World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged delegation heads to redouble their efforts to bridge differences on the ongoing discussions on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies by the end of February 2022. Discussions were suspended because of the Covid-19 Omicron variant
“Seven billion people are waiting for us on TRIPS and pandemic response. And 260 million people are waiting for us on fisheries subsidies,” she said.
The Director-General added that the said the decision to postpone MC12 was “as disappointing as it was necessary”. In addition to the potential health risks from the Omicron variant, travel restrictions introduced in response to its emergence had made it impossible for all ministers to participate on an equitable basis at the conference, which had been set to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.
However just because the ministerial had been postponed did not mean that negotiations had stopped, the Director-General emphasized. She welcomed the ongoing meetings among ambassadors and experts to try to keep bridging gaps they had narrowed over weeks of nearly round-the-clock preparatory negotiations and encouraged them to continue. The challenge for them now was to “recover from last week's unexpected setback to deliver results for the people we serve”.
DG Okonjo-Iweala said she had spoken to several ministers in recent days, and they all wanted negotiations in Geneva to continue — and to deliver results.
She pointed to a joint letter that the officers of MC12 — Conference Chair Timur Suleimenov, President's Envoy for International Trade of Kazakhstan, and Vice-Chairs Dan Tehan, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment of Australia; Jerome Xavier Walcott, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados; and Harriet Ntabazi, Minister of State for Trade of Uganda — had sent to ministers from all WTO members, asking them to empower Geneva representatives to resolve outstanding differences so that ministers can reconvene in March to adopt agreements. That letter called for prioritizing outcomes on pandemic response, including a “sensible solution” on the proposed intellectual property waiver, given the global health situation, as well as on fisheries subsidies, where recent convergence had put a deal in the long-running negotiations within reach.
“If we were ready to make progress this week, we can finish pandemic response and fisheries subsidies by the end of February, and know where we are on agriculture,” the Director-General said
Noting that it was not clear whether the epidemiological situation would permit ministers to gather in March, the Director-General said Geneva representatives should seek to prepare clean texts, or at most texts with one outstanding issue to be resolved, for ministers. This would permit them to finalize or bless an outcome even if they have to do so remotely.