(New: further reactions in the first and last paragraphs)
GENEVA (dpa-AFX) – After several days of difficult negotiations, conducted almost around the clock, 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) signed the agreements for the first time in years. Among other things, they agreed early on Friday morning on deals allowing the production of Covid vaccines in more countries and a ban on subsidizing illegal and unregulated fishing, thereby protecting overfished stocks. However, the planned agreement on trade in agricultural products was not reached. Environmental and development organizations have criticized the new deal as insufficient.
“You’re not coming home empty-handed,” WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the end of the conference, which was due to end on Wednesday. In the absence of an agreement, the 68-year-old pressed for an extension because she did not want to accept her first ministerial meeting as a flop. “The WTO has proved its ability to respond to the challenges of our time.”
At the last meeting of government representatives at 5 am, there was not only applause, when the chairman of the conference formally stated that all member states supported the agreements. The packed room was in a festive mood as ministers, officials and diplomats spontaneously recorded a belated birthday song for Okonjo-Iweal and another minister. According to her own statements, on Monday, her honorary day, she was in no mood to celebrate as she feared the conference would fail.
The applause was not joined by representatives of civil society. “It is disgraceful that WTO members prioritize saving a sick institution and indecent corporate profits over saving lives,” said Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen. In particular, the EU blocked the abolition of patent rights (the waiver of TRIPS) demanded by many countries. The agreement reached is not enough.
Ministers also agreed to push through WTO reforms through a work program. The partially inactive dispute settlement mechanism should be operational again in two years. They extended the deal so as not to levy any duties on international digital trade for the time being.
They also agreed that purchases made by the World Food Program (WFP), which supplies food to the hungry of the world, should not be restricted by export restrictions. At the same time, however, they have left the door open to do exactly this if it serves the purpose of adequately supplying their own population.
Sometimes unclear wording, which left a lot of room for interpretation, was a symptom of often complex negotiations. In addition to the individual agreements, there was a general final statement with vague promises such as: “We are committed to working towards the necessary reforms in the WTO. (…) We believe that the reforms should improve all functions ”. To this day, he still does not understand how you can talk about one word in a footnote for hours, ‘said Okonjo-Iweala to the laughter of the ministers.
Greenpeace expert Jrgen Knirsch criticized that “all controversial issues such as agriculture, fisheries, e-commerce and TRIPS have an environmental and climate impact. But protecting the climate and preserving biodiversity almost never came up in the negotiations. ” From the point of view of Nelly Grotefendt, trade policy specialist at the Environment and Development Forum, health issues have also been neglected. The result is especially sobering for the global health area in times of a pandemic. The Bread for the World organization criticized the lack of specific proposals to reduce the dependence of developing countries on food imports. “The Food Security Declaration once again focuses on the well-known call to avoid export restrictions,” said Francisco Mari, the organisation’s agricultural trade expert.