changed on voting in the WTO, and why it would destroy the WTO if it happened

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED MAY 19, 2021 | UPDATED MARCH 25, 2022

Suddenly people are talking about voting in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Again.

Only a few months ago it was suggested as a way to break the deadlock in selecting the new director-general.

Thankfully that was settled when the new Biden administration flipped the US’s position and backed Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

After that, it was about the proposal to waive intellectual property obligations in the WTO related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it re-emerged over actions that might be taken in the WTO against Russia for invading Ukraine.

After the appointment of Okonjo-Iweala was settled, it was the US’s change of heart over the intellectual property waiver that encouraged new calls for a vote, although activists were talking about it almost as soon as the waiver was mooted. They looked at the rules, saw voting was an option, and concluded this was the best way to overcome resistance.

Continue reading “Voting in the WTO? It won’t happen”

How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations

With the clamour to reform the World Trade Organization it’s time to re-examine how its information is handled. Third of four parts: negotiations

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman
― Louis D Brandeis, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, 1914


By Peter Ungphakorn and Robert Wolfe
POSTED APRIL 26, 2021 | UPDATED JUNE 6, 2022

IN THIS 4-PART LONG READ
1. Introduction | 2. External transparency | 3. Negotiations and the constraints on transparency | 4. Does transparency help or hinder?

See also: The short version

In part 2, we said we believe external transparency should be the default in the World Trade Organization (WTO). But we also recognise that some confidentiality is needed at least for a limited time.

This is particularly the case in some stages of negotiations, but with limits. Here’s why.

Continue reading “How wide should the WTO window be set? 3 Negotiations”

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

SEE ALSO
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
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.

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

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
.”

More:

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED DECEMBER 17, 2020 | UPDATED FEBRUARY 13, 2022

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.

Continue reading “The WTO’s deadlock over an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19”