After two nights of intense negotiations, World Trade Organisation (WTO) members on Friday secured a ‘Geneva Package’ which includes agreements on curbing harmful fishing subsidies and temporary patent waiver for production of COVID-19 vaccines.
The four-day talks of the 164-member countries, which started on June 12, got over only on early Friday and also included commitments on health and food security.
It was also agreed to find a final solution to the issue of continuation of moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmission of goods by the next ministerial conference of the WTO or not later than March 2024.
According to the WTO, round-the-clock negotiations among delegations helped in clinching the deal, which contained a series of decisions on fisheries subsidies, WTO response to emergencies, including a waiver of certain requirements concerning compulsory licensing for COVID-19 vaccines, food safety and agriculture, and WTO reforms.
The package adopted by members included a ministerial declaration on the emergency response to food insecurity; a ministerial decision on World Food Programme (WFP) food purchases exemptions from export prohibitions or restrictions; a declaration on the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics; and a decision on the agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Besides, the ministers adopted two decisions — on the work programme on small economies and on the TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints.
“All in all, it is a good package. Today as we return India there is no issue on which we have to be the least concerned, whether it is related to agriculture such as MSP (Minimum Support Price), reinforcing the relevance of the public stockholding programme towards fulfilling the national food safety programme or PM Garib Kalyan Scheme, TRIPS waiver, e-commerce moratorium, response to Covid and fisheries,” commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal told reporters here.
India has been successful in introducing checks on illegal fishing, under-reporting or outside regulation — IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing.” Fisheries subsidies agreement is the second multilateral pact of the WTO finalised after a gap of nine years. It aims at boosting and promoting sustainable fishing.
It was in 2013 at the Bali ministerial conference of the WTO, the member countries inked the trade facilitation agreement to promote seamless movement of goods across the global borders.
On fisheries, there would be a “check on illegal unreported and unregulated fishing in our waters and elsewhere”. There would be very strict controls on overfished areas so that fish stocks are restored. Additionally, no subsidies can be provided for fishing in areas outside EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones) or RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations).
“There is a good outcome on the issues which are long pending,” Goyal said, adding that India has completely protected the interests of fishermen and farmers.
The members also agreed to grant a temporary patent waiver for manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines for a period of five years. Under this, a country would be able to issue a compulsory licence to its domestic pharma firms to make that vaccine without taking approval from the original maker. Besides, it was also decided to permit export of those vaccines.
However, talks on including therapeutics and diagnostics, as proposed by India and South Africa, under the purview of this waiver would start after six months.
“On the TRIPS waiver, initially we asked for a full waiver but it has an issue on innovation, we need to respect that. A balanced decision was taken on this. Countries will be able to make vaccines. Everybody was satisfied with the decision,” the minister said.
The TRIPS decision will boost export, vaccine equity, accessibility and affordability.
The WTO is a 164-member multilateral body which formulates rules for global exports and imports and adjudicates disputes between two or more than two nations. As per its rules, all decisions are taken by consensus and a single member nation can veto a decision.
On the WTO’s response to pandemic and future pandemics, the members have agreed to come out with a declaration and it would not change any rights and obligations because there were certain sensitivities involved in the matter.
The WTO finalised a proposal to not restrict supplies of food grains to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). However, these supplies would be subjected to the domestic requirements.
Making a consensus in the WTO to reach an agreement or commitment is not an easy task due to different needs and demands of all the countries.
The members got into hectic negotiations from June 15 to reach a consensus on a number of topics, including patent waiver and fisheries subsidies.
Goyal said that with the efforts of all the members, MC 12 (12th ministerial conference) established the relevance of the WTO and it is a big boost to multilateralism.
Goyal said that talks happened day and night from June 12 on different issues and due to that outcome documents were released on eight issues after a gap of seven years.
“We are not leaving Geneva with concerns,” he added.
On WTO reforms, he said that in this it was ensured that the core principles like consensus-based decision making and special and differential treatment for developing and LDCs (Least Developed Countries) are there.
Under this, the dispute settlement body will be revived and it will play its expected role in settling trade disputes. A reference to gender, environment and MSME has been made in the WTO reform agenda.
On e-commerce, while agreeing to the temporary moratorium, India asked for intensifying discussions on the moratorium including on its scope, definition and impact for taking an informed decision on the same.
The WTO in a statement said that 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.
WTO Director General Nzogi Okonjo-Iweala said: “The package agreements you have reached will make a difference to the lives of people around the world.”