South Africa

World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021

On May 3, 2021, the WTO held a Trade Negotiations Committee (“TNC”) session combined with an informal session of the Heads of Delegation in Geneva. Because the WTO over time has eliminated the immediate release of statements of the Chair of the TNC and the Chairs of different negotiating groups who provide updates on the status of negotiations, there is very limited public information on the meeting at the present time. The WTO released a news release on the meeting entitled “Members discuss contours of potential MC12 deliverables”. See TNC and Heads of Delegation Meeting, Members discuss contours of potential MC12 deliverables, May 3, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/hod_03may21_e.htm. A review of WTO documents listed on the WTO website reveals that Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala provided a seven page Chair’s statement at the meeting, although the document is not publicly available. See JOB/TNC/91. There was at least one other statement made by chairs of negotiating groups, though the statement is not publicly available. See Council for Trade in Services – Special Session – Report by Ambassador Zhanar Altzhanova, Chair of the CTS Special Session, to the informal TNC and HODs meeting – 3 May 2021, JOB/SERV/307, May 4, 2021. One would assume there were reports on the fisheries subsidies negotiations, on agriculture and on various Joint Statement Initiatives though there is no listing of any such statements.

Copied below is the May 3 WTO news release.

“Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make such deals possible. Fisheries subsidies, agriculture and the COVID-19 pandemic featured prominently in the discussions, with several members stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results was critical for the WTO’s credibility. The 3 May gathering was both a formal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee and an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation.

“Summing up members’ interventions at the end of the day, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said what she had heard matched what she had been told in her own consultations: ‘Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results.’

“She said three concrete deliverables stood out: an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies; outcomes on agriculture, with a focus on food security; and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

“Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12, scheduled to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

“On fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalize an agreement in July, she called on delegations to work with the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve. ‘We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,’ she said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair translate increased flexibility into an agreement.

“Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO ‘food security package’. Elements for a prospective package included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

“The Director-General welcomed the view expressed by many delegations that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health. The WTO’s spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders, she said.

“Reporting on a 14 April event where vaccine manufacturers, international organizations, civil society and members looked at how the WTO could contribute to efforts to combat the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, she said it was clear that underused manufacturing capacity existed in several developing countries.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala praised members’ support to India amid the upsurge in COVID-19 cases there, which followed India’s own exports of a large number of vaccines. ‘That is what the WTO membership should be about — working together, supporting each other,’ she said. She asked members to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal aimed at finding a pragmatic compromise that works for all.

“With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members ‘can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed’.

“The General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, is consulting on proposals about issues specific to least-developed countries such as the G-90 proposals on special and differential treatment as well as on small economies and areas such as the e-commerce Work Programme, she said.

“She noted that groups of members had signalled a desire to move ahead in areas such as services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises as well as issues related to trade and climate change.

“For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Director-General said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organizing meetings “in various configurations large and small” to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members. She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings ‘Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don’t know about,’ she emphasised. She indicated that she would work closely with the General Council chair and the chairs of the negotiating bodies as well as MC12 chair Kazakhstan to conduct these meetings.

“Emphasising the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the ‘path to July’ would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. ‘Week in, week out, this is what we will do now.’”

It is often the case that the U.S., European Union and China release their statements at events like the May 3 TNC session. Reviewing the webpages for the three Members’ WTO operations shows a statement only for the EU. See EU Statement at the Trade Negotiations Committee/Heads of Delegation meeting, 3 May 2021, Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/97682/eu-statement-trade-negotiations-committeeheads-delegation-meeting-3-may-2021_en.

The EU seeks a number of specific outcomes for the 12th Ministerial Conference and emphasizes the need to keep the agenda limited to permit success. The EU’s list starts with the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies agreement negotiations and secondly achieving agreement on trade and health including increasing COVID-19 vaccine production.

“Firstly, on fisheries subsidies; the EU supports the Chair’s efforts to move the negotiations forward and the
Director-General’s involvement and intent to achieve an outcome already in July. With this in mind, we need to
consider how best to use the short time ahead. These negotiations are a test case of the ability of the WTO to
deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, in this case SDG 14.6. We are already late, well passed the
deadline that Heads of State and Government instructed us, here at the WTO, to deliver. We have full
confidence that Ambassador Wills will find the best way forward for these negotiations.

“Secondly, on trade and health, we must work towards a Ministerial Declaration that brings together key
elements of the Ottawa Group proposal on Trade & Health (export restrictions, transparency, trade facilitation)
as well as progress on the expansion of production capacities through voluntary licensing and, where necessary,
supporting the use of the available TRIPs flexibilities.”

Beyond these two deliverables, the EU looks for an agreed work program for reform of the WTO’s three core functions — negotiations, transparency/monitoring, and dispute settlement. Restoring a functioning two-tier dispute settlement system is the top priority in this area followed by improved notification practices.

The EU supports the various Joint Statement Initiatives and intends to propose additional ones on industrial subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and trade and environment topics.

The EU’s proposal on agriculture differs in part from the summary of views presented by DG Okonjo-Iweala as addressing export restraints, particularly for World Food Programme purchases is a priority while other issues including public stockholding (and other forms of domestic support) is viewed as more appropriate for a work program outcome from the 12th Ministerial.

Developments in the last week

The WTO held a two day General Council meeting on May 5-6 with the big news being the United States’ indication that because of the extraordinary circumstances of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the United States would support the proposed waiver of certain TRIPS obligations on medical goods for the duration of the pandemic, more specifically being willing to enter into text negotiations in the TRIPS Council. See May 6, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/06/covid-19-vaccines-role-of-wto-and-developments-at-may-5-6-2021-general-council-on-trips-waiver/.

The major countries within the EU have come out opposing the U.S. change of position on the waiver proposal and have urged the United States to remove export restrictions on vaccines and raw materials and other inputs, See The Hill, EU leaders criticize Biden push to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents: Not a ‘magic bullet’, May 8, 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/international/europe/552459-eu-leaders-criticize-biden-push-to-waive-covid-19-patents-not-a; Euronews, EU leaders urge US to end COVID-19 vaccine export limits amid patents controversy, 8 May 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/07/european-leaders-urge-u-s-britain-to-match-eu-generosity-on-vaccine-exports. Not surprisingly, the move was also criticized by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. See, e.g., McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP – JDSupra, BIO & IPO Issue Statements on Biden Administration’s Support for Proposed WTO Waiver, May 7, 2021, https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/bio-ipo-issue-statements-on-biden-3271048/.

There have been additional announcements by the WHO on vaccines receiving emergency use authorization (first of two Chinese vaccines was approved on May 7, 2021; a second is pending), additional vaccine producers have reached agreements with COVAX for supplying vaccines once their vaccines are approved by the WHO (Moderna, Novavax), and increased production targets by major COVID-19 producers (e.g., Pfizer raised its target for 2021 to 3 billion doses from 2.5 billion and increased 2022 from 3 billion doses to 4 billion doses; Moderna increases production forecast for 2021 to 800 million to 1 billion and is making investments to increase production in 2022 to 3 billion doses). See, e.g., World Health Organization, WHO lists additional COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use and issues interim policy recommendations, 7 May 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/07-05-2021-who-lists-additional-covid-19-vaccine-for-emergency-use-and-issues-interim-policy-recommendations; Gavi, Gavi signs agreement with Moderna to secure doses on behalf of COVAX Facility, 3 May 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/gavi-signs-agreement-moderna-secure-doses-behalf-covax-facility; Gavi, Gavi signs agreement with Novavax to secure doses on behalf of COVAX Facility, 6 May 2021,https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/gavi-signs-agreement-novavax-secure-doses-behalf-covax-facility; Wall Street Journal, Pfizer Lifts Covid-19 Vaccine Production Targets for 2021, 2022, May 7, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pfizer-lifts-covid-19-vaccine-production-targets-for-2021-2022-11620425904; Moderna, Moderna Reports First Quarter Fiscal Year 2021 Financial Results and Provides Business Updates, May 6, 2021, https://investors.modernatx.com/news-releases/news-release-details/moderna-reports-first-quarter-fiscal-year-2021-financial-results

What is clear is that the increased attention that will be paid by WTO Members on the waiver proposal within the TRIPS Council will likely suck a lot of oxygen out of the WTO in the coming months for other negotiating issues, many of which remain controversial in their own right. Any text based agreement on a TRIPS waiver is unlikely until close to the 12th Ministerial (and unlikely then if EU opposition remains or the U.S. is unable to achieve acceptable text). Thus, the remaining months before the 12th Ministerial Conference will present some major challenges to the WTO Members in their efforts to come up with achievements to keep the WTO relevant going forward. The U.S. move also creates a division with European allies and appears to have been taken without consultation with those allies ahead of last week’s announcement — a departure from the Biden Administration’s approach to date.

COVID-19 vaccines — role of WTO and developments at May 5-6, 2021 General Council meeting on TRIPS Waiver

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create problems around the world, there has been increased activity in many countries and at multilateral organizations seeking to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and increase access to vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. While a number of vaccines have been approved by one or more countries (usually on an emergency use authorization basis) and a few have been approved the World Health Organization, a number of others are seeking approval or are in final stages of trials.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control now issues a weekly update on the COVID-19 situation worldwide. Today’s release of data for week 17 of 2021 shows global cases since the beginning at 153,220,576 of which the Americas has the largest share with 41.16% (63,068,547 cases; U.S. being 32.4 million; Brazil being 14.8 million; Argentina being 3.0 million; Colombia being 2.9 million and Mexico being 2.3 million). Europe is second with 33.10% of the total cases (50,722,884; France with 5.7 million, Turkey with 4.9 million, Russia with 4.8 million, the U.K. with 4.4 million and Italy with 4.0 million). Asia represents 22.70% of cases (34,785,351 of which India is 19.9 million, Iran is 2.5 million, Indonesia is 1.7 million, Iraq is 1.1 million and the Philippines is 1.1 million). Africa accounts for 2.98% of cases (4,571,789 of which South Africa has reported 1.6 million and no other countries have more than 0.5 million). Oceania accounts for 0.05% of cases (71,300). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 17, updated 6 May 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

Deaths are similarly distributed globally with the Americas having 47.79% of global deaths (1,533,740 of 3,209,416); Europe having 33.47% (1,074,175), Asia having 14.89% (477,851), Africa having 3.81% (122,304) and Oceania having 0.04% (1,340). Id.

The world has seen increases in new cases for the last ten weeks in a row and has had the highest number of cases per week in the most recent weeks as the copied graphic from today’s ECDC publication shows.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 17 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 17 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”

As the news accounts make clear, India is facing major challenges and has accounted for a very large part of new cases in recent weeks. For example, over the last 14 days, India reported 4.86 million new cases. This is the first time any country has amassed more than four million cases in a two week period. India has accounted for 42.61% of the world total of new cases in that two week period. Id.

Press accounts have shown a health care system in India struggling to keep up with shortages of everything from ICU units to PPE to medications to oxygen and with a small part of the population totally vaccinated or having received the first of two shots. BBC News, Coronavirus: How India descended into Covid-19 chaos, 5 May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56977653.

In response to its internal crisis, India has diverted production of COVID-19 vaccines to domestic use, essentially halting exports, complicating the efforts of the COVAX facility to get vaccines to the 91 low- and middle-income countries (other than India which also is supposed to receive vaccines from COVAX). While COVAX has shipped more than 53 million doses to 121 countries as of May 4, as much as 90 million additional vaccine doses were supposed to be supplied by Indian producers to COVAX during April and May that will not make it into the system. See, e.g., Gavi, COVAX vaccine rollout, https://www.gavi.org/covax-facility; Gavi, COVAX updates participants on delivery delays for vaccines from Serum Institute of India (SII) and AstraZeneca, 25 March 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/covax-updates-participants-delivery-delays-vaccines-serum-institute-india-sii-az.

Considering the challenges that India is facing, many nations have been providing assistance in an effort to support India as it attempts to cope with the current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The U.S. assistance is summarized in a fact sheet from the White House which is embedded below.

FACT-SHEET_-Biden-Harris-Administration-Delivers-Emergency-COVID-19-Assistance-for-India-_-The-White-House

A number of countries in South America are also seeing major problems — e.g., Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru — though receiving far less attention than India.

Vaccination development, production and distribution

Efforts have been made over the last decade to develop tools and organizations to develop, produce and distribute vaccines to achieve greater equity in access and affordability of vaccines. The WHO, Gavi, CEPI and UNICEF along with important private sector actors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have worked hard to both support research of potential vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic, worked with companies to arrange purchases of vaccines if approved for use, raised funds from governments and private sector participants to pay for the efforts on research and procurement, and organized distribution to the 92 low- and middle-income countries sufficient to address 20% of the populations as well as for any other countries choosing to work through the COVAX facility.

At the same time, a number of countries have negotiated contracts with companies developing vaccines. Because at the time of contracting, it was not known which vaccines would be effective or achieve approval from which governments, major advanced economies often contracted for quantities far in excess of likely needs (assuming all vaccines were eventually approved).

Because of the unprecedented government funding and industry cooperation, a number of vaccines were developed and approved on at least an emergency use basis and production efforts began in late 2020 and have been ramping up in 2021. This includes vaccines developed in the U.S., the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, India and Russia. While all have not yet been approved by the WHO, all have been approved by at least a number of governments. A number of others are either in the approval process or in final stage trials with vaccine approvals likely in the second half of 2021.

It is expected that capacity to produce more than 10 billion doses of vaccines to fight COVID-19 will be operational by the end of 2021. COVAX contracts and deliveries to economies outside of COVAX have anticipated relatively small volumes in the 1st quarter of 2021, with increases in each of the next three quarters. UNICEF has a “COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard” which it describes as follows (https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard):

“The COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard is the go-to public resource for the latest information on the world’s COVID-19 vaccine market and the COVAX Facility’s vaccine deliveries.

“From a global vaccine market perspective, the dashboard gives an overview of:  

“- COVID-19 vaccine development and progress towards vaccine approvals

“- Reported global vaccine production capacity

“- Manufacturing agreements  

“- Vaccines secured and optioned through bilateral and multilateral supply agreements  

“- Reported vaccine prices

“The ‘Delivery’ tab of the dashboard provides daily updates on total COVAX vaccine deliveries, doses allocated, and doses ordered. It also includes country- and economy level data on vaccine deliveries and planned shipments over a seven-day period. This information covers both UNICEF-procured doses and deliveries, as well as other national and institutional buyers participating in the COVAX Facility. It further tracks globally reported vaccine deliveries and vaccine donations outside of COVAX.”

For example, looking at the capacity figures from the dashboard by development stage shows 4 billion dose capacity approved for use in the first half of 2021, growing to 8 billion dose capacity approved for use in the second half of 2021, with 19 billion dose capacity projected for each of 2022 and 2023 as being approved for use.

