December 1, 2021: The global federation of nurses and carers unions, Global Nurses United (GNU), has appealed to the United Nations to conduct a mission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to investigate the role of member states in blocking access to COVID19 vaccines for low-income countries.
World Trade Organisation
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.
18 January, 2022: Following a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of the drug baricitinib as a therapeutic medicine for COVID19, public health advocates at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have called on the World Trade Organisation to lift intellectual property monopolies on COVID19 treatments and vaccines.
January 11, 2022: The World Trade Organisation General Council met virtually on January 10. This was a response to India’s recent proposal to hold an urgent virtual Ministerial Conference on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a proposed temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property rules on vaccine monopolies, which would enable production of affordable vaccines in low-income countries.
December 21, 2021: After the WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) was postponed in November, discussions on the proposal to lift vaccine patent monopolies (known as the ‘TRIPS waiver’) have intensified, as WTO Ministers from South Africa, India, the United States and the European Union met online to discuss a way forward and find common ground.
December 16, 2021: Nobel Laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, has called on the new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to support a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to lift intellectual property patents on COVID19 vaccines.
December 16, 2021: As World Trade Organisation (WTO) delegates meet today to discuss a proposal to temporarily lift vaccine intellectual property patents, vaccine equity advocates are calling for immediate action amid a ‘tsunami’ of Omicron cases.
December 8, 2021: One hundred and twenty-eight civil society groups from around the world last week sent an open letter to the Director General of the World Trade Organisation asking the WTO to resume urgent negotiations and decide to waive monopolies on COVID1-19 vaccines and related products.
December 1, 2021: While rich countries like Australia are reaching 80% or more double vaccination rates, less than 5% of people in many low income countries have received COVID-19 vaccines. Millions are dying while new more infectious strains of the virus like Omicron develop, reports AFTINET Convenor Patricia Ranald in Michael West Media.
November 29: An alliance of health, human rights, fair-trade and labour rights advocates have warned Trade Minister Dan Tehan that global efforts to lift COVID-19 vaccine patent monopolies would be undermined by a draft statement that Australia sponsored before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Meeting which was due to meet this week.