An area of focus the last two years at the WTO has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included various statements from Members, monitoring by the Secretariat of export and import actions either impeding or expediting the flow of medical goods and services, and various proposals for actions to address the pandemic or for future preparation. The proposal for a waiver from various TRIPS obligations from India and South Africa (and now supported by a range of countries) is one proposal. A number of countries (Ottawa Group) have put forward a proposal for a trade and health initiative to permit a more rapid response by WTO Members in the future. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN, KENYA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND, 24 November 2020, WT/GC/223; November 27, 2020: The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. The WTO Director-General and the Members have engaged in a number of meetings with other multilateral organizations and the private sector exploring options for expanding production of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding distribution to countries in need.
Amb. David Walker of New Zealand has been tasked to work with Members to see if a declaration on trade and health can be agreed to at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on November 30.
A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, provided his thoughts on likely outcomes at the 12th Ministerial during a WITA virtual event on November 18th and opined that a declaration on trade and health was likely only if there was some resolution of the waiver proposal for vaccines. See PIIE, Alan Wm. Wolff, Defining Success for MC12, 18 November 2021, Presented at WITA, slides 5, 7, 10-11. Slide 10 is presented below.
The EU and some others have not agreed to a waiver but have focused on making compulsory licensing more effective. See, e.g., DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION ON THE TRIPS AGREEMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PANDEMIC, COMMUNICATION FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION TO THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS, 18 June 2021, IP/C/W/681.
A driver behind the waiver proposal has been the limited availability of vaccines to least developed and some developing countries. Vaccine equity is the shorthand term for the concerns about availability and affordability of vaccines for all people. While the issue of availability and access is complicated and beyond just WTO competence, the world’s vaccine manufacturers have ramped up capacity and production, governments have belatedly gotten involved in expanding donations and some of the major bottlenecks to getting vaccines to COVAX in 2021 appear to be resolved going forward, though many LDCs and developing countries will not get large volumes of vaccines until 2022.
Prior to 2021, global capacity for all vaccines was estimated at 5 billion doses/year. In 2021, COVID-19 vaccine production alone will be around 10 billion doses. As of November 20, 2021, UNICEF’s COVID Vaccine Market Dashboard shows 8.624 billion doses delivered to countries and territories of which COVAX deliveries were 524 million (and 565 million delivered or cleared for shipment). https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (visited on November 20, 2021).
Administration of vaccine doses to populations has been less than doses delivered. Data from Blomberg’s COVID Vaccine Tracker as of November 19, 2021 9:34 a.m., shows 7.63 billion doses administered. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (visited November 20, 2021). From the Vaccine Tracker data, there are a large number of countries or territories (95) that have administered 100 or more doses to every 100 people in the country. As major vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna need two shots, and as some countries have started supplying boosters, data are not necessarily comparable across countries in terms of percentage of people vaccinated. But the doses administered per 100 people is a reasonable measure of equitable distribution. A review of the data do show large differences in administration of doses. However, which countries or territories have administered large numbers of doses/100 people is not tied to a country or territory having vaccine production capacity, nor is it tied to level of income in the country or territory.
For example, the top ten countries or territories for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Bloomberg report were:
Gibraltar, 279.2 doses/100 people
Cuba, 244.2 doses/100 people
Chile, 207.5 doses/100 people
Maldives, 204.8 doses/100 people
UAE, 201.6 doses/100 people
Bahrain, 191.7 doses/100 people
Uruguay, 190.7 doses/100 people
Malta, 185.9 doses/100 people
Cayman Islands, 183.7 doses/100 people
Seychelles, 182.7 doses/100 people
China ranked 16th at 172.1 doses/100 people; the United States ranked 66th at 134.0/100 people; EU members were generally greater than 100 doses/100 people but had several member states below that (Bulgaria at 45.4 doses/100 people; Romania at 73.0 doses/100 people) and had an overall average of 138.7. Morocco had the most doses/100 people for a country from Africa — 136.5.