There have been challenges in ramping up production, including manufacturing issues at individual companies, bottlenecks in supply chains for particular inputs, export restrictions in place for some, etc. In prior posts I have reviewed data pulled together by industry and others on the challenges as well as the enormous level of voluntary licensing, and other arrangements to grow capacity and production. Industry estimates have consistently been that capacity will be at 10-15 billion doses by the end of 2021 — an extraordinary accomplishment considering global capacity for vaccines previously (roughly 5 billion doses for all vaccines). See, e.g., April 18, 2021, WTO’s April 14th virtual meeting to review COVID-19 vaccine availability, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/18/wtos-april-14th-virtual-meeting-to-review-covid-19-vaccine-availability/ (” One of the private sector participants, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) included its statement on the IFPMA website. See IFPMA, IFPMA statement at WTO event ‘COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What can the WTO Contribute’, 14 April 2021, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/ifpma-statement-at-wto-event-covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-what-can-the-wto-contribute/. The IFPMA statement is embedded below but highlights the extraordinary effort of the private sector in ramping up production which is expected to be 10 billion doses by the end of 2021 with some 272 partnerships entered into and 200 technology transfer agreements.” (emphasis added)); April 13, 2021, April 15, 2021 — U.S and Gavi co-host event for additional funding for COVAX amid concerns about two workhorse vaccines for COVAX, ttps://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/13/april-15-2021-u-s-and-gavi-co-host-event-for-additional-funding-for-covax-amid-concerns-about-two-workhorse-vaccines-for-covax/; April 8, 2021, COVAX delivers COVID-19 vaccines to 100th country; India surge in infections likely to reduce product availability for COVAX through May and likely longer, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/covax-delivers-covid-19-vaccines-to-100th-country-india-surge-in-infections-likely-to-reduce-product-availability-for-covax-through-may-and-likely-longer/; April 2, 2021, Global vaccinations against COVID-19; developments and challenges in the roll-out for many countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/02/global-vaccinations-against-covid-19-developments-and-challenges-in-the-roll-out-for-many-countries/; March 25, 2021, Global vaccinations for COVID-19 — continued supply chain and production issues and a new wave of infections in many countries delay greater ramp up for some until late in the second quarter of 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/25/global-vaccinations-for-covid-19-continued-supply-chain-and-production-issues-and-a-new-wave-of-infections-in-many-countries-delay-greater-ramp-up-for-some-until-late-in-the-second-quarter-of-2021/; March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/; March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit” – efforts to ramp-up production, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/; March 5, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — France supports Italy’s blockage of a shipment to Australia; while Australia has asked the EU to permit the shipment, Australia will have its own production of AstraZeneca product by the end of March, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/05/covid-19-vaccines-france-supports-italys-blockage-of-a-shipment-to-australia-while-australia-has-asked-the-eu-to-permit-the-shipment-australia-will-have-its-own-production-of-astrazeneca-produc/; March 4, 2021, Italy blocks exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, first blockage of export authorization by the EU or its member states, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/italy-blocks-exports-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-australia-first-blockage-of-export-authorization-by-the-eu-or-its-member-states/; March 4, 2021, The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/the-eus-response-to-challenges-to-its-actions-on-covid-19-vaccine-exports/; March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/.

As of May 5, 3032, Bloomberg reports that more than 1.21 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered. The top six areas for vaccinations are China (284.6 million doses administered), the United States (249.6 million), India (162.4 million), the EU (158.6 million), the U.K. (50.7 million) and Brazil (50.2 million). See Bloomberg, More Than 1.21 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated May 5, 2021 at 5:38 p.m. EDT, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/. Not surprisingly, with the exception of China which has one of the lowest rates of infection of any country in the world, vaccinations have been concentrated in countries with high rates of infection — both developed and developing.

Because of the disruption in supplies from India because of their current challenges, far fewer doses have been administered in low-income countries as COVAX is behind its schedule for deliveries. There are, of course, other challenges in a number of low-income countries, where poor health care infrastructure has resulted in many of the vaccine doses that have been received not being used. See NPR, They Desperately Need COVID Vaccines. So Why Are Some Countries Throwing Out Doses?, May 5, 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/05/05/991684096/they-desperately-need-covid-vaccines-so-why-are-some-countries-throwing-out-dose (“It seems incredible: At a time when low-income nations are clamoring for vaccines against COVID-19, at least three countries — Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and South Sudan — are either discarding doses or giving them to other countries. What’s going on?”).

The Proposal for a TRIPs Waiver from India and South Africa

Back in October 2020, India and South Africa filed a proposal for a waiver from many TRIPS Agreement obligations for all WTO Members for a period of years on vaccines, therapeutics and other medical goods relevant to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. There has not been agreement within the TRIPS Council on approving the proposed waiver with a number of advanced pharmaceutical producing countries (U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland) opposing the proposal or disagreeing that a waiver would address the current availability challenges. The issue has been discussed on a number of occasions in the TRIPS Council. See, e.g., WTO press release, TRIPS Council to continue to discuss temporary IP waiver, revised proposal expected in May, 30 April 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_30apr21_e.htm. There have also been efforts to identify challenges to increasing capacity and production faster and addressing concerns over equitable access. Those issues have been addressed in prior posts, listed above.

There has been considerable pressure from NGOs and, in the U.S., from Democratic members of Congress to agree to the waiver despite concerns within the Biden Administration on whether agreeing to a waiver would actually improve production or access. The Biden Administration in late April announced its decision to make 60 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines available for redistribution in the coming months (including 10 million doses in current inventory once FDA approves release). AstraZeneca has not yet applied for authorization for its vaccine in the United States, and the U.S. believes it has sufficient other supplies to permit sharing the 60 million doses expected to be available through June. See Financial Times, U.S. plans to share 60m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, 26 April 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/db461dd7-b132-4f08-a94e-b23a6764bdb3. And as part of the relief the U.S. is providing to India, the U.S. has directed inputs for 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be sent to India instead of to U.S. facilities.

Leading nations through groupings like the G-7, G-20 and others have been looking at the options for further increasing production in the coming months to give greater coverage, as well as looking at sending doses not needed to COVAX or particular countries in need. See, e.g., Gavi, France makes important vaccine dose donation to COVAX, 23 April 2021, https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/france-makes-important-vaccine-dose-donation-covax.

On May 5, 2021, the G-7 Foreign Ministers completed a meeting in London and issued a communique which included language about access to vaccines. The G-7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom with the European Union as an observed. The U.K. as host also invited Australia, South Korea, India, South Africa and Brunei (as Chair for the ASEAN group of countries). The communique from the G-7 and the EU can be found here and the section on access to vaccines is copied below. See G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting Communiqué, London, May 5, 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/983631/G7-foreign-and-development-ministers-meeting-communique-london-5-may-2021.pdf.

“Enabling equitable global access to Covid-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics and Diagnostics (VTDs)

“62. We affirm our belief that commitment to an open, transparent and multilateral approach is essential in responding to the global health impacts of Covid-19. A global health emergency on this scale requires co-ordinated action and global solidarity. We reaffirm our support for all existing pillars of Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator
(ACT-A), including its COVAX facility. We recognise that equipping the ACTAccelerator with adequate funding is central. We support the strengthening of health systems, and affordable and equitable global access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, and we will further increase our efforts to support affordable and equitable access for people in need, taking approaches consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation. We recall in this regard the Charter for Equitable Access to Covid-19 Tools. We recognise the importance of effective and well-functioning global
value chains for VTD supply and will work with industry to encourage and support on a voluntary basis and on mutually agreed terms, including licensing, technology and know-how transfers, contract manufacturing , transparency, and data sharing, public private costs and risk sharing.
We recognise the need to enable a sustainable environment for local, regional and global productions, beyond Covid-19 products for long-term impact. We welcome the collective G7 commitments of over $10.7 billion USD to date in funding to these initiatives and encourage all partners to increase their support as the next critical step in controlling the pandemic and strengthening health security. In this context, we look forward to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) Summit to be co-hosted by Gavi and Japan following the COVAX AMC One World Protected Event co-hosted by Gavi and US. (Emphasis added)

“63. We commit to the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Equitable Access and Collaboration Statement to help accelerate the end of the acute phase of the Covid19 pandemic. We commit to supporting COVAX financially, including by encouraging pledges to the Facility, including at the COVAX AMC Summit in June, disbursing as soon as possible, providing in-kind contributions, and coordinating with and using COVAX, which is the key mechanism for global sharing of vaccines to supplement its own direct procurement, to enable the rapid equitable deployment of vaccines.

“64. We support the work of G7 Health Ministers and continued G7 efforts to work with partners to improve pandemic preparedness and global health security, with WHO as the leading and co-ordinating authority, to strengthen health systems, develop solutions that embed a One Health approach, tackle antimicrobial resistance, and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. We welcome the establishment of the One Health High Level Experts Panel supported by WHO, FAO, OIE and UNEP. We are determined to ensure that lessons are learned and applied from the pandemic. We look forward to the forthcoming G20 Global Health Summit in Rome and to its Declaration, and to further close cooperation on strengthening the global health
architecture, including longer-term considerations such as exploring the potential value of a global health treaty, to strengthen global pandemic preparedness and response. We will deploy our foreign and development policies and programmes to build a more resilient world that is better protected against health threats, including encouraging new public health guidance in consultation with national and relevant international organisations on international travel by sea or air, including cruise ships, and supporting an expert-driven, transparent, and independent process for the next
phase of the WHO-convened Covid-19 origins study, and for expeditiously investigating future outbreaks of unknown origin. Together with G7 Health Ministers, we commit to work in partnership with low- and lower-middle income countries by improving coordination of G7 support for, and collaboration with, public health and health security capacities and their regional bodies in Africa, Asia and other regions, building on the G7 commitment to support implementation of and compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) in 76 countries, taking into account the recommendations from the IHR Review Committee. We will align with and support national and regional health priorities and leadership to improve public health. We look forward to the publication of the G7 Carbis Bay Progress Report on global health and what we can learn from its conclusions on G7 commitments to strengthening health systems to advance universal health coverage and global health security.

“65. We note the continuing need to support health systems and health security and secure sustainable financing, together with partner countries’ domestic resources, to help accelerate global vaccine development and deployment, recover and then sustain access to essential health and nutrition services and health commodities, including in
humanitarian settings and for sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to bolster the global health architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through stronger rapid response mechanisms. We look forward to working with G7 Finance Ministers to build consensus on practical actions to facilitate access to existing global financing
sources to meet demands for access to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as how best to tackle the ACT-A funding gaps, with the aim of shortening the lifespan of the pandemic and with particular focus on the needs of vulnerable countries. In this regard, we look forward to the outcomes of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) initiated by the WHO, and the High Level Independent Panel on financing the global commons for pandemic preparedness and response (HLIP) established by the G20.”

At the same time that G-7 foreign ministers were concluding their work in London, the WTO was holding the first of two days of a General Council meeting. The WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged the resolution of addressing equitable access to vaccines. The U.S. Trade Representative issued a statement changing the U.S. position (and contradicting what they had agreed with other G-7 foreign ministers hours before) by indicating that the U.S. would support the waiver of TRIPS rights and obligations during the pandemic and would work on text in the TRIPS Council to see if a consensus could be achieved. The Director-General’s statement from May 5, the USTR statement and the Director-General’s comments on the USTR statement are embedded below.

WTO-_-News-Speech-DG-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-General-Council

Statement-from-Ambassador-Katherine-Tai-on-the-Covid-19-Trips-Waiver-_-United-States-Trade-Representative

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Statement-of-Director-General-Ngozi-Okonjo-Iweala-on-USTR-Tais-statement-on-the-TRIPS-waiver

While the pharmaceutical industry in advanced countries is unquestionably shocked by the shift in U.S. position (and stocks of vaccine producers suffered stock market price declines on May 5), the EU President has indicated a willingness to look at the issue and the French President has indicated his support of the U.S. position. See Financial Times, Pharma industry fears Biden’s patent move sets dangerous precedent, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/f54bf71b-87be-4290-9c95-4d110eec7a90; The Guardian, EU ‘ready to discuss’ waiver on Covidvaccine patents, 6 May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/06/eu-ready-to-discuss-waiver-on-covid-vaccine-patents (“The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen , has said the bloc is ‘ready to discuss’ a US-backed proposal for a waiver on the patents for Covid-19 vaccines and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he was ‘absolutely in favour’ of the plan as pressure built for a move that could boost their production and distribution around the world.”).

The concerns of industry have been identified in prior posts of mine and are summarized in yesterday’s Financial Times article on what if any benefit there will be should a waiver be agreed to. See Financial Times, Will a suspension of Covid vaccine patents lead to more jabs?, 6 May 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/b0f42409-6fdf-43eb-96c7-d166e090ab99 (“[T]he drug makers’ main argument is that waiving intellectual property is not the solution. Vaccine makers have already pulled out all the stops to supply billions of doses at an unprecedented speed, including signing unusual partnerships with rivals to expand production. Moderna put its patents online last summer but they are not useful alone.”).

The Road Forward

It is unclear where the process at the WTO goes from here. The WTO TRIPS Council is expecting a revised document from India and South Africa in May that arguably could become the basis for WTO Members, including the U.S. and EU and others who have been opposed to a waiver, to consider and negotiate from. If a consensus emerges around a text, then it would go to the General Council for a vote/approval. But while the formal process is understood, it is unclear what an agreement would actually look like. It is hard to imagine that the U.S., EU, Switzerland, Japan and possibly others would agree to waive the pharmaceutical companies rights within their own territories. So there is a question whether rights could be waived selectively? If so, what possible liability would exist for governments and/or companies exploiting the IP rights of others? It is unclear if there will be a requirement for some/all countries who engage in use of others intellectual property to provide compensation similar to a compulsory license fee. Will countries that have existing voluntary licensing agreements with producers be able to void those agreements or have the same IP rights used by other companies? Will there be limitations on where goods produced can be shipped (e.g., only to low- and middle-income countries)? What will the basis be for getting IP holders to transfer technology where there is no compensation? There are undoubtedly dozens of other issues that the industry and their lawyers have besides the above. If waiver is the direction the world goes, presumably there needs to be transparency and full opportunity for vetting proposals so that all issues are identified, understood and properly addressed.

In my prior posts, I have argued that to date vaccines have largely gone to the countries with large levels of infections and deaths. Those pushing for greater equity in access based on a simple percent of global population approach abandon those concerns when a large developing country runs into a surge and finds itself in serious difficulty, such as is happening with India. I support targeting relief to address fire situations like India. See April 29, 2021, COVID-19 — Efforts to help India during its current surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/29/covid-19-efforts-to-help-india-during-its-current-surge-of-cases-hospitalizations-and-deaths/. There are equally important fire situations in other countries that deserve the attention and concern of the world as well.

The WTO has been and should be encouraging Members to eliminate export restrictions as quickly as possible. The new Director-General has used the power of convening to probe what are the barriers to increased production and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. Many of the barriers are bottlenecks in supply chains, shortages of various inputs as the industry drastically ramps up production of vaccines, lack of trained personnel in some countries where there may be existing vaccine capacity for other vaccines. Governments can and should be working with industry to address bottlenecks on an expedited basis. Encouraging voluntary licensing is useful and there are some 272 agreements around the world already in place with others being worked on. However, as Johnson & Johnson’s experience (where it talked to 100 companies but only found 10 they could work with) shows, the presence of a facility in a country is not the same as a facility with trained personnel who can actually produce a safe vaccine of the types currently approved for use on COVID-19.

The biggest short term availability of more supplies for low- and middle-income countries is not from the waiver but rather from governments redirecting volumes that are not needed for their own populations. The U.S. and EU are each starting that, but more can and should be done. Such actions have real potential.

Similarly, pursuit of new vaccines, such as one being tested in a number of developing countries that is far lower cost than some currently being used to vaccinate against COVID-19 and which apparently can be easily used in many countries in existing vaccine facilities makes a lot of sense. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.

While there are lots of groups and individuals arguing there is a moral imperative to wave the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies during the global pandemic, there is little practical evidence that such an approach will get the world to the place presumably everybody wants — the quickest curtailment of the pandemic for the benefit of all.

Time will tell whether an effort to negotiate a waiver is an aid or a hindrance to actually ending the pandemic.

WTO’s April 14th virtual meeting to review COVID-19 vaccine availability

WTO’s Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had indicated when she took office that she would be gathering industry, multilateral groups, and some governments to look at how vaccine production could be expanded and the role the WTO could play in that effort. At the same time, with the proposal from India and South Africa for waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical products relevant to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic still under consideration in the TRIPS Council, with opposition from a number of important Members, DG Okonjo-Iweala has been seeking an approach that in fact expands production in developing and least developed countries and greater distribution to low- and middle-income countries. without needing an all or nothing resolution to the proposed waiver.

