OWINFS press briefing ahead the WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva

Civil Society at MC12 Denounce Ministerial Agenda, Call for Transformation of WTO Rules - Briefing organized by Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network

Deborah James, Our World Is Not for Sale

The Ministerial Outcome Document sneaks in a carte blanch for new talks on “WTO reform.” But instead of addressing serious flaws with existing harmful WTO rules, this “reform” will open the door for demands by developed countries which can be seen in the WTO Briefing note on WTO Reform. Their so-called “reform” includes abandoning the core WTO principles of multilateralism and consensus! But also: permanently abandoning the mandated, long-unresolved issues of the development agenda; attacking developing countries’ ability to access flexibilities enshrined in the WTO, without which they never would have agreed to its existence; and expanding the WTO’s monitoring function in a way that would further constrain developing countries in using their development-centered policy space. The Development Agenda is nowhere listed in the document. Instead, developed countries also want to create new mechanisms to expand the direct influence of corporations at the WTO through references to “stakeholders”.   

As CSOs united here, we:

  • Demand permanent solution for public stockholding

  • Reject current text on fisheries – demand a pro-development outcome

  • Reject current counter-proposal on TRIPS – demand a comprehensive waiver to resolve the pandemic and save lives.

  • Reject false “WTO reform” which is really about expanding the WTO and making it even more pro-corporate, pro-developed countries.

Nevertheless, rich countries and their allies in the secretariat are mounting an all-out pressure campaign to bully developing country negotiators to accept whatever is on the table, and to acquiesce to expanding WTO dominance of the global economy. Any outcomes will be portrayed as “saving the WTO,” and will boost the DG’s reputation, but will likely only make the WTO even more pro-corporate and less flexible for development, and less fit to address the crises of inequality and climate change going forward. 

We’d like to point your attention to the “Turnaround: New Multilateral Trade Rules for People-Centered Shared Prosperity and Sustainable Development” platform endorsed by over 200 national, regional, and global networks around the world, which exposes the corporate-driven nature of the WTO and offers pathways for the fundamental transformation of the global trade system into one that would facilitate food security, jobs, access to medicines, and true sustainable development."

Stefanie Prezioso, MP:

Switzerland refuses to chip away at the law of profit against lives of million people. Swiss State is a henchmen for Big Pharma. Switzerland stubbornly refuses to be transparent about its contract with Big Pharma. Switzerland is a good henchmen for Big Pharma. Swiss state refuse to chip away at the sacrosant Law of profit. It will be held accountable before history. Civil society and political people here must condemn this politics loud and clear. 

George Poe Williams, Secretary-General of the nurses’ union in Liberia, NAHWUL

Too many people have died already, so much profit has been made already, how many more lives should be lost before the WTO will invoke the TRIPS WAIVER already provided for in her for such time as EBOLA AND COVID HEALTH EMERGENCY?

Anna Marriott – People’s Vaccine Alliance

The text under negotiation at the WTO is not the TRIPS waiver that more than a hundred developing country governments have been fighting for, backed by a global movement of millions. Rather than remove barriers to producing vaccines, this text would add even more, setting a dangerous precedent for access to medicines. 

It would be unthinkable for the WTO to do nothing in a pandemic, but entirely unconscionable to agree a deal that would make a bad situation even worse. We are deeply concerned that rich nations are negotiating to protect the interests of pharmaceutical corporations, enabled by a WTO intent on saving its own reputation, whatever the cost to public health.

There is still a narrow window to deliver something meaningful at this ministerial conference. But that will require serious concessions from wealthy, vaccinated WTO members like the UK, EU, and US. They must remove any new barriers from the text and deliver a genuine waiver of all intellectual property rules covering COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments..

If developing countries do not see these improvements and refuse to agree to a bad deal, they will have our support.

Sangeeta Shashikant, TWN, Geneva, sangeeta@twnetwork.org:

The Draft Ministerial Decision is not suitable for a public health emergency like COVID-19. It does not contain all the tools needed to control COVID- 19. Decision on therapeutics and diagnostics has been delayed although it is a critical tool for treating COVID-19 infections and as part of national test and treat strategy. There are TRIPS-plus conditions attached to the use of compulsory license that do not exist in the TRIPS Agreement such as preventing re-exports and burdensome notification obligations. With the eligibility criteria, countries with production and export capacity may be excluded. It is simply not suitable. We need a viable mechanism for addressing health emergencies. 