Twenty-eight countries or territories have administered between 75 and 99.4 doses/100 people (including India at 84.6 doses/100 people); twenty-three countries or territories have administered between 50 and 73 doses/100 people (including Rwanda at 65.2 doses/100 people and Botswana at 52.8 doses/100 people); twenty-two countries or territories have administered between 25 and 47.1 doses/100 people (including South Africa at 41.4 doses/100 people); thirty-three countries or territories have administered between 0.2 and 18.7 doses/100 people.
Obviously, there are a large number of countries (including some developed countries) where vaccines administered are far too limited. For many developing and LDC countries with low numbers of doses administered, the failure of supplies to be delivered to COVAX for shipment is certainly a significant cause. India’s need to keep vaccine doses at home was a major cause of the shortfall to COVAX in 2021, but not the only reason.
Belatedly larger volumes of vaccine doses are making it to those in greatest need. The increases flow from a combination of increased production volumes globally, India resuming exports, increases in donations from a number of countries and more. For example, the UNICEF data on deliveries shows that there have been some significant increases in doses available to the countries or territories with very low doses administered levels. For example, Nigeria shows only 4.6 doses/100 people administered in the Bloomberg vaccine tracker data. The UNICEF vaccine market dashboard shows roughly three times the number of doses delivered to Nigeria as are reported administered (29.689 million vs. 9.254 million). Benin has 1.968 million doses delivered and just 0.347 million administered (2.9/100 people). It is also true for countries receiving doses from COVAX with higher existing doses administered. For example, Zimbabwe which had 42.3 doses administered per 100 people in the Bloomberg data showed nearly twice as many doses delivered in the UNICEF data as had been administered (11.322 million doses delivered vs. 6.31 million doses administered).
What the two reports suggest is that while vaccine equity is a real issue, the causes of the very different experiences of different countries or territories in the same general area are complex and not easily or completely understood by the current discussion. For example, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people. Similarly, Morocco had a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,980 and COVID vaccines administered of 136.5/100 people. In comparison, South Africa with a much higher per capita GNI in 2020 ($5,410) had COVID vaccines administered at less than 1/3rd the rate of Morocco – 41.4 vs.136.5/100 people. Nigeria, with a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,000 had administered only 4.6 COVID vaccines/100 people.
Thus, those working on improving vaccine equity need to identify and address the other causes besides vaccine production and availability through COVAX in the coming months.
I paste below the data from the Bloomberg COVID Vaccine Tracker ranked in descending order of COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of November 19, 2021.
Back in February of this year, Bolivia provided notice that it intended to use the special compulsory licensing system as an importing Member under the Amended TRIPS Agreement. See NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT, NOTIFICATION OF INTENTION TO USE THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM AS AN IMPORTING MEMBER, IP/N/8/BOL/1, 19 February 2021.
On the 10th of May 2021, Bolivia filed a notice with the WTO seeking access to a COVID-19 vaccine through a compulsory license for production in a third country. The notice was posted on the WTO website on November 11 (IP/N/9/BOL/1) and the subject of a WTO news release on the 12th of May. See WTO, Bolivia outlines vaccine import needs in use of WTO flexibilities to tackle pandemic, 12 May 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_10may21_e.htm. Bolivia’s two notifications are embedded below.
A translation from Google Translate (with a few tweaks) of the May 10 notice is provided below.
NOTIFICATION UNDER THE AMENDED TRIPS AGREEMENT
NOTIFICATION OF THE NEED TO IMPORT PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS UNDER THE SPECIAL COMPULSORY LICENSING SYSTEM
Member(s) who present the notification
Plurinational State of Bolivia
An estimated 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. In particular, it is intended to import the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S, a replication adenovirus type 26 (AD26) vectorized vaccine incompetent that encodes a stabilized variant of protein S of the SARS-Cov-2. The Plurinational State of Bolivia reserves the right to import other vaccines.
Demonstration that the capabilities of manufacturing in the pharmaceutical sector are insufficient or nonexistant
[X] At the moment the Member does not have manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector.
[ ] The Member has found that its capacity in the pharmaceutical sector to meet the needs regarding the pharmaceutical product needed.