I have previously reviewed the issue of vaccine availability and prior DG Okonjo-Iweala statements in a number of posts. See, e.g., April 13, 2021, April 15, 2021 — U.S and Gavi co-host event for additional funding for COVAX amid concerns about two workhorse vaccines for COVAX, ttps://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/13/april-15-2021-u-s-and-gavi-co-host-event-for-additional-funding-for-covax-amid-concerns-about-two-workhorse-vaccines-for-covax/; April 8, 2021, COVAX delivers COVID-19 vaccines to 100th country; India surge in infections likely to reduce product availability for COVAX through May and likely longer, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/08/covax-delivers-covid-19-vaccines-to-100th-country-india-surge-in-infections-likely-to-reduce-product-availability-for-covax-through-may-and-likely-longer/; April 2, 2021, Global vaccinations against COVID-19; developments and challenges in the roll-out for many countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/04/02/global-vaccinations-against-covid-19-developments-and-challenges-in-the-roll-out-for-many-countries/; March 25, 2021, Global vaccinations for COVID-19 — continued supply chain and production issues and a new wave of infections in many countries delay greater ramp up for some until late in the second quarter of 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/25/global-vaccinations-for-covid-19-continued-supply-chain-and-production-issues-and-a-new-wave-of-infections-in-many-countries-delay-greater-ramp-up-for-some-until-late-in-the-second-quarter-of-2021/; March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/; March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit” – efforts to ramp-up production, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/; March 5, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — France supports Italy’s blockage of a shipment to Australia; while Australia has asked the EU to permit the shipment, Australia will have its own production of AstraZeneca product by the end of March, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/05/covid-19-vaccines-france-supports-italys-blockage-of-a-shipment-to-australia-while-australia-has-asked-the-eu-to-permit-the-shipment-australia-will-have-its-own-production-of-astrazeneca-produc/; March 4, 2021, Italy blocks exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Australia, first blockage of export authorization by the EU or its member states, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/italy-blocks-exports-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-australia-first-blockage-of-export-authorization-by-the-eu-or-its-member-states/; March 4, 2021, The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/04/the-eus-response-to-challenges-to-its-actions-on-covid-19-vaccine-exports/; March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/.

“COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”

While the virtual meeting convened by DG Okonjo-Iweala was conducted under Chatham House rules, a number of participants made their prepared comments public and there was some press coverage.

DG Okonjo-Iweala provided a wrap-up at the end of the session which was posted on the WTO website. See WTO news, DG Okonjo-Iweala calls for follow-up action after WTO vaccine equity event, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/dgno_14apr21_e.htm (“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala today (14 April) called on WTO members, vaccine manufacturers and international organizations to act to address trade-related obstacles to the scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production to save lives, hasten the end of the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.”). DG Okonjo-Iweala’s summary comments are copied below. See WTO speeches, Chair Summary following “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”, April 14, 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno7_e.htm.

“One thing that came out of today’s discussions is that it was only through working together across borders that scientists developed safe and effective vaccines in record time. And it is only by working together, across borders, that we’ll be able to solve the problems [of vaccine scarcity and equitable access] discussed today. This is a problem of the global commons, and we have to solve it together.

“Our purpose today was to contribute to efforts to increase vaccine production and broaden access, starting with the immediate term.

“Specifically we had three goals:

“The first was to pinpoint the obstacles, particularly the trade-related obstacles, to ramping up production, and to equitably distributing and administering vaccines — and we looked at how the WTO could contribute to these solutions.

“The second was to bring together people who are able to increase and to scale up manufacturing, people in a position to share technology and knowhow, and people willing to finance additional manufacturing capacity.

“And third, to think about the road ahead, including on the TRIPS waiver and incentives for research and development, so that we get the medical technologies we need, and no country is left at the back of the line waiting. If there is one refrain we heard continuously from everyone today it is that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

“We heard first-hand from governments and vaccine manufacturers from developed, developing, and least developed countries, as well as a wide range of other stakeholders from international organizations, civil society and development finance institutions.

“And we heard good news: that supplies are ramping up and companies are learning by doing, that there have been major gains in productivity, and that there is still capacity. We also heard that there is a willingness to finance investment in vaccine manufacturing both in the short- and long-term, and there are ideas and energy to do things differently.

“However, we heard from many that we need to do more. It hasn’t really been business as usual, so we may need to move on to ‘business unusual’ to solve the problems before us.

“In the discussions today we heard a great deal of agreement. We agree that it’s not acceptable for people and countries to have to wait indefinitely for vaccines. We do not want to repeat experiences of the past.

“We heard a consensus on the urgent need to scale up production and vaccinate everyone, because every day the shortage continues, scope for dangerous new variants will increase, and the number of prevent preventable deaths will grow. The economic impact of these delays can and has been quantified by many institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.

“It was agreed that production capacity needs to be expanded, particularly in developing and least developed countries and emerging markets. And that vaccine distribution needs to be more effective and more equitable.

“We heard that open cross-border trade in raw materials, and other inputs, was essential for maintaining and scaling up production, and that supply chains in these inputs must be maintained.

“Also widely shared was the view that innovation, research and development will be vital for dealing with COVID-19 variants and in other health crises.

“We had useful exchanges on issues where some perspectives were different, such as on the future shape of vaccine supply chains, on the appropriate role for intellectual property protections, on issues of vaccine contract transparency — which was pointed to by many as an important factor in appropriate pricing and distribution and a critical part of access and equity.

“Concerns expressed by some about cross-border supply chain operations, including export restrictions and shortages of skilled personnel reinforced my view, and hopefully that of members, that the WTO must and can play a central part in the response to this crisis.

“Various perspectives about the TRIPS Agreement, and whether the existing flexibilities are enough to address developing country needs were put on the table. These echoed the discussions on the waiver proposal going on in the TRIPS Council, and I want to reiterate that today is a way of contributing to that discussion.

“I agree with the view that the WTO is a logical forum for finding a way forward on these issues, and I hope that the ideas raised here will contribute to convergence in the TRIPS Council on meaningful results that can contribute to the goals that we have.

“I hope that the discussion today, listening to each other, seeing that we all share a common goal, and that we may not be so far apart, will lead to the willingness to come to the middle,  and work out something that will be acceptable to all.

“Participants were generally of the view that ramping up vaccine manufacturing capacity is a complex process. It requires large, long-term investment and sustainable business models. It relies on open international supply lines for ingredients and equipment. We heard how shortages of even a single piece of equipment, filters, can halt operations at a production facility. Vaccine manufacturing necessitates collaboration, and the movement of skilled labour, to facilitate transfer of technology and knowhow.

“Safety is a paramount consideration, and quality is the other part of safety. This demands effective regulatory capacity and stringent compliance, down to the factory floor. Indeed we heard this is a big risk companies factor in when making decisions as to where to produce, and how to produce. I hope that they’ve heard sufficient encouragement today, to enable us to move towards leveraging the existing capacities in emerging markets and developing countries mentioned repeatedly today, which could actually help to take care of the shortages talked about.

“Turning capacity around to produce COVID-19 vaccines is not only about the physical space alone. We heard repeatedly that it requires transfer of technology and knowhow, together with investment and support for quality assurance.

“We also learned about how existing licensing arrangements have operated — including an example of how skills transfer was carried out in a few as six months. We also heard calls for support to build human capital, and to help build regulatory cooperation.

“Some participants suggested more active matchmaking to connect companies that have the investment capacity with those that have potential for expanding production capacity, even in the short term.

“We also heard about ongoing efforts to build new manufacturing capacity, and the lessons that can be learned from that.

“We also began to see the aspects of the collaboration we need to make things happen. We had many international organizations show they are willing to work together to bring to fruition things like putting in place technical expertise, helping with capacity building and quality control, and investing directly in production.

“I believe that today’s exchanges have advanced our understanding of the challenges we face for scaling up vaccine production, and that working together is the only way ahead.

“In the coming weeks and months, we expect concrete follow-up action. These issues are not easy, but the political will and engagement from the private sector displayed today, suggests it is possible.

“As we move forward, I expect:

“- From WTO members:

“- Action to further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers, and to work with other organizations to facilitate logistics and customs procedures.  We are monitoring this as part of our regular work, and we’ll continue doing so to increase supplies and maintain robust supply chains. Trade has been underlined as a critical factor in production; it is incumbent upon WTO members to act.

‘- Advance negotiations in the TRIPS Council on the waiver proposal and incentives for research and innovation. I hope that the ideas and the open dialogue heard will move us closer to agreement. 

‘- For vaccine manufacturers:

‘- Concrete moves to scale up vaccine manufacturing, both short-term turnaround of existing capacities, milking whatever productivity gains we can from current facilities, and taking steps to invest.

“- Increased technology and knowhow transfer, which many participants stressed would be necessary to make additional production work.

“- We need transparency in contract agreements and product pricing. We hope to continue this dialogue and to help monitoring steps in that direction.

“- For international organisations and financial institutions:

“- We noted your willingness to finance, both existing and new capacity, your willingness to work on capacity building for regulatory issues, not just for vaccines, but also for therapeutics and diagnostics, which are equally important.

“I trust that we have found a good basis to deliver concrete action, and to continue this discussion that we’ve had today.

“This should not be a one-off, we should continue to talk to each other, and make sure that we can deliver.

“I hope that besides concrete action to increase capacity, this discussion has given us elements of a framework on trade and health that we can put together at the WTO, and that can be put before ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in mid-December. Such a framework should provide for trade-related preparedness to handle this pandemic, and the next one.”

Press accounts indicate that the United States, European Union, India and South Africa participated. Statements from USTR Katherine Tai and Executive Vice President Dombrovskis are available from government websites. See USTR press release, Ambassador Katherine Tai’s remarks at a WTO virtual conference on Covid-19 vaccine equity, April 14, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2021/april/ambassador-katherine-tais-remarks-wto-virtual-conference-covid-19-vaccine-equity; European Commission press release, Speech by Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis at the WTO Webinar “Covid and Vaccine Equity,” 14 April 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024/dombrovskis/announcements/speech-executive-vice-president-valdis-dombrovskis-wto-webinar-covid-and-vaccine-equity_en.

The Biden Administration has been meeting with various interest groups on the TRIPS wavier proposal (both pro and con) and is receiving pressure from some Members of Congress and prior government officials to agree to a waiver. Ambassador Tai’s statement stresses the need for equity in vaccine availability. “These losses have been disproportionately borne by vulnerable and economically disadvantaged communities within our countries. And the significant inequities we are seeing in access to vaccines between developed and developing countries are completely unacceptable. Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership, communication, and creativity. Extraordinary crises challenge all of us to break out of our comfortable molds, our in-the-box thinking, our instinctive habits. This is not just a challenge for governments. This challenge applies equally to the industry responsible for developing and manufacturing the vaccines. The desperate needs that our people face in the current pandemic provide these companies with an opportunity to be the heroes they claim to be – and can be. As governments and leaders of international institutions, the highest standards of courage and sacrifice are demanded of us in times of crisis. The same needs to be demanded of industry.”

The EU statement is consistent with their views that equity is necessary and that the EU has been working to contribute to that result through production ramp up and large exports in fact, including to the COVAX facility. The EU summed up what the WTO should be doing. “To sum up, the WTO can support vaccine equity through five sets of actions:
Promoting best practices in terms of trade facilitation and regulatory cooperation to maintain open supply chains; Facilitating cooperation with the private sector, both to ramp up production in the short term, and to enhance manufacturing in global regions with under-capacity, focusing in particular on Africa; Supporting Members’ use of the available TRIPs flexibilities; Continuing to seek joint approaches with the World Health Organisation and the World
Intellectual Property Organisation; and Ensuring transparency and effective monitoring of any temporary export restriction, as proposed by the Ottawa Group.”

I have not found statements from either India or South Africa but at least one publication indicated they stressed the need for a TRIPS waiver for all Members. See Washington Trade Daily, WTO’s Role in Vaccine Equity, April 15, 2021, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/63ac7508-8034-44b3-8c3c-045c1bedec43.pdf.

The World Health Organization also participated and the Director-General’s statement is available from the WHO website. See WHO press release, COVID-19 and vaccine equity panel: what can the World Trade Organization contribute?, 14 April 2021, https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-panel-what-can-the-world-trade-organization-contribute (“COVAX was created, as you know, almost a year ago to avoid the same thing happening again. And although COVAX has distributed almost 40 million doses of vaccine to 110 countries and economies, vaccine nationalism, vaccine diplomacy and severe supply constraints have so far prevented COVAX from realizing its full potential. Global manufacturing capacity and supply chains have not been sufficient to deliver vaccines quickly and equitably where they are needed most.  More funding is needed, but that’s only part of the solution. Money doesn’t help if there are no vaccines to buy. We need to dramatically scale up the number of vaccines being produced. To address this challenge, WHO and our partners have established a COVAX manufacturing task force, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security. We need to go beyond the traditional modus operandi to provide sustainable and effective solutions to address this extraordinary crisis. Some manufacturers have begun sharing the know-how and technologies to produce more vaccines, but only under restrictive conditions, on a very limited basis. The current company-controlled production sharing agreements are not coming close to meeting the overwhelming public health and socio-economic needs for effective, affordable and equitable access to vaccines, as well as therapeutics and other critical health technologies.  This is an unprecedented emergency that demands unprecedented measures.”).

One of the private sector participants, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) included its statement on the IFPMA website. See IFPMA, IFPMA statement at WTO event “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What can the WTO Contribute”, 14 April 2021, https://www.ifpma.org/resource-centre/ifpma-statement-at-wto-event-covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-what-can-the-wto-contribute/. The IFPMA statement is embedded below but highlights the extraordinary effort of the private sector in ramping up production which is expected to be 10 billion doses by the end of 2021 with some 272 partnerships entered into and 200 technology transfer agreements.

IFPMA_WTO_Event_COVID-19_and_Vaccine_Equity_Statement_15April2021

Rising Infections; dramatically ramped up production

Last Thursday’s summary from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows the world going through a massive ramp up of new infections such that week 14 of 2021 is the second highest week during the pandemic of new infections with the vast majority of the cases and increase in Asia, the Americas and Europe. See ECDC, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 14, updated 15April 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 14 2021

Distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide, as of week 14 2021
“Distribution of cases of COVID-19 by continent (according to the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries)

“Cases reported in accordance with the applied case definition and testing strategies in the affected countries.”

The ECDC data show Africa as accounting for 3.18% of total infections during the pandemic, Asia accounting for 19.50% (India is 9.91%; China is 0.07%), the Americas for 43.18% (United States 22.91% and Brazil 9.90%), Europe 34.08% (the Eu is 20.79%, the UK is 3.20%, Russia is 3.4%), and Oceania 0.05%.

At the same time as new infections are ramping up, vaccinations are also increasing sharply. Bloomberg data through April 17, 2021 shows a global total of 884 million vaccinations having been given globally. See Bloomberg, More Than 884 Million Shots Given: Covid-19 Tracker, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/.

While there are countries who have fewer or more vaccinations as a percent of the global total than their share of infections, considering distribution equity from that vantage point has some surprising results.

Country Percent of infections Percent of vaccinations

United States 22.91% 23.16%

European Union 20.79% 12.36%

United Kingdom 3.20% 4.76%

Japan 0.37% 0.21%

Republic of Korea 0.08% 0.17%

India 9.91% 13.85%

China 0.07% 21.18%

South Africa 1.14% 0.33%

Brazil 9.90% 3.92%

The pharmaceutical industry is projecting that 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine will ship in 2021. That means that in the next eight and a half months, some nine billion doses will ship. If 10 billion doses are shipped in 2021, that is sufficient to fully vaccinate 5-6 billion people in 2021 (depending on number of doses that are for single shot vaccines). That is sufficient doses to vaccinate 63.3-75.9% of the current estimate of the global population (7.9 billion). See Worldometer, Current World Population, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/#:~:text=The%20current%20world%20population%20is,currently%20living)%20of%20the%20world./ With the continued efforts to expand production and approve additional vaccines, 10 billion doses may be exceeded in fact by the end of the year.

