293 community Groups Call on World Trade Organization to stop other negotiations and focus on access to life-saving medical supplies

Media Release April 20, 2020:  “AFTINET is among 293 organizations, including global and national union federations, development advocates, women’s groups, consumer and environmental groups from more than 150 countries that have endorsed a letter to government members of the WTO.  The letter urges members of the WTO to stop all trade negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak and refocus on ensuring access to medical supplies and saving lives,” AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.

“Despite the overwhelming need for governments around the world to focus their full efforts on saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic, some governments, including Australia, are still pushing for new trade negotiations to proceed by electronic means in the WTO when many developing countries cannot meaningfully participate in them,” said Dr Ranald.

“Meanwhile, WTO intellectual property rules that grant monopoly patents on medicines and medical devices for 20 years can be an obstacle to ensuring affordable access for all in a pandemic. Exceptions to this rule are difficult to implement. The letter asks the WTO to remove all obstacles in existing agreements that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies, such as lifesaving medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines, and ensure the ability of governments to take whatever steps are necessary to address this crisis,” said Dr Ranald.

“The letter also notes that the WTO should not return to “business as usual” after the crisis, as governments must recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates a fundamental re-think of trade rules, including those that can encourage monopolies and reduce affordable access to all forms of medical supplies, putting lives at risk,” said Dr Ranald.

WTO Members met electronically on Friday to decide  whether to continue negotiations amid the pandemic. The WTO later issued a statement saying that informal discussions would continue but there was no agreement to proceed with binding decisions.

Endorsers of the letter include large international networks such as: Action Aid International; Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign, Oxfam International, the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development, Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace and the Third World Network.

The letter was also supported by the International Trade Union Confederation, Education International; the International Transport Workers' Federation, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF); Public Services International (PSI), the UNI Global Union of service workers and national networks like AFTINET.

The letter was coordinated by the Our World is not for Sale Network of civil society groups.