Information about how it has proved the lack of manufacturing capacities (enough) in the pharmaceutical sector
The Plurinational State of Bolivia has verified that it does not have the capacity to manufacture in the pharmaceutical sector vaccines against COVID-19 including the vaccine Ad26.COV2.S.
Is (are) the product(s) necessary (s) protected (s) by patent in the territory?
[ ] No.
[ ] Yes.
[X] To be determined. Insofar as they have been requested or granted patents for the necessary products, the Plurinational State of Bolivia intends to grant compulsory licenses, in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement.
Date of presentation of the notification
10 May 2021
The WTO news release is copied below.
“The government of Bolivia has formally notified the WTO of the country’s need to import COVID-19 vaccines, taking another step towards using flexibilities in WTO intellectual property rules as part of its pandemic response.
“Bolivia notified the WTO it needed to import 15 million doses of a vaccine under the legal system introduced in a 2017 amendment (https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/trip_23jan17_e.htm) to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). That amendment, which created Article 31bis of the TRIPS Agreement, provides an additional legal pathway for import-reliant countries to access affordable medicines, vaccines and other pharmaceutical products.
“Bolivia’s submission follows through on its February notification signalling that it intended to exercise the flexibilities under the amendment.
“Bolivia’s notification opens up the possibility of importing the needed vaccines from any one of around 50 WTO members (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm) that have put in place domestic laws providing for the production and export of medicines made under compulsory licence through this system.
“’This is an example of a WTO member seeking to make use of available tools under the TRIPS Agreement to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as members seek to expand the range of options through the TRIPS waiver proposal,’ said Antony Taubman, Director of the WTO’s Intellectual Property Division. ‘This step provides one practical component of what could be a wider process of countries signalling urgent and unmet needs and encouraging a combined, coordinated response by international partners.’
“The WTO Secretariat has been encouraged by members in the TRIPS Council to provide any necessary technical assistance to facilitate use of the system to import pharmaceutical products manufactured under compulsory licence.”
The intersection of intellectual property rights and public health has been a topic of great interest and intense feelings at the WTO since its inception and resulted in an amendment to the TRIPS Agreement to address the needs of developing and least developed countries without pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity for certain products during emergencies. As the WTO news release notes, through a long process starting in 2001 and ending with the adoption of Article 31bis to the TRIPS Agreement in 2017, special provisions were added that would permit importing developing or least developed countries to have pharmaceutical products produced under compulsory license in countries adopting procedures to comply with the modified agreement. Today the following countries are on the list of WTO Members willing to produce pharmaceutical products under compulsory license for importing countries where conditions are met:
Albania; Australia; Botswana; Canada; China; Croatia; Cuba; European Union; Hong Kong, China; India; Jordan; Kazakhstan; New Zealand; Norway; Oman; Philippines; Republic of Korea; Singapore; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Japan. See Intellectual Property: TRIPS and Health, Members’ laws implementing the ‘Paragraph 6’ system, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/par6laws_e.htm.
The Amended TRIPS Agreement at Article 31bis and the Annex and Appendix which lay out requirements for utilization of the compulsory license provisions for importers are copied below. Like other compulsory licensing provisions, compensation to the patent holder is required by the exporter.
1. The obligations of an exporting Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply with respect to the grant by it of a compulsory licence to the extent necessary for the purposes of production of a pharmaceutical product(s) and its export to an eligible importing Member(s) in accordance with the terms set out in paragraph 2 of the Annex to this Agreement.
2. Where a compulsory licence is granted by an exporting Member under the system set out in this Article and the Annex to this Agreement, adequate remuneration pursuant to Article 31(h) shall be paid in that Member taking into account the economic value to the importing Member of the use that has been authorized in the exporting Member. Where a compulsory licence is granted for the same products in the eligible importing Member, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(h) shall not apply in respect of those products for which remuneration in accordance with the first sentence of this paragraph is paid in the exporting Member.
3. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products: where a developing or least developed country WTO Member is a party to a regional trade agreement within the meaning of Article XXIV of the GATT 1994 and the Decision of 28 November 1979 on Differential and More Favourable Treatment Reciprocity and Fuller Participation of Developing Countries (L/4903), at least half of the current membership of which is made up of countries presently on the United Nations list of least developed countries, the obligation of that Member under Article 31(f) shall not apply to the extent necessary to enable a pharmaceutical product produced or imported under a compulsory licence in that Member to be exported to the markets of those other developing or least developed country parties to the regional trade agreement that share the health problem in question. It is understood that this will not prejudice the territorial nature of the patent rights in question.
4. Members shall not challenge any measures taken in conformity with the provisions of this Article and the Annex to this Agreement under subparagraphs 1(b) and 1(c) of Article XXIII of GATT 1994.
5. This Article and the Annex to this Agreement are without prejudice to the rights, obligations and flexibilities that Members have under the provisions of this Agreement other than paragraphs (f) and (h) of Article 31, including those reaffirmed by the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2), and to their interpretation. They are also without prejudice to the extent to which pharmaceutical products produced under a compulsory licence can be exported under the provisions of Article 31(f).
ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT
1. For the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex:
(a) “pharmaceutical product” means any patented product, or product manufactured through a patented process, of the pharmaceutical sector needed to address the public health problems as recognized in paragraph 1 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (WT/MIN(01)/DEC/2). It is understood that active ingredients necessary for its manufacture and diagnostic kits needed for its use would be included(1);
(b) “eligible importing Member” means any least-developed country Member, and any other Member that has made a notification(2) to the Council for TRIPS of its intention to use the system set out in Article 31bis and this Annex (“system”) as an importer, it being understood that a Member may notify at any time that it will use the system in whole or in a limited way, for example only in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use. It is noted that some Members will not use the system as importing Members(3) and that some other Members have stated that, if they use the system, it would be in no more than situations of national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency;
(c) “exporting Member” means a Member using the system to produce pharmaceutical products for, and export them to, an eligible importing Member.
2. The terms referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 31bis are that:
(a) the eligible importing Member(s)(4) has made a notification(2)to the Council for TRIPS, that:
(i) specifies the names and expected quantities of the product(s) needed(5);
(ii) confirms that the eligible importing Member in question, other than a least developed country Member, has established that it has insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector for the product(s) in question in one of the ways set out in the Appendix to this Annex; and
(iii) confirms that, where a pharmaceutical product is patented in its territory, it has granted or intends to grant a compulsory licence in accordance with Articles 31 and 31bis of this Agreement and the provisions of this Annex(6);
(b) the compulsory licence issued by the exporting Member under the system shall contain the following conditions:
(i) only the amount necessary to meet the needs of the eligible importing Member(s) may be manufactured under the licence and the entirety of this production shall be exported to the Member(s) which has notified its needs to the Council for TRIPS;
(ii) products produced under the licence shall be clearly identified as being produced under the system through specific labelling or marking. Suppliers should distinguish such products through special packaging and/or special colouring/shaping of the products themselves, provided that such distinction is feasible and does not have a significant impact on price; and
(iii) before shipment begins, the licensee shall post on a website(7) the following information:
— the quantities being supplied to each destination as referred to in indent (i) above; and
— the distinguishing features of the product(s) referred to in indent (ii) above;
(c) the exporting Member shall notify(8) the Council for TRIPS of the grant of the licence, including the conditions attached to it.(9) The information provided shall include the name and address of the licensee, the product(s) for which the licence has been granted, the quantity(ies) for which it has been granted, the country(ies) to which the product(s) is (are) to be supplied and the duration of the licence. The notification shall also indicate the address of the website referred to in subparagraph (b)(iii) above.
3. In order to ensure that the products imported under the system are used for the public health purposes underlying their importation, eligible importing Members shall take reasonable measures within their means, proportionate to their administrative capacities and to the risk of trade diversion to prevent re-exportation of the products that have actually been imported into their territories under the system. In the event that an eligible importing Member that is a developing country Member or a least-developed country Member experiences difficulty in implementing this provision, developed country Members shall provide, on request and on mutually agreed terms and conditions, technical and financial cooperation in order to facilitate its implementation.