This suggests, just as the COVAX and UNICEF distribution plans indicate, that low- and middle-income countries will see a large increase in supplies in the second half of 2021, just as will be true for the rest of the world.

The U.S.-Gavi event on April 15 talked about increasing funding for COVAX to go from 20% to 30% of populations the COVAX facility is serving. See U.S. Department of State, Video Remarks of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Launch of GAVI’s COVAX Commitment, April 15, 2021, https://www.state.gov/launch-of-gavis-covax-commitment/. Moreover, the World Bank is committing billions to increases purchases of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. And many countries are executing their own contracts with vaccine producers.

If there are issues besides assistance in resolving bottlenecks that would appear to be important to speeding up distribution and ensuring access by all, it would be to ensure that all countries with vaccine supplies greater than their internal needs, work to get those vaccines distributed to other countries later this year as their internal needs clarify.

Moreover, there are very exciting developments on the vaccine front with the start up of trials in a number of developing countries of a new vaccine where the potential exists for low costs with a vaccine that can be produced locally by many countries based on technology similar to what is already used for other vaccines. See New York Times, Researchers Are Hatching a Low-Cost Coronavirus Vaccine, A new formulation entering clinical trials in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam could change how the world fights the pandemic, April 5, 2021, updated April 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/health/hexapro-mclellan-vaccine.html.

All to say, there is considerable reason for optimism with the current efforts and progress. Efforts by governments, multilateral institutions, industry and others are helping identify challenges both to production and distribution but also to the needs for a speedy recovery once the pandemic is brought under control. While everyone needs to continue to focus on resolving bottlenecks, securing cooperation to ensure all are reached, and addressing developments as they arise, 2021 is not a repeat of the HIV situation.

The WTO has an important role in monitoring trade restrictions and looking forward to what actions Members are willing to take to advance trade and health needs and help ensure a next pandemic is handled more quickly than the COVID-19 has been. The effort to obtain a waiver from TRIPS obligations is, in this writer’s view, missing where the challenges are and seeking an outcome that will not advance improved vaccinations in 2021. While it is common for countries to continue to fight yesterday’s problems instead of addressing the current challenges, such an approach will not secure equitable and affordable access to vaccines in 2021-2022.

Global vaccinations for COVID-19 — continued supply chain and production issues and a new wave of infections in many countries delay greater ramp up for some until late in the second quarter of 2021

The world has witnessed the unprecedented development of a number of vaccines in record time to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The development has been the result of widespread cooperation in sharing information and the funding in part by governments and early orders for hundreds of millions of doses if vaccines proved efficacious and safe. In roughly one year since the virus was declared a pandemic by the WHO, individual vaccines have been produced and authorized by one or more governments (some by as many as 70 along with WHO approval).

According to the Financial Times COVID-19 vaccine tracker, as of March 25, nearly 490 million vaccine shots have been administered around the world (based on data from 166 locations). See Financial Times, Covid-19 vaccine tracker: the global race to vaccinate, 25 March 2021, https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker/?areas=gbr&areas=isr&areas=usa&areas=eue&cumulative=1&populationAdjusted=1. The companies with approved vaccines have been ramping up production at their own and at licensed facilities in other countries. Because companies are racing to put in place 3-4 times the global capacity for all vaccines (3.5 billion doses) to produce COVID-19 vaccines (10-14 billion doses by the end of 2021) and because there are complex supply chains and production processes for the new vaccines, there have been various delays which have occurred both at manufacturers and at suppliers. This has been true in the U.S., in the EU, in India and other producing countries. While countries and producers are working on solutions, shortages of certain materials exist and can reduce production of finished vaccines globally.

While the WHO, GAVI, CEPI and UNICEF have set up COVAX to get vaccines to a total of 192 countries, including 92 low- and middle-income countries where materials will be supplied at discounted prices or for free and have a target of two billion doses to participating countries in 2021, there is an early reliance on AstraZeneca’s vaccine whether produced by AstraZeneca or through license by the Serum Institute (SII) in India, the world’s largest vaccine producer.

Unfortunately, many countries are going through a new wave of COVID-19 infections which puts pressure on governments to secure sufficient supplies to address domestic demand. See, e.g., European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 11, updated 25 March 2021, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases (shows total new reported infections going up globally for the fourth week after a sharp decline after New Year’s). Countries showing large numbers of cases over the last two weeks (whether increases or decreases) include Ethiopia (21,227), Kenya (12,083), Libya (12,852), South Africa (17,646), Argentina (91,023), Brazil (995,861), Canada (48,021), Chile (77,561), Colombia (63,417), Ecuador (18,223), Mexico (66,683), Paraguay (26,252), Peru (98,323), United States (830,346), Uruguay (19,512), Bangladesh (19,938), India (416,683), Indonesia (80,522), Iran (119,383), Iraq (67,344), Jordan (109,594), Lebanon (43,964), Pakistan (38,371), Philippines 969,382), United Arab Emirates (29,506), Austria (39,842), Belgium (50,670), Bulgaria (43,115), Czechia (142,042), Estonia (20211), France (378,370), Germany (162,032), Greece (32,005), Hungary (111,929), Italy (308,890), Moldova (19,82), Netherlands (83,797), Poland (272,046), Romania (70,295), Russian Federation (133,24), Serbia (65,689), Spain (67,833), Sweden (61,666), Turkey (232,705), Ukraine (147,456), United Kingdom (78,063). While many countries do not produce COVID-19 vaccines, the list of countries includes many in the EU as well as Brazil, the United States and India. Brazil’s production of COVID-19 vaccines is not expected to start until May. Below I review developments on vaccination roll-outs in the United States, the European Union and India.

Vaccination roll-out in the U.S., EU and India — three important COVID-19 vaccination production areas

Under the Biden Administration, the United States has drastically improved its performance on COVID-19 vaccinations with 129.3 million vaccinations given by March 24 and with the President announcing his Administration’s revised goal of 200 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office (April 29). See Financial Times, Biden doubles vaccine goal to 200m in first 100 days, 25 March 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/a1accbdf-0010-426c-9442-feb73b5c8a1d. While the U.S. focus is on getting the U.S. population vaccinated as the first priority, the U.S. has agreed to “loan” 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to Canada and 2.5 million doses to Mexico. The U.S., following a leader’s remote meeting of the Quad (U.S., Japan, India, Australia), agreed to work with the other Quad partners to produce one billion doses in India of a vaccine by the end of 2022 from a U.S. company that would be paid for by Japan and the U.S. and would receive distribution support from Australia for countries in the Indo-Pacific region. See March 12, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines – U.S., Japan, India and Australia agree to one billion doses for Indo-Pacific countries, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/covid-19-vaccines-u-s-japan-india-and-australia-agree-to-one-billion-doses-for-indo-pacific-countries/.

The European Union, a major producing location for COVID-19 vaccines and various inputs and a major exporter, has had rollout problems flowing from production problems at AstraZeneca’s EU facilities, concerns by many EU members on whether the vaccine from AstraZeneca was safe (small number of blot clot problems in those vaccinated) and other issues. See New York Times, Where Europe Went Wrong in Its Vaccine Rollout, and Why, March 20, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/20/world/europe/europe-vaccine-rollout-astrazeneca.html; Financial Times, Nordic nations hold off on AstraZeneca jab as scientists probe safety, 21 March 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/0ef3a623-f3a2-4e76-afbd-94a915b24ad5. With vaccination rates in the EU far behind the U.K. and the U.S. and a number of other countries, this has led to significant internal pressures to ensure that manufacturers were honoring contracts with the EU and has led to two temporary regulations (and an extension) giving EU members authority to stop exports outside of the EU (and excluding the shipments to COVAX low-and middle-income countries). See March 5, 2021, COVID-19 vaccines — France supports Italy’s blockage of a shipment to Australia; while Australia has asked the EU to permit the shipment, Australia will have its own production of AstraZeneca product by the end of March, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/05/covid-19-vaccines-france-supports-italys-blockage-of-a-shipment-to-australia-while-australia-has-asked-the-eu-to-permit-the-shipment-australia-will-have-its-own-production-of-astrazeneca-produc/; European Commission, Commission strengthens transparency and authorisation mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines, 24 March 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1352; European Commission, 24.3.2021 C(2021) 2081 final COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) …/… of 24.3.2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_1352; European Commission, Commission extends transparency and authorisation mechanism for exports of COVID-19 vaccines, 11 March 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_1121. Australia had a shipment stopped by Italy and the EC has been raising concerns in the United Kingdom.

In recent days, Indian producer Serum Institute has notified a number of customers that their orders would be delayed several months. GAVI COVAX has been notified as well, with 40 million doses in April and 50 million in May apparently unlikely to ship. Press articles attribute the delays to the needs within India, though SII has suggested delays are also due to availability issues on certain inputs. The Indian government claims it is simply adjusting schedules in light of internal needs and is not imposing an export ban per se. See, e.g., BBC News, India coronavirus: Why have vaccine exports been suspended?, 25 March 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55571793; Wall Street Journal, India Suspends Covid-19 Vaccine Exports to Focus on Domestic Immunization, March 25, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/india-suspends-covid-19-vaccine-exports-to-focus-on-domestic-immunization-11616690859#:~:text=An%20Indian%20government%20official%20said,of%20the%20government’s%20vaccine%20program.&text=On%20Tuesday%2C%20the%20government%20said,to%20those%20older%20than%2045; Times of India, India has not banned Covid-19 vaccine exports, 25 March 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-has-not-banned-covid-19-vaccine-exports-sources/articleshow/81693010.cms.

Conclusion

Much of the anticipated ramp up of COVID-19 vaccine production will be happening over the coming months, such that there should be dramatically greater vaccine availability in the coming months. That doesn’t help governments or populations waiting for vaccines. or that are going through a significant ramp up in infections. The pharmaceutical industry and major groups got together earlier this month to explore where the bottlenecks are in ramping up production. See March 12, 2021, The 8-9 March  “Global C19 Vaccine Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit”, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/12/the-8-9-march-global-c19-vaccine-supply-chain-and-manufacturing-summit-efforts-to-ramp-up-production/ It is unclear the extent to which governments and industry are working together to solve bottlenecks in supply, to facilitate production ramp up, share experiences in reusing safely some critical materials that are in short supply, etc. During these critical months, greater cooperation in solving problems and facilitating expansion of production is needed and hopefully is occurring. Export restrictions have and will occur under various guises, reflecting internal political pressures. In the coming months and certainly by the third quarter of 2021, there should be large volumes of vaccine doses above and beyond what has been contracted by COVAX that will be available for use around the world. Time is obviously of the essence. Cooperation to solve supply chain bottlenecks and speed ramp-ups is the best short term option for speeding getting past the pandemic globally.

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The EU’s response to challenges to its actions on COVID-19 vaccine exports

At the WTO General Council meeting held on March 1-2 this week, agenda item 9 was aimed at the European Union. The agenda item, entitled “Call to Prevent Export Restrictions on COVID-19,” was put on the agenda by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay. I had reviewed this agenda item as one of 16 agenda items that was likely to draw a fair amount of attention. See February 26, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/26/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-first-week-on-the-job-starts-with-a-two-day-general-council-meeting/ (Agenda item 9 was added by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay reflecting concerns by them (and presumably many other trading partners) about actions taken by the European Union to exert control over exports of vaccines from the EU in light of EU concerns about its own access to vaccines from manufacturers. See CALL TO PREVENT EXPORT RESTRICTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES, WT/GC/818 (18 February 2021)).

The new Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has stressed the importance of the WTO doing more to address the COVID-19 pandemic and help Members recover. Equitable and affordable access to vaccines is an issue of importance to the membership and stressed by the Director-General. See, e.g., March 3, 2021, WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/; March 1, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/01/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-opening-statement-at-the-march-1-general-council-meeting/

While the EU Ambassador provided comments on various agenda items, agenda item 9 was obviously one of importance to the EU. See EU Statement at the General Council of 2 March 2021 on the “Call to Prevent Export Restrictions on Covid-19Vaccines,” 02 March 2021, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/94083/eu-statement-general-council-2-march-2021-%E2%80%9Ccall-prevent-export-restrictions-covid-19-vaccines%E2%80%9D_en. EU Ambassador João Aguiar Machado provided a detailed justification for the EU actions in imposing an export licensing/authorization regime on COVID-19 vaccines claiming lack of transparency by pharmaceutical companies and the need to ensure “fair” distribution. The EU program does not affect vaccines for COVAX low- and middle-income countries nor for various neighboring countries. Of note, for countries covered by the export licensing/authorization scheme, there have been 150 export requests all of which have been granted. The statement is embedded below.

EU-Statement-at-the-General-Council-of-2-March-2021-on-the-Call-to-Prevent-Export-Restrictions-on-Covid-19-Vaccines-–-02-March-2021-European-External-Action-Service

The EU stressed that the major problem facing the world was global capacity far below global demand. The EU is working to identify production bottlenecks and to encourage producers to license their products to maximize global production and expressed a willingness to work with other WTO Members and with the Director-General. The part of the statement covering the demand/supply imbalance is copied below.

“However, the root causes of the problem lie elsewhere: the exploding global demand is well above the global production today. As long as this global industrial challenge is not met, and the world population is not vaccinated quickly enough, we will all face a risk of a continuing health emergency including new Covid-19 variants and a prolonged economic crisis.

“The European Union believes there is an important role for public authorities to play and to drive the increase of production, and to facilitate access to the vaccines and other treatments that are in need today. Cooperation must be promoted amongst the different participants along the value chains where necessary to enhance production capacities. A closer, more integrated and more strategic public-private cooperation with the industry is needed. In this spirit, the EU has set-up a Task Force for Industrial Scale-up of COVID-19 vaccines to detect and help respond to issues in real-time. In order to ramp up production, we will, amongst others, work closely with manufacturers to help monitor supply chains and address identified production bottlenecks. Since EU vaccine production is critical for global supply, the benefits of this initiative will extend beyond the EU’s borders.

“Scaling-up of production on a global level requires further actions. It will not happen without increased global collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, which should facilitate the transfer of the right know-how and technology for the highly complex vaccine production process. We should facilitate this collaboration, while also recognising that intellectual property provides the necessary platform for it to take place. Waiving intellectual property rights would disrupt this collaboration and the transfer of know-how. In conclusion, Mr Chairman, we believe it is legitimate to engage the sector in order to ensure that all complementary production facilities across companies and continents are actively contributing to ramp up production. Companies that have tried and failed to develop a vaccine of their own, for example, should actively consider making their facilities available for the production of vaccines of successful companies. Companies with new vaccines should consider whether they have checked all options for licensing agreements to increase production. The objective should be to ensure they enter into licence agreements with companies around the world that have the necessary production capacities and could export the vaccines to any low middle-income countries without production capacities. At the same time, we should be mindful that the manufacturing campaigns for covid-19 vaccines do not crowd out the production of other life-saving vaccines and therapeutics.

“The EU, working together with other WTO Members and under the leadership of the Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is ready to facilitate a dialogue between the vaccine developers and companies with the production facilities that are ready to step in to help out with the production of vaccines and their delivery to the countries in need. We welcome the DG’s proposal to focus on collaboration among companies to enhance licensing in order to use all the adequate manufacturing capacity, including in developing countries. The EU is ready to facilitate this dialogue and contribute to the efforts on expanding these partnerships.

