Despite initial disagreement between countries on key issues, which resulted in a two-day extention in negotiations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Friday agreed on an “unprecedented” package of trade deals.
Called the “Geneva Package,” the deals contain a series of unprecedented decisions on fishing subsidies, food security and agriculture, as well as WTO reform and response to emergencies, including a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines.
“The package of agreements you have reached will make a difference to the lives of people around the world. The outcomes demonstrate that the WTO is, in fact, capable of responding to the emergencies of our time,” said WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Director-General Okonjo-Iweala expressed her conviction that “trade is part of the solution to the crises of our time” and noted that the WTO “can and must do more to help the world respond to the pandemic, tackle environmental challenges and foster greater socio-economic inclusion.”
This morning in Geneva, WTO members secured an unprecedented package of outcomes for #MC12. Check out this infographic to find out more about some of the key highlights! https://t.co/lEJDTyIRoj pic.twitter.com/0mnYV2EsUI
— WTO (@wto) June 17, 2022
The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) began on June 12, 2022, at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. Over 100 ministers from across the world attended to review the functioning of the multilateral trading system, and to hopefully take action on the future work of the WTO.
These negotiations were seen as a crucial test of the trade body’s ability to strike multilateral trade deals at a time of rising geopolitical tensions.
Under the package, members agreed to loosen intellectual-property protections for COVID-19 vaccines and limit, but not eliminate, subsidies for illegal fishing for at least the next four years. The final deals on two of the most contentious areas of the WTO’s meeting resulted in mixed reponses, with some campaigners arguing the agreements did not go far enough.
On Thursday, WTO members reached a provisional deal on maintaining a moratorium on e-commerce tariffs until the next ministerial meeting, which is expected next year. The prospect of an end to moratorium, which would have paved the way for tariffs on digital goods and services, had been a key concern of bushinesses.
Despite some “unprecedented” successes, the WTO’s failure to reach consensus on measures such as the complete phaseout of subsidies for illegal fishing shows the deficiency of the trading body, as for over 20 years negotiators at the WTO have been trying to agree on restricting global subsidies that contribute to overfishing and pushing fish stocks to the brink of collapse.
Removing subsidies that promote unsustainable fishing is the single most important thing governments can do to help reverse the decline, according to environmentalists.
“After two decades, they can’t stop subsidies on illegal fishing. Think about that: at the most basic, this was meant to stop subsidies from illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” Deborah Elms, founder and executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, told Al Jazeera.
“By definition, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing isn’t supposed to happen at all. We were not discussing stopping such IUU fishing. No, it was about providing subsidies to support such activities. This is an appalling failure to deliver what should have been a simple act to save the future planet,” Elms added.
On the other hand, the agreement to curb fishing subsidies is only the second multilateral agreement setting new global trading rules in the WTO’s 27-year history, and it’s far more ambitious than the first one.
Overall, many observers are broadly supportive of the final outcome of the MC12 meetings, and the deals should boost the WTO’s credibility. As stated by the WTO, “The ‘Geneva Package’ confirms the historical importance of the multilateral trading system and underlines the important role of the WTO in addressing the world’s most pressing issues, especially at a time when global solutions are critical.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: WTO members secure unprecedented package of trade outcomes at MC12. Featured Photo Credit: 2022, World Trade Organization