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.

 

Pfizer predicts huge revenue increase from COVID-19 vaccine sales, opposes suspension of any patent rights

May 5, 2021: Pfizer significantly increased revenue projections from its Covid-19 vaccine for the year, as the vaccine sales in the first three months of 2021 lifted the company to a stronger quarterly profit. The vaccine contributed US$3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of 2021.

Amid COVID disaster, global civil society calls for fundamental transformation of WTO

May 3, 2021: As the World Trade Organisation held yet another failed dialogue on a temporary change to WTO rules to address shortages of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and equipment, 202 international and nation civil society organisations wrote to all heads of state to call for fundamental change to the whole WTO project.

Health experts call out Morrison govt for blocking fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines

April 29, 2021: Over 700 Australian health care professionals and academics, supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Public Health Association of Australia, have called on the Australian government to support South Africa and India’s proposal in the World Trade Organisation for fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines. The WTO meets again on April 30 to discuss the proposal.

Support the ActionAid #PayYourWorkers campaign for garment industry workers

April 28, 2021: April 24 was the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, when an eight-storey garment factory complex collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring another 2,500 workers, almost all women and girls.

It’s a reminder of the unsafe conditions endured by garment workers globally – mainly women. Eight years on, women garment workers are still campaigning for their rights.

Tell the Australian government to support fair access to vaccines before WTO meeting on April 30

April 27, 2021: Current WTO rules give 20-year monopoly patents to pharmaceutical companies resulting in 87 per cent of all vaccines being received by high-income countries. There is a growing movement for fair access for low-income countries. Sign the petition to the government to support the WTO rule change here.

Pfizer exposed for unreasonable contract terms for COVID-19 vaccine in low income countries

April 21, 2021: The US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has succeeded in imposing indemnity clauses in its vaccine contract with South Africa, but on exposure was forced to drop demands for sovereign assets to be sold to pay for any claims for compensation for adverse effects.

South Africa has a variant of the novel coronavirus which is resistant to the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine but still vulnerable to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Huge civil society support for global open access to vaccines still blocked at the World Trade Organisation

April 19, 2021: Two hundred and fifty global, regional and national civil society organisations delivered the strongest statement yet in support of the waiver of intellectual property rights during the COVID-19 pandemic to World Trade Organisation Director General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on 13 April.

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