“The EU remains open to a dialogue with all WTO Members on how to facilitate the collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry on the transfer of know-how and technology. In the same manner, the EU remains open to a dialogue on how to facilitate the use of the TRIPS flexibilities, should the voluntary solutions fail or not be available. The flexibilities offered by the TRIPs Agreement are absolutely legitimate tools for Members in need, as many are in the midst of this pandemic. This includes fast track compulsory licences for export to countries without manufacturing capacity. Administrative burdens should not stand in the way of manufacturing and delivering vaccines to where they are needed.

“We believe that a successful contribution of the WTO to the current pandemic will require all WTO Members to agree on actions that will not only encompass the elements enshrined in the Ottawa Group’s proposal on Trade and Health, such as export restrictions or transparency, but also address the problem of insufficient manufacturing capacity. The EU stands ready to engage in such a dialogue.”

In my post yesterday, I reviewed some of the efforts that have already occurred where pharmaceutical companies are working with other companies to expand production and availability worldwide. See March 3, 2021:  WTO Director-General opinion piece in the Financial Times and recent actions by the U.S., https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/03/wto-director-general-opinion-piece-in-the-financial-times-and-recent-actions-by-the-u-s/. But the articles referenced yesterday are just some of the collaborations going on as manufacturers with existing capacity work with companies with COVID-19 vaccines to help expand capacity and production and vaccine manufacturers work with contract producers to expand supply chain capabilities. An additional cooperation agreement was announced today in the press. In addition, some governments, including the U.S. and EU have also worked with manufacturers to ramp up production. See, e.g., Wall Street Journal, Novartis to Help Make CureVac Covid-19 Vaccine, March 4, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/novartis-to-help-make-curevac-covid-19-vaccine-11614859271; Reuters, Poland strikes deal to produce Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, March 3, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-poland-mabion/poland-strikes-deal-to-produce-novavax-covid-19-vaccine-idUSKBN2AV19O (“Polish biotech firm Mabion has signed a preliminary agreement to manufacture Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine with financial support from a state-run fund, as the government strives to accelerate its vaccination programme.”); PMLive, Novartis, Bayer announce separate agreements to bolster COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing, February 1, 2021, http://www.pmlive.com/pharma_news/novartis,_bayer_announce_separate_agreements_to_bolster_covid-19_vaccine_manufacturing_1362454#:~:text=Novartis%20and%20Bayer%20have%20announced,vaccine%20and%20CureVac’s%20vaccine%2C%20respectively.&text=Novartis%20will%20aim%20to%20begin,its%20site%20in%20Stein%2C%20Switzerland (“Novartis and Bayer have announced separate agreements to aid the manufacturing of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and CureVac’s vaccine, respectively.”); Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-02-01-2021, Volume 2021
Supplement, Issue 1, Contract Service Tapped to Produce COVID-19 Vaccines, Page Number: s29-s30, https://www.pharmtech.com/view/contract-service-tapped-to-produce-covid-19-vaccines (reviewing actions by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Novavax). Expanding supply also requires vaccines being approved by governments for use. The EU recently announced it was beginning review of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. See The Globe and Mail, Europe starts review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to try to overcome shortages as new variants appear, March 4, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-europe-starts-review-of-russias-sputnik-v-vaccine-to-try-to-overcome/. And, of course, major producers are expanding where they are producing their vaccines using existing or new facilities. See, e.g., The Globe and Mail, Novavax publishes COVID-19 vaccine contract with Canada, March 4, 2021, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-novavax-publishes-covid-19-vaccine-contract-with-canada/ (“American pharmaceutical company Novavax has published its vaccine agreement with Canada for 52 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The company expects to eventually produce some of the vaccine in Canada.”).

Thus, a great deal is going on to expand production capacity globally. Strong intellectual property laws are critical to the developments and resource commitments being made. While many developing countries are pushing to start a process of text drafting for a TRIPS waiver at the WTO, such an effort would be counterproductive to global health needs over the longer term. Washington Trade Daily’s March 2, 2021 edition at pages 5-7 has an article entitled “Call for TRIPS Waiver Negotiations” which presents the views of largely developing countries on the desire to move to negotiating text even though there is not agreement on the proposed waiver. See Washington Trade Daily, March 2, 2021, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/ed93e180-7dee-4beb-8629-0e73d4d0ea5c.pdf.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement on March 2nd characterizing the effort for a TRIPS waiver being promoted by India, South Africa and others as “misguided”. See U.S. Chamber, U.S. Chamber Statement on Proposed WTO IP Rights Waiver, March 2, 2021, https://www.uschamber.com/press-release/us-chamber-statement-proposed-wto-ip-rights-waiver. The statement is copied below (emphasis added to the third paragraph).

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) issued the following statement from Senior Vice President Patrick Kilbride regarding the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council’s discussion of a proposed waiver of intellectual property (IP) commitments in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. 
 
“‘Vaccine distribution is critical for ending the pandemic and reviving the global economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomes the WTO General Council’s discussion of the role of intellectual property rights in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, transparent and predictable intellectual property rights have formed the legal and economic basis for an unprecedented level of highly successful collaborations between government, industry, academia and NGOs. 
 
“‘The Chamber supports decisive and bold action to remove regulatory and trade barriers in order to boost the global distribution of treatments and vaccines, including support of global vaccine programs such as COVAX. Proposals to waive intellectual property rights are misguided and a distraction from the real work of reinforcing supply chains and assisting countries to procure, distribute and administer vaccines to billions of the world’s citizens. Diminishing intellectual property rights would make it more difficult to quickly develop and distribute vaccines or treatments in the future pandemics the world will face.  
 
“’The ‘3rd Way’ proposed by incoming WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to encourage licensing agreements is worthy of further discussion and consistent with the ongoing success of government-industry efforts to bring an end to COVID-19 as rapidly and as safely as possible.’”

Conclusion 

While there has been a lot of concern among trading partners about the EU action in imposing export licensing of COVID-19 vaccines, to date the licensing system does not appear to have caused problems in fact in the distribution of doses ordered by the group of countries covered by the new system. Moreover, with or without government encouragement, vaccine producers have been working to expand production through arrangements with other vaccine producers, through working with contract manufacturers, and by expanding facilities and internal capacities.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a once in a century global health pandemic with demand at the beginning far outstripping supply. Governments have a role to play working with producers, suppliers, those involved in distribution and applying the vaccines to address bottlenecks, to provide encouragement and incentives to rapidly expand production and to support the efforts of the WHO, GAVI, CEPI, and UNICEF to fund the needs of COVAX. While concerns in the early days of vaccine rollout are understandable, COVAX has contracts with a number of vaccine producers and others under negotiation or awaiting approval. AstraZeneca, the first vaccine producer with a contract to supply COVAX put out a press release on March 2, 2021 which is copied in part below. See AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca advances mass global rollout of COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX, March 2, 2021, https://www.astrazeneca.com/media-centre/press-releases/2021/astrazeneca-advances-mass-global-rollout-of-covid-19-vaccine-through-covax.html.

Supply to 142 countries underway as part of the unprecedented effort to bring
broad and equitable access to the vaccine

“AstraZeneca with its partner Serum Institute of India
will be the biggest initial supplier to COVAX
 

“The first of many millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine have begun arriving in low and middle-income countries across the world through the multilateral COVAX initiative, the first steps in fulfilling the Company’s efforts to provide broad and equitable access to the vaccine.

“First COVAX shipments were dispatched late last week to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, and more are due to begin arriving this week in countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mongolia and Moldova. This supply represents the first COVID-19 vaccine for many of these countries.

“Further shipments will arrive in the coming weeks with the aim of supplying a total of 142 countries with hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine in the coming months. The majority of these doses, manufactured by AstraZeneca and its licence partner Serum Institute of India, will go to low and middle-income countries.

“Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer, Astra Zeneca, said: ‘These first steps towards fulfilling our broad, equitable and no-profit emergency response to the pandemic mean millions of people, irrespective of their country’s income level, will soon be protected against this deadly virus. This is a moment of great pride for us at AstraZeneca and I am extremely grateful to our partners including Gavi, CEPI and Oxford University for their hard work and dedication in order to make this humanitarian ideal a reality for many millions of people around the world.’

“Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer, Gavi, said: ‘Global, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines is only possible when the public and private sectors work together. When we launched the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment in June 2020, our first Agreement was with AstraZeneca. Nine months later, the first doses are already being delivered to those that need them most. This is the beginning of COVAX’s effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic, not the end, but we can all take strength from this moment and I thank AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford for their support and partnership at every step of our journey.’

“Vaccine shipments have been allocated according to the COVAX Allocation Framework which determines volume per participating country based on a number of factors, including country readiness, national regulatory authorisations and national vaccination plans in place. The supply through COVAX follows the recent Emergency Use Listing by the World Health Organization (WHO) for active immunisation in individuals 18 years of age and older, which provides a vital and accelerated pathway to enable supply.

“AstraZeneca was the first global pharmaceutical company to join COVAX in June 2020 in line with the Company’s shared commitment to global, equitable access to vaccines.

“The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.”

The “third way” sought by the WTO Director-General has been underway for some time and is picking up speed as vaccines start to be approved. There are an increasing number of announced agreements among producers to work together to expand production of particular vaccines. Thus, collaboration and cooperation among producers has and is occurring. Governments can help by identifying bottlenecks in all areas relevant to raw materials, intermediate products, finished vaccine doses, distribution and resources to apply the vaccines and helping to resolve the bottlenecks; by encouraging increased ramp ups of capacity and production, including through licensing.

A broad waiver of TRIPS obligations as being pursued by India, South Africa and many other developing and least developed countries is unwise, unlikely to be agreed to, and if implemented, will backfire in terms of global cooperation in getting the world’s population vaccinated and will destroy the likelihood of private sector engagement to solve future pandemics. The EU’s approach as laid out in EU Ambassador João Aguiar Machado’s statement on March 2 is likely the best course forward whether through the WTO or otherwise.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s opening statement at the March 1 General Council meeting

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took the helm of the WTO today, March 1, as Director-General and outlined at the beginning of the first day of a two day General Council meeting the need for change at the organization and how Members address the many challenges before them. In a post last week, I had looked at some of the challenging issues confronting the WTO and the new Director-General (DG), some within the General Council agenda. See February 26, 2021, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/26/wto-director-general-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-first-week-on-the-job-starts-with-a-two-day-general-council-meeting/.

The statement by DG Okonjo-Iweala can be found on the WTO webpage. See WTO, DG Okonjo-Iweala: WTO can deliver results if members “accept we can do things differently”, 1 March 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/spno_e/spno1_e.htm. Her comments started with thanks to the Members, to the troika of Chairs that had worked the DG selection process, to the four Deputy Directors-General who had managed the organization since the end of August and to the WTO Secretariat staff. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reviewed the need for doing things differently, the fact that in a Member driven-organization, movement would require efforts by all, and her view based on discussions that the WTO was viewed as less relevant since it has been unable to deliver results. Her comments on the challenges to relevance are copied below.

“I have said it. It cannot be business as usual. We have to change our approach from debate and rounds of questions to delivering results. Excellencies, many of you put in long hours and a great deal of effort to do good work much of which goes unnoticed. There are excellent people in the capitals doing good work. We have talented staff in the Secretariat. But the world is no longer cognizant of this, does not recognize the effort because we are not delivering results at the pace required by our fast-changing environment. Last week at the TNC, several Ambassadors said that You Excellencies talk past each other. You don’t talk to each other. This approach has to change. We have to be more accountable to the people we came here to serve — the ordinary women and men, our children who hope that our work here to support the MTS, will result in meaningful change in their lives, will improve their standard of living, and create decent jobs for those who seek work.

“Excellencies, coming from the outside I have noticed that the world is leaving the WTO behind. Leaders and decision makers are impatient for change. Several Trade Ministers said to me that if things don’t change, they will no longer attend the Ministerial because it is a waste of their time. I have noticed that more and more of the work and decision making that should be undertaken at the WTO is being done elsewhere because there is an increasing loss of confidence in the ability of the WTO to produce results. But there is hope. If we all accept that we can no longer do business as usual, that will help us create the parameters for success.”

DG Okonjo-Iweala then reviewed the long list of issues of importance to various parts of the WTO Membership and the need to achieve deliverables by the 12th Ministerial Conference. After her speech, the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference were taken up as agenda item 4 and a decision taken to hold the Ministerial Conference the week of November 29 in Geneva with the Kazakhstan trade minister chairing the Ministerial Conference (Kazkhstan had offered to host in 2020 and again in 2021 including in December). See WTO, Twelfth Ministerial Conference to take place in Geneva in late 2021, 1 March 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/minis_01mar21_e.htm.

For DG Okonjo-Iweala it is important that the WTO membership have an achievable agenda for the upcoming Ministerial Conference (MC), which means not attempting too much. However, the list of “deliverables” DG Okonjo-Iweala outlined is significant as well as the group of issues on which agreed work programs should be ready for adoption at the MC. Here is what DG Okonjo-Iweala outlined as the hoped-for focus.

“Therefore, we must work hard to complete a few deliverables before MC12 so that Ministers can focus on ratifying agreements and agreeing best methods for implementation. In this regard, we need to prioritize action on COVID-19 both for the immediate and longer term and focus on completing Fisheries Subsidies negotiations before the middle of the year. We must agree the road map for reform of the Dispute Settlement System and prepare a work program to achieve this which can be endorsed at MC12. On Agriculture, let us identify a few things we can deliver such as PSH, SSM, Cotton, and the WFP Humanitarian waiver which is material to our Pacific Island economies as we heard a few days ago. We must put forward a subsidies work program both on domestic support and industrial subsidies which can be agreed on at MC12. We must sharpen our approach to SDT bearing in mind how crucial this is to the policy space of Least Developed Countries in particular. For the rest, let us review the work on e-commerce, investment facilitation, Services Domestic Regulation, MSMEs, Women in Trade, and Trade and Climate to see what aspects of these important work programs we can advance at MC12. So in short, I am suggesting three or four clear deliverables finalized before MC12 and work programs for the rest to be agreed at MC12.”

DG Okonjo-Iweala then turned to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, more specifically getting the world vaccinated. She noted the proposal by India and South Africa (supported by many developing countries) for a waiver from TRIPS obligations for medical goods during the pandemic. A status report from the TRIPS Council on the proposed waiver is agenda item 6. DG Okonjo-Iweala argues that time is of the essence and that while WTO Members deal with the waiver proposal, efforts should be made to ramp up global production and distribution, noting the challenges facing COVAX in delivering vaccines to low- and middle-income countries and the gross shortfall between global vaccine capacities and global vaccine needs. It is not clear what direct role the WTO has or should have in working with companies to expand production or to encourage additional licensing, but certainly there is a role for governments collaborating on the issue and for multilateral organizations to collaborate and develop information on current and planned capacities, existing licensing arrangements (as there are some in existence already). Here is what DG Okonjo-Iweala said.

“Permit me Ladies and Gentlemen to spend just a little time on COVID-19. We have a demand for a TRIPS waiver by a growing number of developing countries and the dialogue is intensifying. Whilst this is happening, I propose that we ‘walk and chew gum’ by also focusing on the immediate needs of dozens of poor countries that have yet to vaccinate a single person. People are dying in poor countries. We just had our first COVAX shipment to Ghana last week and others will follow but it will not be enough. There is serious supply scarcity and some countries are out bidding COVAX and diverting supplies. The world has a normal capacity of production of 3.5 billion doses of vaccines and we now seek to manufacture 10 billion doses. This is just very difficult, so we must focus on working with companies to open up and license more viable manufacturing sites now in emerging markets and developing countries. We must get them to work with us on know how and technology transfer now. There will soon be a world manufacturing convention where we can seek to build this partnership. I also hope we can initiate a dialogue and information exchange between us and representatives of manufacturers associations from developing and developed countries. Excellencies, this should happen soon so we can save lives. As I said at the beginning, this will be an interim solution whilst we continue the dialogue on the TRIPS waiver.”