4. Members shall ensure the availability of effective legal means to prevent the importation into, and sale in, their territories of products produced under the system and diverted to their markets inconsistently with its provisions, using the means already required to be available under this Agreement. If any Member considers that such measures are proving insufficient for this purpose, the matter may be reviewed in the Council for TRIPS at the request of that Member.
5. With a view to harnessing economies of scale for the purposes of enhancing purchasing power for, and facilitating the local production of, pharmaceutical products, it is recognized that the development of systems providing for the grant of regional patents to be applicable in the Members described in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis should be promoted. To this end, developed country Members undertake to provide technical cooperation in accordance with Article 67 of this Agreement, including in conjunction with other relevant intergovernmental organizations.
6. Members recognize the desirability of promoting the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in order to overcome the problem faced by Members with insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector. To this end, eligible importing Members and exporting Members are encouraged to use the system in a way which would promote this objective. Members undertake to cooperate in paying special attention to the transfer of technology and capacity building in the pharmaceutical sector in the work to be undertaken pursuant to Article 66.2 of this Agreement, paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and any other relevant work of the Council for TRIPS.
7. The Council for TRIPS shall review annually the functioning of the system with a view to ensuring its effective operation and shall annually report on its operation to the General Council.
APPENDIX TO THE ANNEX TO THE TRIPS AGREEMENT
Assessment of Manufacturing Capacities in the Pharmaceutical Sector
Least-developed country Members are deemed to have insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector.
For other eligible importing Members insufficient or no manufacturing capacities for the product(s) in question may be established in either of the following ways:
(i) the Member in question has established that it has no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector;
(ii) where the Member has some manufacturing capacity in this sector, it has examined this capacity and found that, excluding any capacity owned or controlled by the patent owner, it is currently insufficient for the purposes of meeting its needs. When it is established that such capacity has become sufficient to meet the Member’s needs, the system shall no longer apply.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to subparagraph 1(b).
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
Australia, Canada, the European Communities with, for the purposes of Article 31bis and this Annex, its member States, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States.
Joint notifications providing the information required under this subparagraph may be made by the regional organizations referred to in paragraph 3 of Article 31bis on behalf of eligible importing Members using the system that are parties to them, with the agreement of those parties.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
This subparagraph is without prejudice to Article 66.1 of this Agreement.
The licensee may use for this purpose its own website or, with the assistance of the WTO Secretariat, the page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
It is understood that this notification does not need to be approved by a WTO body in order to use the system.
The notification will be made available publicly by the WTO Secretariat through a page on the WTO website dedicated to the system.
The COVID-19 vaccine challenge is an interesting one. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF have come together to have a process for both supporting development, procuring and distributing vaccines around the world including to 92 low- and middle-income countries at little or no cost. The COVAX facility is an effort supported by many governments and private sector supporters to improve the equitable access to vaccines. Thus, it is an effort to reduce the need for individual low- and middle-income countries to have to secure supplies on their own. As reviewed in prior posts, while COVAX has been shipping millions of doses to countries (as of May 12, 2021 over 59 million doses to 122 countries), it is far behind its anticipated shipments because of the current challenges in India with the cessation of exports from India in the last several months March to address internal needs. (reduction of some 90 million doses likely)
Bolivia is a recipient of vaccines from COVAX. See Gavi, COVAX vaccine roll-out BOLIVIA, https://www.gavi.org/covax-vaccine-roll-out/bolivia (information from the webpage on 14 May 2021 reports that “First doses received: 22 March 2021Doses received: 228,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine*; Doses allocated: 72,000 SII-AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine; 92,430 Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) vaccine.”).