James Love, KEI

The proposal on TRIPS includes the most restrictions on which countries can import or export vaccines.  No other agreement placed restrictions on which countries can export vaccines under a compulsory license, but this one does, excluding most countries that currently have vaccine manufacturing capacity.   

Alan Rossi Silva, Staff Attorney at Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA)

A real waiver could have saved many lives in our region. The current proposal is a shame”.

It’s time to honor our history and the people we lost. It’s the moment of: (i) denouncing this fake negotiation process and walking away from the current text; (ii) implementing and improving TRIPS flexibilities at national level; and (iii) above all, demanding a multilateral solution that can really save lives in times of emergency (e.g. an automatic TRIPS Waiver). 

Adam Wolfenden, Pacific Network on Globalisation

The new text fails the mandate set by leaders with Sustainable Development Goal 14 by not targeting those historically responsible for overfishing and only offering inadequate flexibilities for Developing and Least Developed Countries. This text is bad for development and bad for sustainability and should be rejected. 

Fernando Hernandez, Both ENDS, Netherlands

The WTO texts on agriculture focuses on lowering export restrictions but offers no new tools for developing countries, NFIDCs and LDCs to guarantee food security in practice.

As civil society we are disappointed to see that the commitment to decide on Public Stockholding on MC12 is postponed to MC13 or indefinitely. The DG is closing all possibilities for an outcome by MC12 even though it had been agreed by all members. Considering the current and worsening food security crisis due to the pandemic and the invasion in Ukraine the WTO is renouncing to fulfill its own commitments. 

We welcome the text on WFP, but it has to be in line with national food security policies. Food for humanitarian purposes is clearly a good thing, but the WTO must be more serious and get rid of unfair rules which fuel food insecurity. 

Sofia Scasserra, Researcher, Instituto del Mundo del Trabajo, UNTREF, Argentina

We need to stop renewing the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions. It bans a really important policy instrument for developing countries to protect their local digital industry and reach digital industrialization in the years to come. The digital economy will be the whole economy in the future and banning tariffs will only limit tax revenues, useful for building infrastructure and having quality public services, and will not allow countries to have a digital policy to grow their own digital platforms. 

Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change, India

In the name of WTO reform, what developing countries are planning is to subvert the key principles of WTO -- which is one nation one vote, decisions by consensus, and 'special and differentiated treatment' to protect developing country interests. They plan that a few more powerful countries can among themselves take decisions - -which is what the Joint Statement Initiatives is about, and then others lured and forced to joined because of the need to stay connected to the global economy. this is not WTO reform but WTO deform, and jettisoning whatever democracy and participativeness exists at the WTO, towards complete control by the richest nations, and the global corporations.  

Also, on e-commerce issues, when all countries are trying to regulate the unsustainable power of Big Tech, including the US and China, two countries where almost all Big Tech is anchored WTO is the only institution globally which is trying to ensure that BIG TECH cannot be regulated. Every proposed rule under the JSI on ecommerce is about taking away different levers of regulating Big Tech from the hands of national governments.

Richard Hill, Association for Proper Internet Governance, Switzerland

I find it disconcerting that Switzerland is supporting the moratorium on e-commerce duties when the Swiss people have just approved by referendum a new law popularly referred to as "the Netflix law" which, in practice is the same as a duty on e-commerce. That law was enacted specifically to raise revenue that will be used to subsidize national audio-visual production. 

Françoise Nay, Brevets sur les vaccins, stop Réquisition, France:

Les vaccins, les traitements, les dispositifs médicaux et tests anti-covid devraient etre des biens communs et a ce titre hors commerce. La responsabilité des Etats européens et de la France dans le blocage de la levée des brevets et du partage des savoir-faire et des technologies est terrifiante, se comptant en centaines de milliers de morts évitables. 

Rahmat Maulana Sidik, Executive Director of Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ)

Regarding fisheries subsidies negotiation on WTO that we are concerned about the elimination of fisheries subsidies which are currently under discussion at the WTO. I want to give some of problem context In Indonesia, there are 2.6 million small fishermen and almost 85 percent of fishermen in Indonesia are small fishermen. And about 10 million poor people in Indonesia and about 12.5 percent of the poor are in coastal areas and small islands. 

If the WTO decides to abolish fisheries subsidies, including fuel subsidies, it will threaten the welfare of small fishermen and increase the poverty gap in coastal areas and small islands in Indonesia.

WTO should be prohibited or restricted are subsidies by developed countries that provide fisheries subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing, overcapacity and overfishing. Instead of removing fisheries subsidies for small and traditional fishermen.