The General Council meeting runs through tomorrow March 2. While much of a General Council meeting is simply reporting developments in various areas, it is also an opportunity for Members to stake out positions and measure the sense of openness to agenda items by the WTO membership. There is no doubt that WTO Members expressed great enthusiasm and hope for the new Director-General. Whether that will translate into Members working differently to obtain solutions and find compromises is unknown at this point but seems unlikely with the deep divisions and differences of views on objectives for the WTO held by Members. The new DG clearly will be pushing Members to proceed in a more collaborative and solution-finding mode. Her own list of objectives for MC12 is quite ambitious and includes items that are very controversial to many. Her wanting WTO involvement in considering vaccine production and distribution levels is more consistent with her prior role at GAVI and her background as a development economist than her current role as WTO DG. Finding a comfort zone for WTO Members to act within the WTO, other than the consideration of the waiver proposal, on such issues may prove to be challenging. What is clear is that the new DG is looking forward to working with Members to return the WTO to greater relevance. Her opening statement at the General Council meeting says she will be urging Members to get out of their comfort zones. Fingers crossed that she is successful.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s first week on the job starts with a two day General Council meeting

While the WTO’s General Council, in special session, appointed Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be the next Director-General on February 15, 2021, her term starts on Monday, March 1. The challenges facing the WTO membership and the incoming Director-General are many and complex. At the same time, there is a lot of useful work that is done within the WTO including efforts of non-members to join the WTO (accessions).

In speaking to an informal Trade Negotiations Committee and Heads of Delegation meeting on February 25, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff spoke in part on “The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era”. See WTO, DDG Wolff calls on members to work with new Director-General to reform WTO, 25 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgaw_25feb21_e.htm. Part of the section of his statement on the new DG’s era is copied below.

“The Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Era

“The landmark event of the last six months was the appointment of the new Director-General ten days ago after what turned out to be a lengthy process.  91 member delegations spoke last week to congratulate the new Director-General. The DDGs and the Secretariat join you in welcoming Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment with great enthusiasm.

“Of course, member enthusiasm, optimism and hope need to be translated into concrete action.  

“There is much that needs to be done at this critical juncture for the WTO. World trade must contribute to a more effective pandemic response as well as a strong and sustainable economic recovery. Climate issues are demanding more urgent attention. WTO reform is overdue, having been called for repeatedly by you, by your ministers and by many heads of government. 

“The challenges are many but so are the opportunities. Dr Ngozi’s remarks at the Special General Council meeting last Monday, subsequently circulated to delegations in document JOB/GC/250, presented a worthy and ambitious agenda for the members of this organization.

“What did she say?

“To act with a sense of urgency to assist in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic through the nexus of trade and public health:

“First, by playing a more forceful role in exercising the WTO’s monitoring function. Part of this would involve encouraging members to minimise or remove export restrictions that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment. WTO monitoring suggests that as of yesterday, 59 members and 7 observers still had pandemic-related export restrictions or licensing requirements in place, mostly for personal protective equipment, disinfectants and to a lesser extent, for medicines and food. This represents a significant level of rollback compared to the 81 members and 10 observers that had implemented such measures over the past year. A welcome development — but there is much room to improve this record.  

“And second, by broadening access to new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics by facilitating technology transfer within the framework of multilateral rules.

“Beyond these immediate responses to the pandemic, Dr Ngozi set out a number of other, also vitally important, challenges:

“To swiftly conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations, and thus pass a key test of the WTO’s multilateral credibility while contributing to the sustainability of the world’s oceans.

“To build on the new energy in the multilateral trading system from the joint statement initiatives attracting greater support and interest, including from developing countries.

“To address more broadly the nexus between trade and climate change, using trade to create a green and circular economy, to reactivate and broaden negotiations on environmental goods and services, to take the initiative to address the issue of carbon border adjustments as they may affect trade.

“To level the playing field in agricultural trade though improving market access and dealing with trade distorting domestic support, exempting from export restrictions World Food Programme humanitarian purchases.

“To strengthen disciplines on industrial subsidies, including support for state-owned enterprises. 

“To defuse the divisions over Special and Differential Treatment (SDT).

“And to develop a work programme for restoring two-tier dispute resolution, to be agreed no later than MC12.

“I sense from my discussions with members that you chose this leader, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, because she has shown herself during her career to be fearless in the face of daunting challenges — and is experienced in knowing how to work with others to make progress toward solutions. 

“Each of the challenges the WTO faces, I am sure, can be met and overcome.  Echoing Dr Ngozi’s words, the trading system that we inherited, now only three-quarters of a century old, is about people.  This is inscribed in the opening section of the Marrakech agreement: ‘to raise living standards, ensure full employment, increase incomes, expand the production of and trade in goods and services, and seek the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.”’

DDG Wolff’s summation correctly lays out many of the issues needing to be addressed by the WTO membership. The vast majority of the issues are highly controversial among at least some Members.

The first major order of business is a two day General Council meeting on March 1-2 which has several agenda items that lay out controversies on important potential deliverables by the WTO in 2021. The agenda for the two day meeting contains sixteen items. See WT/GC/W/820 (26 February 2021) embedded below.

W820

General Council meetings deal with updates on ongoing work at the WTO and address issues teed up by particular Members for consideration at the meeting. This post does not take up all agenda items but highlights a few of possible interest. Because DDG Wolff’s statement on February 25 reviews many of the activities of the WTO in the last six months which shows some of the positive developments, the full statement is embedded below.

WTO-_-2021-News-items-Speech-DDG-Alan-Wolff-DDG-Wolff-calls-on-members-to-work-with-new-Director-General-to-reform-WTO

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference

Agenda item 4 deals with the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference. It is expected that there will be a decision on the timing and location of the twelfth Ministerial Conference at the General Council session on Monday-Tuesday. The 12th MC was postponed from June 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the continued challenges from the pandemic the likely date will be the end of 2021. Kazakhstan which had offered to host the conference in 2020 and again in the summer of 2021 has recently indicated a willingness to host in December of this year as well. The ministerial had originally been scheduled for June because of challenging weather conditions in Kazakhstan in December. See TWELFTH SESSION OF THE MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, COMMUNICATION FROM KAZAKHSTAN, 8 February 2021, WT/GC/229 (24 February 2021)(embedded below).

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Report on WTO Accessions

Deputy Director-General Wolff will provide a statement on the annual report on WTO accessions. The report is WTO ACCESSIONS, 2020 ANNUAL REPORT BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WT/ACC/38, WT/GC/228 (18 February 2021). Activity on accessions was challenged by the pandemic and inability to travel/hold in person meetings. More technical assistance and virtual meetings were held. Accessions are important for acceding governments in terms of promoting reforms at home and obtaining increased certainty in their international trade relations. Accessions are also an important benefit of membership for existing Members as acceding Members reduce tariffs and various non-tariff barriers to gain accession. The first eight paragraphs of the report provide an overview of activities in 2020 and are copied below.

Overview of activities in 2020

“1. 2020 was an unprecedented year in recent history due the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and its consequences which have touched upon every single aspect of our lives in every corner of the world. It was a challenging year for the WTO, not least because the pandemic disrupted its core activities, especially during the first half of the year, and it also disrupted the international trade of Members, except for supplies of essential goods critical to combatting the health crisis as trade in these goods expanded dramatically. The difficulties and challenges arising from the pandemic were particularly pronounced in acceding governments due to the uncertainties of being outside of the multilateral trading system. In fact, the desire and urgency to be part of the WTO was never felt stronger than in the pandemic year. This was reflected in the level of accession activities in 2020, which was sustained vis-à-vis previous years, with a significant increase in technical assistance and outreach activities.

“2. The year for accessions started with the establishment of a new Working Party for the accession of Curaçao, a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (WTO Member), following its application for an independent membership as a separate customs territory pursuant to Article XII of the Marrakesh Agreement. This constituted the 59th request by a state or separate customs territory for membership since the establishment of the Organization in 1995. In July, Turkmenistan was granted observer status in the WTO, with the understanding that it would apply for accession no later than in five years. This brought the total number of observer governments with the intention to accede to the WTO to 24, an increase by five since 2016 when Afghanistan and Liberia became the Organization’s most recent Members. The continuing interest to become part of the multilateral trading system is a testament to the attraction and relevance of its values and principles for all economies, regardless of their size or level of development.

“3. The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly hampered or delayed the technical work by acceding governments, Members and the Secretariat to prepare for, engage in and follow up on Working Party meetings. However, thanks to the firm commitment of the acceding governments to advance their work, four Working Parties met, including through the use of virtual platforms that connected the acceding governments which were unable to travel to Geneva. One acceding government had to cancel its already scheduled meeting due to the suspension of all WTO meetings in March. Out of the four accession Working Party meetings held in 2020, three were on LDC accessions (Ethiopia, Comoros and Timor-Leste). In two cases – the Working Parties of Ethiopia and Uzbekistan – this also represented the formal resumption of accession processes after several years of inactivity (8 and 15 years, respectively), signalling their desire to use WTO membership negotiations to drive domestic economic reforms, which have broader implications in the regions where they are located.

“4. When the pandemic halted planned missions, technical assistance, and outreach activities which required air travel, the Secretariat rapidly shifted the mode of operation to virtual format and took advantage of the opportunities provided thereby. In addition to the formal accession Working Party meetings which took place via Interprefy, the Accessions Division organised virtual technical meetings and briefing sessions with acceding governments, Working Party Chairpersons and partners in support of accessions. Moreover, the Division delivered a number of technical assistance, training and outreach activities in response to articulated needs of acceding governments, using various virtual platforms, such as MS Teams, Zoom and WebEx. In fact, the number of activities delivered by the Division and of participants who attended or were trained in 2020 exceeded considerably the numbers in previous years.

“5. One of the novel outreach programs developed in 2020 was two week-long activities which consisted of a series of webinars combining lectures, training and panel discussions. The first Accessions Week was organised from 29 June to 3 July, and the first edition of the Trade for Peace Week took place from 30 November to 4 December. These virtual events brought together a large number of resource persons and panellists from around the world and reached out to a larger number of participants, in a highly cost-effective manner, in comparison with traditional in-person activities. While the full values and benefits of in-person interaction cannot be replaced or replicated, the Accessions Week enabled the Secretariat to remain engaged with acceding governments and Members, experts and partners, beyond Geneva and around the world. The Trade for Peace Week provided an effective networking platform to expand the WTO’s partnership with the peace and humanitarian communities in support of fragile and conflict affected (FCA) countries in accession.

“6. The importance of collaboration and cooperation with partners was never felt more strongly than in 2020. The Secretariat made concerted efforts to enhance and expand the “Trade for Peace through WTO Accession” Initiative to support FCA countries in accession and those recently acceded to the WTO. In 2020, nine acceding governments were identified as being in a FCA situation according to the World Bank’s classification1, while conflicts emerged or resurged in some others. The pandemic hit hardest countries which had already been suffering from years of conflict, political crises, drought and other natural disasters, compounded by declines of the price of oil and other commodities. Nonetheless, some FCA acceding LDCs showed remarkable resilience in sustaining their engagement in accession. The Working Party on the Accession of the Union of Comoros resumed its work with determination to finalise the process as soon as possible. The Working Party on the Accession of Timor-Leste activated the Working Party by holding its first meeting nearly four years after its establishment, despite various challenges faced on the domestic front. Moreover, Somalia submitted its Memorandum on the Foreign Trade Regime, the base document to start its accession engagement with Members. Furthermore, the Secretariat continued to provide support to the g7+ WTO Accessions Group, which was coordinated by Afghanistan.

“7. The year 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the WTO. The Secretariat used its annual flagship event, the China Round Table on WTO Accessions, to review the contributions made by accessions to the multilateral trading system since 1995. The event also provided an opportunity for an exchange of ideas to explore the future expansion of WTO membership towards universality, including through possible improvements in the accession process. The year also marked a significant anniversary milestone for five Article XII Members2 – Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Jordan and Oman which joined the WTO in 2000, the year with the largest number of new members to date. Other anniversary milestones included the fifth anniversaries of Membership of Kazakhstan and Seychelles and the fifteenth anniversary for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, membership anniversaries have become an important occasion to reflect on the benefits and values of being part of the Organization.

“8. Finally, the thematic focus of the 2020 Annual Report was on the complementarities and synergies in negotiating WTO membership and regional trade agreements. Almost all acceding governments are involved in regional integration initiatives in parallel with their efforts to achieve WTO membership. The highlight of the year was the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to which all African WTO applicants are signatories. The Report’s thematic section builds on the rich discussions held on the topic during the 2020 Regional Dialogues on WTO Accessions for Africa and for the Arab Region, as well as other meetings on Central Asia and Eurasia. It aims to explore key opportunities and challenges that may arise in a simultaneous pursuit of regional and global integration efforts and to provide a checklist of issues for trade negotiators to consider in maximising the benefits from the participation in multiple trade arrangements.”

The full report is embedded below.

WTACC38

Waiver of TRIPS Obligations During COVID-19 Pandemic

The sixth agenda item involves the effort from India and South Africa with a number of other developing or least developed countries to obtain a waiver from most TRIPS obligations on medical goods needed for the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a very controversial issue with developed countries with pharmaceutical companies involved in the production of vaccines and other items opposing the waiver on the basis of existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement and on the global efforts through the WHO, GAVI and CEPI to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries through COVAX with financial contributions from many countries, NGOs and others. See, e.g., February 19, 2021, COVAX’s efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines  to low- and middle income countries — additional momentum received from G-7 virtual meeting, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/19/covaxs-efforts-to-distribute-covid-19-vaccines-to-low-and-middle-income-countries-additional-momentum-from-g-7-virtual-meeting/

The TRIPS Council received the proposal back in October but has been unable to provide a recommendation to the General Council. A meeting of the TRIPS Council earlier this month continued the lack of agreement. Thus, the agenda item will simply result in the item being continued on the General Council’s future agendas until resolved or dropped. See WTO, Members discuss TRIPS waiver request, exchange views on IP role amid a pandemic, 23 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_23feb21_e.htm (” In this context and given the lack of consensus on the waiver request, members agreed to adopt an oral status report to be presented to the General Council at its next meeting on 1-2 March. The report indicates that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and therefore will continue discussions and report back to the General Council.”); December 11, 2020, Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting of December 10, 2020 – no resolution on proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the pandemic, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/11/council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-of-december-10-2020-no-resolution-on-proposed-waiver-of-trips-obligations-to-address-the-pandemic/; December 6, 2020, Upcoming December 11th Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting – reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/06/upcoming-december-11th-wto-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-reaction-to-proposed-waiver-from-trips-obligations-to-address-covid-19/; November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

Fisheries Subsidies negotiations — Draft Ministerial Decision

The WTO has been pursuing negotiations on fisheries subsidies to address sustainable fishing concerns since the end of 2001. Conclusion of the negotiations were supposed to take place in 2020 but WTO Members were unable to get the job completed in part because of disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. While completing the negotiations remains a key objective of Members and the incoming Director-General and such completion is needed to fulfill the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, WTO Members continue to face a large number of challenging issues. See, e.g., WTO press release, WTO members hold February cluster of meetings for fisheries subsidies negotiations, 24 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/fish_24feb21_e.htm; February 22, 2021, An early test for the incoming WTO Director-General — helping Members get the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations to a conclusion, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/22/an-early-test-for-the-incoming-wto-director-general-helping-members-get-the-fisheries-subsidies-negotiations-to-a-conclusion/.

Agenda item 7 is entitled “Supporting the Conclusion of Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations for the Sustainability of the Ocean and Fishing Communities — Draft Ministerial Decision — Communication from Brazil (WT/GC/W/815. The draft Ministerial Decision is an effort by Brazil to highlight the critical aspect of the negotiations which is to address environmental sustainability and presumably reflects Brazil’s concerns with the efforts of so many Members to protect their subsidies versus ensuring sustainable fishing. The document is embedded below.