While many countries have arranged for vaccine shipments outside of the COVAX facility process from one or more of the global producers, including some not yet approved by the WHO, and while production levels for many producers have been ramping up month to month and there are a number of additional companies likely to pursue authorization for vaccines in the coming months, access to vaccines is limited for many countries in the first and second quarters of 2021. See Bloomberg, More than 1.38 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 13, 2021 (6:18 p.m.), https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. There are four countries or areas with more than 100 million vaccination shots — China (354.3 million), United States (266.6 million), European Union (186.6 million) and India (179.2 million). There are seventeen countries with between 10 million and 56.4 million vaccination shots, 52 countries with more than 1 million and less than 10 million vaccination shots. There are 101 countries that have fewer than one million vaccination shots. Bolivia has administered 972,846 shots, enough for 4.2% of its population.
At the WTO, India and South Africa, now supported by a large number of other countries, have pursued a waiver from most TRIPS Agreement obligations for medical goods needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic largely on the basis that TRIPS Agreement flexibilities don’t work and the pandemic presents special urgency. Developed pharmaceutical producing countries have opposed a waiver as both unlikely to solve the need for more volume of vaccines and as unnecessary in light of TRIPS flexibilities. Last week the United States indicated it would support a waiver and agreed to engage in textual negotiations, though the position taken by the U.S. has not been supported by the European Union and possibly others.
So the Bolivian notification provides a real time opportunity to see if the flexibilities included in the Amended TRIPS Agreement can be used successfully to permit developing and least developed countries to access needed vaccines in a timely fashion. Coupled with expanded capacity and production and possibly additional licensing arrangements and additional approvals of new vaccines, a successful use of Art. 31bis of the Amended TRIPS Agreement may provide sufficient flexibility to address equity concerns at the WTO.
An update on COVID-19 data
Before closing, it is useful to review updated data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in yesterday’s COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 18, updated 12 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases and the data on weekly cases and deaths. The world in week 18 of 2021 saw the number of new recorded infections come down from the peak of the prior week as seen in the ECDC weekly update (chart copied below).
“Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 18 2021
“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.“
This is true in total and also for India. For the last two weeks, India recorded 5,544,535 new cases — the first time a country has surpassed five million cases in a two week period, although week 18 was slightly lower than week 17 in terms of new cases recorded in India. See ECDC, Data on 14-day notification rate of new COVID-19 cases and deaths, 13 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/data-national-14-day-notification-rate-covid-19. India accounted for 49.38% of global cases over the last two weeks — the highest percent for a single country during the pandemic — and remains in a state of health care crisis as previously reported, although support from trading partners and lockdowns in a number of the Indian states appear to be reducing the number of cases and helping to some extent address health care needs.
Because of the size of India’s population and despite the recent surge of cases, India’s number of cases and deaths per 100,000 population are lower than many other countries. India has reported infections for 1.64% of its population or 1,642.21 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 198.33 people/100,000 in the last week. Brazil has reported infections for 7.16% of its population or 7,155.64 people/100,000 population during the pandemic and 202.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. Bolivia has recorded infections in 2.73% of its population or 2,779.45 people/100,000 population and 103.51 people/100,000 population in the last week. The United States has recorded infections for 9.88% of its population or 9,881.43 people/100,000 population during the pandemic with 86.43 people/100,000 population in the last week. And there are many other countries with higher COVID-19 cases than India according to the ECDC data. Similar comparisons can be made on deaths where India has suffered recorded COVID deaths equal to 0.02% of its population during the pandemic compared to 0.20% for Brazil, 0.11% for Bolivia and 0.18% for the United States. Even in the last week, deaths in Brazil per 100,000 were more than three times what was recorded in India (6.87 people vs. 1.968 people). Bolivia was comparable to India during the last week (1.876) while the U.S. death count is declining (1.42 people during the last week per 100,000 population).
All of the above to say, the world’s attention on India is understandable because of the severe challenges the Indian government is facing and the size of its population. However, there are a number of countries experiencing comparable or even greater surges than India. Brazil is one example, but there are others in South America and some in Asia facing alarming increases or levels of infections. Equitable access needs to be tempered by flexibility to address current fires if the global effort is to be successful and reduce global infections and deaths.
