Stop all trade talks during COVID-19: Civil society to WTO

Instead, refocus on access to medical supplies and saving lives, they urge  

By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 30 April 2020
Photo: @WTODGAZEVEDO / Twitter

Stop all trade and investment treaty negotiations during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, 400 civil society organisations across the world wrote in a letter to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on April 30, 2020.

Instead, refocus on access to medical supplies and saving lives, the letter, coordinated by the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network, said.

The overwhelming majority of WTO members oppose continuing negotiations amid the pandemic, as voiced by many developing country delegations at an April 17 meeting of WTO members convened to discuss the issue.

However, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and several other developed countries have pushed to continue negotiations on binding rules on a pre-Covid 19 agenda.

Roberto Azevêdo, WTO’s director-general, has also appeared to advocate for continued negotiations.

There would have to be “additional consultations” rather than just acknowledging that consensus cannot be obtained when the majority of members are not willing to negotiate binding rules under the circumstances, he is quoted to have said.

This is despite the overwhelming need for governments around the world to focus their full efforts on saving lives during COVID-19. The lockdown has made it very difficult for Geneva-based negotiators to coordinate with stakeholders.

“The first and only priority for trade negotiators at this time should be to remove all obstacles, including intellectual property rules, in existing agreements that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies, such as lifesaving medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines, and the ability of governments to take whatever steps are necessary to address this crisis,” the letter noted.

The civil society groups also demanded that “Unilateral sanctions that prevent countries from obtaining essential medical supplies must end.” Unilateral sanctions are increasing deaths from COVID-19.

The letter called on “WTO members to ensure that all countries have the flexibilities to set aside trade rules that constrain their ability to resolve the pandemic crisis, without fear of repercussions, and to cease other negotiations and activities that divert their energy and resources from that goal.”

The document noted that the WTO should not return to business as usual” after the crisis.

“Governments must recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates a fundamental re-think of the types of rules that are negotiated in trade agreements, including those that can encourage monopolies and reduce affordable access to all forms of medical supplies, and put at risk the lives of people in every country of the world,” it said.

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