WTGCW815

An attack on Joint Statement Initiatives

As reviewed in the incoming Director-General’s statement on February 15 and the summary of her statement by DDG Wolff on February 25, an important aspect of ongoing work at the WTO is a number of Joint Statement Initiatives that were started at the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, including on e-commerce/digital trade.

Agenda item 10 is a frontal attack on such initiatives by India and South Africa through their paper, “Legal Status of Joint Statement Initiatives and Their Negotiated Outcomes”, WT/GC/819. I had reviewed the submission in an earlier post. See February 20, 2021, Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/20/will-india-and-south-africa-and-others-prevent-future-relevance-of-the-wto/. The agenda item will like see many delegations take the floor to support the use of joint statement initiatives within the WTO or to oppose them. While there won’t be a resolution of the issue, the challenge to the process could significantly handicap some of the efforts envisioned by the incoming Director-General to help developing and least developed countries take advantage of the e-commerce/digital trade world and eventually participate in talks and/or in an agreement. WT/GC/W/819 is embedded below.

WTGCW819-1

Agenda item 8 is viewed as related to agenda item 10. India has been seeking to limit WTO consideration of e-commerce issues to the multilateral efforts over many years within the existing Councils and Committees of the WTO (but where limited progress has been made).

COVID-19 and possible future pandemics — addressing existing trade restrictions and improving the functioning of the WTO to better handle in the future

The incoming Director-General has as a high priority to work with Members to improve monitoring of export restraints on medical goods and agricultural goods during the pandemic and working with Members to see that the WTO helps Members recover and better handle any future pandemics. The Ottawa Group had put forward a trade and health initiative in November 2020. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, WT/GC/223 (24 November 2020). The communication was made by Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the European Union, Japan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland. The document contains an annex reviewing the types of actions Members could take to improve the response to the pandemic and improve conditions going forward. Included in the annex to the communication are sections on export restrictions; customs, services and technical regulations; tariffs; transparency and review; cooperation of the WTO with other organizations. Several paragraphs in the communication review the issue of possible export restrictions on vaccines and are copied below.

“9. We realize that the challenges related to the scarcity of essential medical goods, now alleviated to some extent by the response on the supply side, may be repeated at the moment of the development of a vaccine or new medical treatments. In this context, we welcome the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), a global pooled procurement mechanism for COVID-19 vaccines, managed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. This mechanism is critical in securing an equitable share of vaccines for all Members of the international community. As we strongly support the objective of this facility, we call on WTO Members to ensure that any export-restricting measures do not pose a barrier to the delivery of necessary supplies under the COVAX facility.

“10. We recognize the collaborative efforts of private and public stakeholders in the research and development of COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. We encourage the industry to take actions to ensure access at affordable prices to COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for vulnerable populations and support voluntary pooling and licensing of IP rights to accelerate the development of such diagnostics, treatments and vaccines and scaling up their production. We recognize the importance of the IP system in promoting R&D and innovation for access to effective treatments. We note that the flexibilities provided by the TRIPS Agreement and reaffirmed in the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health remain available to protect public health and to promote access to medicines for all.”

The full document is embedded below.

WTGC223

Canada will be providing an update on the initiative at the General Council meeting and will likely see many Members provide comments on the agenda item.

Agenda item 9 was added by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay reflecting concerns by them (and presumably many other trading partners) about actions taken by the European Union to exert control over exports of vaccines from the EU in light of EU concerns about its own access to vaccines from manufacturers. See CALL TO PREVENT EXPORT RESTRICTIONS ON COVID-19 VACCINES, WT/GC/818 (18 February 2021). The document is embedded below.

WTGCW818

Since the EU is one of the Members who has pushed the trade and health initiative, there is concern by some WTO Members that its actions on vaccines run counter to the initiative it is supporting. Presumably the EU will argue that its actions are consistent with its rights under the WTO and is consistent with the language laid out in paragraphs 9 and 10 above.

The two agenda items are likely to show the concerns of many Members on equitable access to medical goods during the pandemic and the reluctance of at least some Members to reduce their flexibilities under the existing WTO rights and obligations.

Conclusion

DDG Wolff indicated that Members selected the incoming Director-General because she is “fearless in the face of daunting challenges”. There is no shortage of daunting challenges facing the WTO and its new Director-General. A few have been reviewed above.

Some good news is that the EU and the United States are supportive of many of the priorities laid out by DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her February 15 statement to the Special Session of the General Council as seen in the recent EU revised trade policy and the opening statement of USTR nominee Katherine Tai at yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing See February 18, 2021, The European Commission’s 18 February 2021 Trade Policy Review paper and Annex — WTO reform and much more proposed, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/18/the-european-commissions-18-february-2021-trade-policy-review-paper-wto-reform-and-much-more-proposed/; February 25, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/25/u-s-trade-representative-nominee-katherine-tai-confirmation-hearing-before-the-u-s-senate-finance-committee/.

The challenges the new Director-General and the WTO Members face will be made harder by the lack among Members of a common vision and agreed purpose of the WTO, by the current inability of the WTO system to address fundamentally different economic systems, by the structure of decision making, by the failure of obligations to be updated to match level of economic development and role in global trade and by the related issue of how special and differential treatment is used. These challenges have resulted in a negotiating function that is broken, in a dispute settlement system that has no checks on the reviewers for errors or failures to operate within the bounds of authority granted in the Dispute Settlement Understanding and in the underperformance of the monitoring and implementation function.

Hopefully, DG Okonjo-Iweala will develop a strong personal staff and group of DDGs to help her attempt the seemingly impossible — getting meaningful progress and reform from the 164 current WTO Members. See February 13, 2021, Leadership change at the WTO — with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival next week, what support team and early changes in the role of the Secretariat could help WTO Members move forward?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/13/leadership-change-at-the-wto-with-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iwealas-arrival-next-week-what-support-team-and-early-changes-in-the-role-of-the-secretariat-could-help-wto-members-move-forward/

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will get her first reality check at the General Council meeting on March 1-2.


Will India and South Africa (and others) prevent future relevance of the WTO?

The WTO has struggled to remain relevant as global technology and trade issues evolve from where they were in the 1980s. Part of the challenge flows from the widely divergent interests of a growing membership (currently 164 countries) which coupled with the consensus principle for decision making means any Member can shut down or prevent progress. Part flows from the failure/inability to update commitments based on changing stages of economic development and share of global trade. Part flows from the increased importance of Members whose economic systems are not market-premised under rules which assume such a market orientation. Part flows from the effort of some to seek new rights through dispute settlement and by ineffective controls to prevent excesses by the panels and Appellate Body system adopted in 1994. Part flows from the crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change and the glacier pace of deliberations within the WTO.

All of these forces have led WTO Members to focus energies on bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements and to start a process of so-called Joint Statement Initiatives to let countries desiring to address new or uncovered issues do so.

With the WTO finally having appointed a new Director-General whose priorities include addressing longstanding issues, but also achieving progress on the Joint Statement Initiatives — including digital trade/e-commerce and others — and with the European Union’s 18 February trade policy paper and Annex dealing with WTO reform and indicating the importance of flexibility for bringing open plurilaterals into the WTO, India and South Africa have filed a communication for discussion at the March 1-2, 2021 General Council meeting challenging the “legal status of Joint Statement Initiatives and their negotiated outcomes”. See WT/GC/W/819, 19 February 2021. The Indian and South African paper is embedded below.

WTGCW819

The paper from India and South Africa raises interesting points about existing WTO provisions for modifications of existing agreements and for adding plurilateral agreements and other issues. But the real question for the WTO is whether updating of rules and coverage of technological change and global developments will happen within or outside of the WTO. No issue describes this better than digital trade. Existing WTO rules don’t really address digital trade which has become increasingly important for all countries. While the WTO has had digital trade on its radar since 1998, there has been no meaningful progress within the WTO on multilateral rules. See WTO, Electronic commerce, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/ecom_e/ecom_e.htm. The Joint Statement Initiative on digital trade started in Buenos Aires in late 2017 is an effort by some WTO Members to develop rules for those willing to participate that address important issues affecting digital trade today. See WTO Ministerial Conference, New initiatives on electronic commerce, investment facilitation and MSMEs, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news17_e/minis_13dec17_e.htm; JOINT STATEMENT ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE,WT/MIN(17)/60, 13 December 2017, https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/WT/MIN17/60.pdf&Open=True. The JSI on e-commerce presently has 86 WTO Members participating in the negotiations and is making progress towards potential results as early as the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in late 2021. See, e.g., Joint Statement on E-Commerce, 18 December 2020, Coordinators of joint initiatives cite substantial progress in discussions, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/jsec_18dec20_e.htm. Embedded below is the 2017 Joint Statement Initiative, the December 2020 Joint Statement on E-Commerce and the December draft text.

60

jsec_18dec20_e

wto_plurilateral_ecommerce_draft_consolidated_text

Conclusion

The paper from India and South Africa may reflect a desire to have an early discussion of what additional flexibilities are needed in the WTO to permit easier inclusion of plurilateral agreements within the WTO. The paper could also be an effort to add leverage to obtaining focus on issues of importance to India and South Africa. It could also be a signal that two Members who historically have had problems with many liberalization efforts are simply looking to lock the WTO down from timely reform and rule updates at least among the willing. If so, the WTO’s drift to irrelevance will continue and solutions outside of the WTO will become the main focus of global trade rules.

COVID-19 agricultural fall out — higher prices for many consumers and greater food insecurity

The World Bank’s President David Malpass in a February 1st posting on Voices flagged the challenges for many of the world’s poorest people flowing from the COVID-19 pandemic — higher food prices, greater hunger, more people pushed into extreme poverty. See World Bank blog,COVID crisis is fueling food price rises for world’s poorest, February 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/covid-crisis-fueling-food-price-rises-worlds-poorest. The post was originally published in the Guardian. The post is copied in its entirety below (emphasis in the original webpost).

“Over the last year, COVID-19 has undone the economic, health and food security of millions, pushing as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. While the health and economic impacts of the pandemic have been devastating, the rise in hunger has been one of its most tangible symptoms. 

Income losses have translated into less money in people’s pockets to buy food while market and supply disruptions due to movement restrictions have created local shortages and higher prices, especially for perishable food.  This reduced access to nutritious food will have negative impacts on the health and cognitive development of COVID-era children for years to come.

“Global food prices, as measured by a World Bank food price index, rose 14% last year. Phone surveys conducted periodically by the World Bank in 45 countries show significant percentages of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. With the situation increasingly dire, the international community can take three key actions in 2021 to increase food security and help prevent a larger toll on human capital.

“The first priority is enabling the free flow of food. To avoid artificial shortages and price spikes, food and other essential goods must flow as freely as possible across borders.  Early in the pandemic, when perceived shortages and panic generated threats of export bans, the international community helped keep food trade flows open. Credible and transparent information about the state of global food inventories – which were at comfortable levels pre-COVID – along with unequivocal free-trade statements from the G20, World Trade Organization, and regional cooperation bodies helped reassure traders, and led to helpful policy responses. Special rules for agriculture, food workers and transport corridors restored supply chains that had been briefly disrupted within countries.

“We need to remain vigilant and avoid backsliding into export restrictions and hardened borders that make food – and other essentials – scarce or more costly.

“The second priority is bolstering social safety nets. Short-term social safety nets offer a vital cushion for families hit by the health and economic crises. In Ethiopia, for example, households that experienced problems in satisfying their food needs initially increased by 11.7 percentage points during the pandemic, but participants in our long-running Productive Safety Net program were shielded from most of the negative effects.

“The world has mounted an unprecedented social protection response to COVID-19. Cash transfers are now reaching 1.1 billion people, and innovative delivery mechanisms are rapidly identifying and reaching new groups, such as informal urban workers. But ‘large scale’ is not synonymous with ‘adequate’. In a review of COVID-19 social response programs, cash transfer programs were found to be:

“–Short-term in their duration – lasting just over three months on average

“–Small in value – an average of $6 (£4.30) per capita in low-income countries

“–Limited in scope – with many in need remaining uncovered

“The pandemic has reinforced the vital imperative of increasing the world’s investments in social protection systems. Additional measures to expedite cash transfers, particularly via digital means, would also play an important role in reducing malnutrition.

“The third priority is enhancing prevention and preparedness. The world’s food systems endured numerous shocks in 2020, from economic impacts on producers and consumers to desert locust swarms and erratic weather.  All indicators suggest that this may be the new normal. The ecosystems we rely on for water, air and food supply are under threat. Zoonotic diseases are on the rise owing to growing demographic and economic pressures on land, animals and wildlife.

“A warming planet is contributing to costlier and more frequent extreme weather events. And as people pack into low-quality housing in urban slums or vulnerable coastal areas, more are living in the path of disease and climate disaster.

“Development gains can be wiped out in the blink of an eye. Our experience with hurricanes or seismic events shows that it is more effective to invest in prevention, before a catastrophe strikes. That’s why countries need adaptive social protection programs – programs that are connected to food security early warning systems and can be scaled up in anticipation of shocks.

“The time is long overdue to shift to practices that safeguard and increase food and nutrition security in ways that will endure. The to-do list is long and urgent. We need sustained financing for approaches that prioritize human, animal and planetary health; restore landscapes and diversify crops to improve nutrition; reduce food loss and waste; strengthen agricultural value chains to create jobs and recover lost incomes; and deploy effective climate-smart agriculture techniques on a much greater scale.

“The World Bank Group and partners are ready to help countries reform their agriculture and food policies and redeploy public finance to foster a green, inclusive, and resilient recovery.

Focusing on food security would address a basic injustice: almost one in 10 people live in chronic hunger in an age of food waste and plenty.  This focus would also strengthen our collective ability to weather the next storm, flood, drought, or pandemic – with safe and nutritious food for all.”

Food insecurity is an issue for all countries although most pressing for the poorest countries

The challenges noted by the World Bank President also face most other countries. For example, in the United States, there has been a massive increase in the number of people getting food from food banks and estimates are that one in seven Americans needs food assistance. Feeding America, The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity, October 2020, https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research (“Combining analyses at the national, state, county, and congressional district levels, we show how the number of people who are food insecure in 2020 could rise to more than 50 million, including 17 million children.”) The challenges for schools not being able to have in school education has complicated the challenge in the United States as millions of children receive food from their schools but need alternative sources when schools are not able to provide in school classes. See, e.g., Brookings Institution, Hungry at Thanksgiving: A Fall 2020 update on food insecurity in the U.S., November 23, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/23/hungry-at-thanksgiving-a-fall-2020-update-on-food-insecurity-in-the-u-s/ (reviews the increase in food insecurity and the various safety net programs in the U.S. attempting to address).

World Trade Organization involvement in addressing the problem

The World Trade Organization is directly involved in addressing the first priority identified by World Bank President Malpass — enabling the free flow of food. However, the WTO also monitors government support efforts and has the ability to be tackling trade and environment issues which could affect the third priority by reducing climate change.