The third round of consultations with WTO Members on which of the two remaining candidates is preferred and hence may be the most likely to obtain consensus to become the next Director-General gets started next Monday, October 19 and ends on October 27.
Both Minister Yoo of Korea and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria are in the process of seeking support from WTO Members and have the full support of their governments which are making calls and sending letters to government officials in many of the WTO Members.
Minister Yoo is back in Europe seeking support in this third round (she and Dr. Okonjo-Iweala both received preferences from the EU in the second round). Press reports indicate that China is believed to be supporting Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and Japan is understood to have concerns with both candidates. Thus, Minister Yoo is working to bolster support in other regions of the world to supplement what is assumed to be only partial support within Asia.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received the support from Kenya after Kenya’s candidate did not advance to the third round. It is not clear whether she will receive support from all African Members of the WTO, although Kenya’s action is obviously an imortant positive for her.
So the next eleven days will be an active time as each of the remaining candidates seeks support in the final round of consultations from Members in different geographical areas as well as in different categories (developed, developing and least developed countries).
One source of information about the candidates that hasn’t been available to the public but is now available is the questions and answers provided to the General Council meetings with each candidate on July 15 (Dr. Okonjo-Iweala) and July16 (Minister Yoo). While there were three days of meetings with the General Council to accommodate the eight candidates, the two remaining candidates appeared during the first two days. The Minutes of the Meeting of the General Council, 15-17 July 2020 are contained in WT/GC/M/185 (31 August 2020). The procedures for each candidate were reviewed by the General Council Chairman David Walker (New Zealand).
“Each candidate would be invited to make a brief presentation lasting no more than fifteen minutes. That would be followed by a question-and-answer period of no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. During the last five minutes of the question-and-answer period, each candidate would have the opportunity to make a concluding statement if she or he so wished.” (page 1, para. 1.5).
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 2 on pages 16-26. Minister Yoo Myung-hee’s statement, questions asked, answers given and closing statement are in Annex 5 on pages 51-60. The statements have previously been reviewed in my posts and are available on the WTO webpage.
Questions are picked randomly from Members who indicated an interest in asking questions. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala received questions during the meeting from nineteen Members with another thirty-nine Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her. Minister Yoo received questions during her meeting from seventeen Members with another forty-four Members having submitted their names to ask questions of her.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s questions came from Afghanistan, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, European Union, Paraguay, Estonia, Australia, Latvia, Guatemala, Japan, Mongolia, Brazil, and Malaysia. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:
The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries, LDCs and small vulnerable economies (SVEs).
How to ensure the benefits of open trade are distributed equitably?
What steps will you undertake to ensure a multilateral outcome at the next Ministerial?
Role of the Director-General (DG) in addressing lack of trust among Members.
Role of the DG in facilitating economic recovery and resilience.
What is necessary to restore functioning of a binding, two-step dispute settlement system in the WTO?
Do transparency and notification obligations need to be strengthened?
Focus in the first 100 days.
Your initial approach to the reform of the WTO.
What kind of approach and efforts would you like to make to advance the subject of e-commerce?
Role of plurilaterals in the WTO.
How to deal with the different views on special and differential treatment?
What are your plans relating to empowering women in the future WTO agenda?
Minister Yoo’s questions came from Guatemala, Belgium, United States, India, Germany, El Salvador, Chinese Taipei, Sri Lanka, Spain, Qatar, Lithuania, Gabon, Botswana, China, Barbados, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe. The questions dealt with a range of issues including the following sample:
Do you have any proposal on how to overcome the current crisis?
How do you plan to include measures to respect sustainable trade in an agenda focused on free trade and trade liberalization?
In looking at interim arbitration agreement of EU and other countries, is it appropriate for WTO resources to be used for activities that go beyond what is contemplated by the DSU?
How to convince Members that the multilateral trading system is still best way forward over bilateral and plurilateral trading arrangements?
Is there a gap in the WTO rulebook with regard to level playing field issues such as subsidies, economic action by the State and competition?
Do you have a multilateral solution to issues like e-commerce which are being tackled in the Joint Statement Initiatives that would be of interest to a large number of Members?
