World Trade Organisation

About the WTO

 

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) founded in 1995 aims to increase international trade in goods, services and agriculture through multilateral negotiations open to all countries. It also serves to enforce adherence to WTO agreements through its dispute resolution and appeals process. AFTINET supports the concept of a  multilateral system open to all countries, with enforceable rules that includes developing countries.

But in practice   the WTO has often failed  to deliver meaningful outcomes for poorer countries.  Negotiations have been dominated by the most powerful players which have not responded to developing country concerns. This  has resulted in  stalled negotiations and reduced  hopes for a fair multilateral trade system.

From 1995 the WTO had agreements on goods, services, agriculture, intellectual property, and other issues. But over the last decade the WTO has stalled on new agreements, with only one agreement reached between all its members: the 2013 “Bali Package” on trade facilitation, which had a tiny scope compared with previous meetings and overall WTO objectives. The WTO has focussed instead on negotiating smaller  "plurilateral" agreements involving fewer, mostly industrialised, countries. 

The result of the WTO’s shortcomings has been an increasing number of bilateral and regional free trade agreements being negotiated outside the WTO framework. These include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)

These deals have generally left out the poorest countries and pushed a more “ambitious” corporate agenda, including chapters which are not about traditional trade issues at all – such as increased investor rights, greater restrictions on government regulation and stronger monopolies on patents (including medicines) and copyright which are actually the opposite of “free trade”.

In general, AFTINET advocates for multilateral trade negotiations involving 164 WTO members over bilateral and regional negotiations. A fair multilateral system would be non-discriminatory, give developing countries more negotiating power and be based on commitment to human rights, labour rights and environmental sustainability.

 

COVID-19 trade report recommends changes to local manufacturing, govt procurement and rights of international shipping crews

December 15, 2020: The Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs defence and trade policies was tabled in Parliament on December 8.

WTO postpones decision on better access for COVID-19 vaccines– no consensus, no vote

December 14, 2020: The World Trade Organization TRIPS Council failed to act on December 10, 2020, on the proposal by South Africa and India to temporarily waive some intellectual property rights, so that Covid-19 medical products and vaccines could be more easily accessible, especially for low-income countries.

Renewed pressure for TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccines comes from national and global health bodies

December 7, 2020: An Open Letter from the World Federation of Public Health Associations to the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and to the UN Secretary-General is aimed at a breakthrough on access to vaccines at the December 9 session of the TRIPS Council of the WTO.

Wealthy countries block COVID-19 drugs rights waiver at WTO – but claim to support universal access at the G20

November 23, 2020: The United States, the European Union and other mainly wealthy nations gathered in Geneva on November 21, 2020, to reiterate their opposition to a proposal to waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 drugs, according to a Reuters report, despite pressure to make an exception to improve access to these drugs for poorer countries.

UN Human Rights Experts tell governments, WTO, IMF and Big Pharma to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines

November 11, 2020: UN Human Rights Experts on November 9 called on the 31st Special Session of the General Assembly in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic to base their response on the bedrock human-rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance.

Australia increases COVID-19 vaccine support to Pacific Islands and SE Asia, but opposes trade rule changes on vaccines

November 9, 2010: The Australian government recently announced new spending of A$500 million over three years to ensure provide COVID-19 vaccines and immunisation technical support to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Kiribati in the Pacific, and Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam in south-east Asia.

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