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.

 

Rich countries are first in line for Covid vaccines because a handful of companies control both the price and quantity

Pharmaceutical company patent monopolies are the elephant in the room in the debate about Covid-19 vaccine shortages in Australia.

Most of debate locally has been about whether the federal government ordered enough vaccine doses last year from Pfizer and other companies. This misses the broader point that a handful of pharmaceutical companies control both the price and quantity of vaccines.

Even in the context of a global pandemic, they can set the terms in closed-door negotiations with rich countries. These companies have already made billions from vaccines which were developed at record speeds and supported with public funds.

Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor, explains the situation in today's the Guardian online.

National church and civil society groups urge government to support WTO rule change for fair vaccine access for low-income countries

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                                         July 19, 2021

An unusually wide range of national church, public health, aid and development and other civil society groups representing millions of Australians today sent the attached open letter to Government Ministers. The letter urges them to support the proposal for a temporary waiver of patent monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that will be discussed at a key meeting of the World Trade Organisation on July 20.

US protests urge German Chancellor Merkel to support trade rule change for fair access to COVID-19 vaccines

July 14, 2021: German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces US protests tomorrow at her government’s opposition to the suspension of 20-year monopoly patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments at the World Trade Organisation. A “die-in” will be staged with a giant Merkel puppet lurking over dozens of body bags representing the millions of lives on the line.

Ask your federal MP to support fair access to vaccines in low-income countries

July 12, 2021: More than 50,000 Australians have signed petitions asking the Australian Government to support changes to trade rules that would help most people in the world get access to COVID-19 vaccines. Negotiations have started and the Australian government still has not done so. We need to increase the pressure and tell our local MPs to support these changes.

MSF slams European Union for stalling WTO process to waive monopolies on COVID-19 products

June 30, 2021: Current trade rules give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopoly patents on COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products, which are delaying access for low-income countries. This is why over 100 WTO member countries are supporting the South African and Indian proposals for a temporary waiver of these rules during the pandemic.

WTO rule change needed on COVID vaccines, treatments and equipment for global production to save lives

June 28, 2021: Professor Rachel Thrasher from Boston University Law School argues that, while the US is supporting a rule change for COVID vaccines, the US and other WTO members should also support the waiver of intellectual property rights on COVID treatments and  equipment.

EU Parliament and APEC back vaccine rule change as WTO waiver negotiations begin, but G-7 disappoints

June 14, 2021: The European Parliament passed a resolution on June 10, 2021, that supported negotiations for a temporary waiver of some WTO rules on patents to improve global access to affordable COVID-19-related medical products and to address global production constraints and supply shortages.

Pages