WTO is lagging behind in pursuing the development dimension; what is the path forward?
Role of DG re fighting protectionism and unilateral measures.
How to strike a balance between public stockholding and food security and the avoidance of unnecessary trade restrictions?
What is your view on the Doha Development Agenda?
What role the WTO can play to help drive Africa’s integration agenda?
What is the most important issue to achieve results?
Both candidates gave extensive answers to the questions posed while avoiding staking out a position on any issue that is highly controversial within the WTO. The answers are worth reading in their entirety. As a result the minutes of the meeting are embedded below.
Each candidate in their summing up at the end of her meeting with the General Council circled back to their prepared statement. Their short summing up statements are copied below.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (page 26):
“The nature of the questions that I have heard and the nature of the discussions give me hope. Members are clearly interested in a WTO that works, in a WTO that is different from what we have now, in a WTO that shows a different face to the world. I can see it and I can feel it. And if ever I am selected as Director-General, that gives me hope that there is a foundation to work on. Before coming in here, I have spoken to several Members, but I did not really know that. From listening to all of you and fielding your questions, I now know that there is a basis to work on. And I want to thank you for it.
“And I really want to end where I began. Trade is very important for a prosperous and a recovered world in the 21st century. The WTO is at the centre of this. A renewed WTO is a mission that we must all undertake, and we need every Member, regardless of economic size, to participate in this. If we want the world to know who we are as the WTO, we have to commit. Having listened to you, I hear the commitment and I want to thank you sincerely for that.”
Minister Yoo Myung-hee (page 60):
“I spent the past few days meeting with Ambassadors and delegates in Geneva. When I listen to your views, together with the questions today, it seems that there are diverse views and priorities of Members – whether it concerns the negotiations, how to pursue development objectives and special and differential treatment, the plurilaterals or restoring the Appellate Body function. So, how can we, a dynamic group of 164 Members with different social and economic environments, come to an agreement? This brings me back to my original message. We need to rebuild trust in the WTO. How? Amid these divergent and different views of Members, I would share the commitment and hope to restoring and revitalizing the WTO.
“This pandemic has forced us to reflect upon what is needed from the multilateral trading system. Despite the current challenges, I have a firm belief in the multilateral trading system and what we can actually achieve in the future if we put our heads together and also our hearts into it. We are embarking on a new journey towards a new chapter for the WTO. Building on the past twenty-five years, when we embark on the new journey for the next twenty-five years, I am ready to provide a new leadership that will harness all the frustrations but most importantly all the hopes from Members to make the WTO more relevant, resilient and responsive for the next twenty-five years and beyond.”
The process that WTO Members agreed on in 2002 to promote a process for finding a candidate for a new Director-General is cumbersome, time consuming and burdensome for candidates brave enough to put their hat in the ring. To date, the 2002 process has resulted in Members agreeing by consensus on a new Director-General (2005 and 2013). The process in 2020 has worked remarkably smoothly as well despite the deep divisions in the membership and the multiple-pronged crisis facing the organization.
The two finalists bring different backgrounds and skill sets to be considered by Members. Each started strong in the General Council meetings in mid-July as can be seen from their answers to questions posed, and each has continued to impress many Members in the subsequent months. There are political considerations in the selection process of the Director-General (just as in any major leadership position of an international organization). Both candidates are getting active support of their home governments. Fortunately, the membership has two qualified and very interesting candidates to consider. Whoever emerges as the candidate most likely to achieve consensus among the Members will still face the hurdle of whether any Member (or group of Members) will block the consensus. While that seems unlikely at the present time, one never knows.
Whoever becomes the next Director-General will face the daunting challenges of an organization with all three major functions not operating as needed, deep divisions among major players and among major groups. The lack of forward movement and the lack of trust among Members will weigh heavily on the new Director-General with a narrow window before the next Ministerial Conference likely to take place next June. It is remarkable that talented individuals with long histories of accomplishments would be willing to take on the problems the WTO is weighed down with at the present time. Hopefully, the next Director-General will be known in the next three weeks.