WTO Complicates Global Trade Deals in Depth Overtime

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  • Deals reached on food, health and fishing
  • Previously defiant India joins consensus
  • The package was seen boosting the credibility of the World Trade Organization

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization’s 164 members approved a series of trade agreements early on Friday that included commitments on fish and pledges on health and food security after more than five arduous days of negotiations.

The deals were sealed over five days of bargaining at a conference of more than 100 trade ministers that was seen as a test of countries’ ability to strike multilateral trade deals amid geopolitical tensions heightened by the Ukraine war.

Delegates cheered after the Six-Package Agreement was passed shortly before dawn on Friday.

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Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told them: “The package of agreements you have reached will make a difference in the lives of people around the world. The results show that the WTO is in fact capable of responding to the emergencies of our time.”

It had earlier appealed to WTO members to consider the “delicate balance” needed after the nearly hour-long talks that were extended for two additional days and at times drew anger and accusations.

Trade sources said that at one point, a series of demands from India, which sees itself as the champion of poor farmers and fishermen as well as developing countries, seemed intent on paralyzing talks, but facilities were found.

WTO rules state that all decisions are to be made unanimously, with any member alone able to exercise a veto.

The package, which Okonjo-Iweala described as “unprecedented,” included the two largest deals under consideration — on fisheries and a partial waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Fishing Subsidy Reduction Agreement is the second multilateral agreement establishing new global trade rules reached in the WTO’s 27-year history, and it is far more ambitious than the first, which was designed to cut red tape.

The fisheries subsidy deal has the potential to reverse the collapse of fish stocks. Although significantly reduced in size, it still commands approval.

“This is a turning point in addressing one of the main drivers of global overfishing.” said Isabel Jarrett, campaign manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts to cut harmful subsidies to fisheries.

A deal to partially waive intellectual property to allow developing countries to produce and export COVID-19 vaccines divided the WTO for nearly two years, but it eventually passed. It has also come under fire from campaign groups who say it is barely expanding on the existing exemption in WTO rules and is too narrow by not covering treatments and diagnoses.

“Put simply, it’s a technocratic ploy meant to save reputations, not lives,” said Max Lawson, co-chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

An agreement was also reached Thursday, on maintaining a freeze on e-commerce tariffs, which are vital to allowing the free flow of data around the world. Read more

In general, many observers were widely supportive and said the deals should strengthen the World Trade Organization, whose ability to intervene in trade disputes had been weakened by former US President Donald Trump, and put it on a path of reform.

“There is now a package on the table at (the ministerial conference) that will provide a real boost to the credibility and strength of the WTO system,” John Denton, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, said before approving the package.

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Writing by Emma Farge and Philip Blinkinsop; Editing by Richard Boleyn and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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