WTO Members under WTO rules can impose export restraints under certain circumstances and in the first half of 2020, a number of members imposed export restraints on particular agricultural products and many imposed export restraints on certain medical goods. At the same time, the lockdown of countries had significant effects on the movement of goods and people. Many WTO Members have urged limiting such restraints and the WTO Secretariat has monitored both restraints imposed, when such restraints have been lifted (if they have), and trade liberalization efforts to speed the movement of important goods. See, e.g., WTO, COVID-19 and world trade, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/covid19_e.htm; WTO, COVID-19 AND AGRICULTURE: A STORY OF RESILIENCE, INFORMATION NOTE, 26 August 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/agric_report_e.pdf; WTO, COVID-19: Measures affecting trade in goods, updated as of 1 February 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/trade_related_goods_measure_e.htm. The August paper on COVIDE-19 and Agriculture is embedded below.

agric_report_e

There have been a number of proposals by certain WTO Members to forego export restraints on agricultural products during the pandemic. None have been acted upon by the membership as a whole, but the communications often reflect commitments of certain Members to keep agricultural markets open during the pandemic. See, e.g., RESPONDING TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WITH OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS, STATEMENT FROM: AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; COLOMBIA; COSTA RICA; ECUADOR; EUROPEAN UNION; GEORGIA; HONG KONG, CHINA; JAPAN; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MALAWI; MALAYSIA; MEXICO; NEW ZEALAND; NICARAGUA; PARAGUAY; PERU; QATAR; KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND; THE SEPARATE CUSTOMS TERRITORY OF TAIWAN, PENGHU, KINMEN AND MATSU; UKRAINE; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES; UNITED KINGDOM; UNITED STATES; AND URUGUAY, WT/GC/208/Rev.2, G/AG/30/Rev.2, 29 May 2020. The document is embedded below.

208R2-3

More can and should be done, including a WTO-wide agreement to forego agricultural export restraints during the current pandemic or future pandemics. However, there are strong objections to any such limits from a number of WTO Members including large and important countries like China, India and South Africa.

Indeed, efforts to get agreement at the December 2020 General Council meeting that countries would not block agricultural exports to the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes was blocked by a number of countries. While 79 WTO Members in January 2021 provided a joint pledge not to prevent agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme, it is a sign of the sensitivity of food security to many countries that a very limited humanitarian proposal could not obtain the agreement of all WTO Members in a period of hightened need by many of the world’s poorest countries. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has extracted a huge cost from the world economy, has pushed tens of millions of people into extreme poverty, has cost hundreds of millions people employment (full or partial), is complicating the education of the world’s children with likely long lasting effects, has exposed potential challenges to achieving global cooperation on a range of matters including the desirability of limiting or not imposing export restraints on agricultural and medical goods.

While the focus of countries and the media in the last several months has shifted to access to vaccines and ensuring greater equitable distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices, there remains much that needs to be done to better address food insecurity during the pandemic. International organizations like the World Bank, IMF and WTO, countries, businesses and NGOs need to se that both core issues are addressed in the coming months.


The WTO Informal Ministerial of January 29, 2021 — hope for progress at the WTO in 2021

Switzerland typically hosts an informal ministerial meeting of WTO trade ministers on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s January Davos event. This year both were handled remotely.

The informal ministerial was summarized in ten points by the Swiss Confederation President Guy Parmelin at the end of the event. President Parmelin’s statement is available here, https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/65098.pdf, and is copied below.

Virtual Informal WTO Ministerial Gathering, 29 January 2021

Personal Concluding Remarks by the Chair, President of the Swiss Confederation and Head of the Federal Department for Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Guy Parmelin, Switzerland

“29 Ministers and high officials representing a broad spectrum of the WTO membership attended this year’s Informal World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Gathering in virtual format. In concluding and with warm thanks to all participants for their contributions, I would like to summarise the main points from our discussions as follows:

“• Ministers stressed the urgency of the swift appointment of a new WTO Director-General as well as the confirmation of the date and venue of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).

“• Ministers reiterated their determination to maintain a credible multilateral trading system and to restore a climate of mutual trust.

“• Ministers expressed their concerns about the enormous social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted the relevance of trade and the role of the WTO in containing the pandemic and promoting recovery. Many Ministers underlined the importance of ensuring the development of as well as an equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines. They addressed ways and means to achieve these goals, including the implementation of measures facilitating trade, the role of intellectual property and transparency.

“• Ministers regretted that the negotiations on fisheries subsidies could not be completed in accordance with the end-2020 deadline foreseen in SDG 14.6. In light of the significance of this process for the sustainability of global fisheries, Ministers concurred that a comprehensive and effective agreement on fisheries subsidies should be concluded as soon as possible. Ministers agreed to step up efforts with a view to finding mutually acceptable solutions consistent with all the elements of the negotiating mandate.

“• Ministers highlighted the importance of restoring a fully functional WTO dispute settlement system, which is a key pillar of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

“• Many participants argued for further progress in agricultural trade policy reform at MC12 and asked for an outcome on domestic support and other issues. The issues of public stockholding and the special safeguard mechanism were highlighted by several Ministers.

“• Many Ministers called for tangible outcomes, by MC12, on the Joint Statement Initiatives. Inter alia finalizing the process on Services Domestic Regulation and making substantial progress on E-commerce and Investment Facilitation as well as on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“• The need to reform the WTO was widely acknowledged. A number of Ministers insisted on advancing diverse issues related to the special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries. Some participants proposed to adjust WTO rules to present-day economic and competitive conditions.

“• Several Ministers supported new initiatives launched in response to global challenges such as the structured discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability.

“• Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to engage in the preparations for MC12 in order to advance key issues.”


The participants at this year’s informal ministerial included officials from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chad (coordinator for LDC Group), Chile, China, Egypt, European Union, India, Indonesia, Jamaica (Coordinator ACP Group), Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Mauritius (Coordinator African Group), Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland (Chair), Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States and three officials with WTO roles — H.E. Mr. David Walker (New Zealand), WTO General Council Chair; H.E. Mr. Santiago Wills (Colombia), WTO Chair of the Negotiating Group on Rules, H.E. Mr. Alan Wolff, WTO Deputy Director-General. The full list with titles is embedded below.

List-of-participants-at-virtual-informal-ministerial-1-29-2021-65099

The good news for the informal ministerial was the position taken by the United States representative who reportedly indicated that the United States was actively reviewing the issue of the next Director-General and was intent on actively working on WTO reform. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach; Politico, Biden administration joins call for ‘swift appointment’ of new WTO head, January 29, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/29/biden-world-trade-organization-463820. Under the Trump Administration, the United States had blocked the formation of consensus around Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala based on the U.S. view that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala did not have a sufficient trade background. See, e.g., January 26, 2021, Letter from variety of former U.S. officials to President Biden urges U.S. support for Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as next WTO Director General, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/26/letter-from-variety-of-former-u-s-officials-to-president-biden-urges-u-s-support-for-dr-ngozi-okonjo-iweala-as-next-wto-director-general/. Hopefully, the current review of the issue by the Biden Administration, even ahead of President Biden’s trade team being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will result in the U.S. joining the support for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, permitting the WTO to approve a next Director-General.

It was also reported that the United States, consistent with the Biden Administration’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, expressed interest in promoting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and concluding an ambitious fisheries subsidies agreement. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Biden administration strikes ‘constructive’ tone in first word on WTO approach, January 29, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/biden-administration-strikes-%E2%80%98constructive%E2%80%99-tone-first-word-wto-approach. Fisheries subsidies negotiations have been going on for some twenty years, and many Members have remained more concerned with keeping their subsidies in place than agreeing to disciplines that would create conditions for sustainable fishing going forward. The Interest in the Biden Administration in working within the WTO on joint steps to promote recovery from the pandemic is different from the approach pursued by the Trump Administration which didn’t want to look at actions possible within the WTO (other than limits on export restraints on agricultural goods) while the world was dealing with the pandemic. The U.S. statement should mean more interest in exploring issues like those raised by the Ottawa Group. See 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/.

Other issues flagged in the Swiss President’s concluding remarks are issues of particular interest to some or many countries but not topics of clear agreement. For example, while it is likely that the United States will look for ways to resolve its concerns about longstanding problems in the WTO’s dispute settlement system, particularly around the Appellate Body, it is unlikely that there will be a swift resolution of the U.S. concerns, and hence there will likely be a continued impasse for at least much of 2021 on the return of a functioning two-stage dispute settlement system.

Similarly on domestic support in agriculture and other agriculture issues flagged, certain WTO Members have not supported further liberalization in agriculture while pushing for limits on domestic subsidies and rollback of liberalization commitments undertaken in the Uruguay Round. It is unlikely that there will be forward movement on these issues without greater balance in terms of tariff reductions on major agricultural products. Moreover, as noted in a recent post, other major distortions in agriculture that are not presently identified as domestic subsidies include widespread use of child and forced labor on many agricultural products. See January 25, 2021, Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021, Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. Such practices should be quantified and the level of potential distortion identified so WTO Members can decide how to address them in ongoing agriculture negotiations.

Progress is being made on Joint Statement Initiatives including e-commerce, services domestic regulation, investment facilitation and women’s empowerment. An open issue for these and topics in the sphere of trade and the environment (e.g., environmental goods agreement) is whether benefits provided by participants will be made available on an MFN basis or limited to participants, with the option of other Members to join in the future. See January 18, 2021, Revisiting the need for MFN treatment for sectoral agreements among the willing, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/18/revisiting-the-need-for-mfn-treatment-for-sectoral-agreements-among-the-willing/. For many Members liberalization could be speeded up if benefits in sectoral agreements go to those participating only while leaving the door open for other Members to join later when they see the value for them.

And on the important topic of WTO reform beyond the items listed above, there is little current agreement on how to deal with industrial subsidies and other practices that lead to massive global excess capacity, or on how to address access to special and differential treatment and many other areas of importance to some or many WTO Members.

Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff provided a statement during the virtual informal ministerial urging WTO Members to make 2021 a year of accomplishments. The WTO press release can be found here. WTO News, DDG Wolff urges WTO ministers to address the pandemic and make 2021 a year of action, 29 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/igo_29jan21_e.htm. DDG Wolff’s statement is copied below.

“My thanks to our Swiss hosts and to President Parmelin both for his remarks today and for his very thoughtful address on the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebration of the WTO last November.

“Ministers, you can make 2021 a year of substantial accomplishments at the WTO.

“There has already been a beginning.  In the first action of the year, Members accounting for most of the world’s agricultural exports committed to refrain from imposing export restrictions on purchases made by the World Food Program.

“The anticipated appointment of a new Director-General will bring needed leadership in moving toward concrete results.  But she can succeed only with your active engagement.

“I urge you not to wait for the Twelfth Ministerial Conference, delayed by the pandemic, to move negotiations forward to positive outcomes. 

“There is no reason why the twenty-year negotiation on fisheries subsidies cannot be concluded successfully — without a sacrifice of ambition — in the next few months.  Success hinges on Members’ willingness to accept a significant level of discipline on their own subsidies.  Political decisions and your active engagement will be required to bring about success.

“I urge you to address ‘trade and health’ forcefully and immediately.  Last year, trade made a vitally important contribution in supplying needed medical supplies to deal with COVID-19.  Proposals as to what more can be done must be deliberated now.  Cooperation on trade can accelerate access to vaccines.  There can be no higher priority.

“Consider how the WTO can further contribute to the economic recovery.  Members can take steps to ensure enhanced transparency, work to eliminate unnecessary barriers and agree that new restrictions will not be imposed.  Trade finance must be restored.  The WTO convened the major international financial organizations and banks to address this need in the aftermath of the financial crisis and it can do so now again.

“’Trade and climate’ must be on the WTO agenda.  Carbon border adjustment measures will likely result in conflicts unless Members engage in joint efforts to find mutually beneficial solutions.  The heightened interest of Members in a broad range of other environmental issues such as plastics pollution and the circular economy can be reflected in new agreements.   The WTO can be more visible as a steward of the planet by reviving and concluding the Environmental Goods Agreement

“The Joint Statement Initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, and services domestic regulation can bear fruit this year, building on what was achieved with respect to small businesses last year.  In addition, more progress can be made on the economic empowerment of women through international trade.  

“Concerns over income inequality have been growing.  The WTO’s rules-based system needs to be seen not only among countries but also within countries, as responsive to the needs of workers, farmers and all who wish to engage in international trade.  But international trade rules cannot substitute for domestic policy actions to make growth more inclusive.  When large numbers of people are unhappy with how the economy is working for them, trade will often receive undeserved blame.  The WTO is about fairness.  Its work will never be done in pursuit of that objective, but further progress can be made this year.

“There can be an outcome on agriculture — at least a down-payment and a defined work program going forward.

“During 2021, the WTO can likely welcome new WTO Members, as it continues to move towards universal coverage.  Comoros and Bosnia-Herzegovina may be ready, and over a dozen others are making progress.

“Last but not least, ‘WTO reform’ can become a reality, with actions taken to —

“- facilitate rule-making with wide participation,

“- achieve heightened enforcement through binding dispute settlement in a manner agreed by all, and

“- provide a strong mandate for a Secretariat to deliver all needed support to Members and to achieving the mission of the WTO. 

“We should greet this year with optimism and re-dedication.  With your strong engagement, 2021 can be a year to remember for what is achieved.

“Thank you.”

A presentation from the WTO Secretariat to Ministers needs to be positive, forward looking, aspirational and inspirational. DDG Wolff’s statement yesterday provides all of that. The first item mentioned, the joint pledge from 79 WTO Members not to restrict agricultural exports to the UN World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes is a positive for the world but follows the December failure of the WTO General Council to agree to the same by all WTO Members. See January 23, 2021, WTO and the World Food Programme – action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/23/wto-and-the-world-food-programme-action-by-79-members-after-a-failed-december-effort-at-the-general-council/.

The challenge for the WTO in 2021 will be whether Members can come together in fact to achieve many of the important opportunities and needs in front of the Membership. While the history of the WTO since 1995 and the major divisions among Members at the present time would strongly suggest that 2021 will not achieve many of the things that are needed and possible, hope springs eternal.

U.S. perspective

The Trump Administration did an excellent job of identifying problems with the operation of the WTO whether from the longstanding failures of the dispute settlement system, to the existential challenges to the viability of the WTO from major Members whose economies have not converged to a full market orientation, to the out-of-date rules around special and differential treatment to all who claim developing country status regardless of economic development of individual members, to the need for greater transparency in many areas, including importantly subsidies, to the failure of the WTO to update rules to address changing technology and trade issues.

The Biden Administration has indicated its intention to work within multilateral institutions, including the WTO. Early action by the United States on the Director-General selection issue could provide positive energy to WTO Members in the coming months. There are topics where success can be made in 2021 either multilaterally or plurilaterally. But a lot of what is needed for meaningful WTO reform will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the short term. Hopefully, the Biden team will stay the course to achieve reform that both returns the WTO playing field to the level agreed at the time of concluding the Uruguay Round, finds ways to deal with the massive distortions not presently covered by WTO rules, works with others to bring the WTO into the 21st century and addresses the critical issues for global prosperity and sustainable development.

WTO and the World Food Programme — action by 79 Members after a failed December effort at the General Council

The WTO issued a press release on Jnauary 21, 2021 entitled “Group of members issue joint pledge on humanitarian food purchases”. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/agri_21jan21_e.htm. As the press release notes,

“A group of nearly 80 WTO members issued a joint statement on 21 January pledging not to impose export restrictions on foodstuffs purchased by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian aid.

“’We recognize the critical humanitarian support provided by the World Food Programme, made more urgent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises,’ the group said in their statement, available here. ‘We therefore commit to not impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme.’

“Discussions regarding export restrictions on food purchases by the WFP have been taking place in the WTO’s Committee on Agriculture in Special Session as well as the General Council.

“The WFP is the United Nations agency charged with delivering food assistance in emergencies and combatting hunger.”

The submission by the 79 WTO Members is embedded below (WT/L/1109).

1109-1

While the pledge by the 79 WTO Members is a significant event, the fact that the full WTO membership was not willing at the December 2020 General Council meeting to commit to such action is problematic and a reflection of the inability of WTO Members to come together on a broad array of issues. This has reduced the relevance of the WTO as a negotiating forum and prevented the updating of multilateral rules. It has led to a proliferation of free trade agreements and actions outside of the WTO. Considering the role that the World Food Programme plays and the list of beneficiaries, it is also quite extraordinary that there wasn’t an agreed General Council Decision adopted in December.

The UN World Food Programme

The UN’s World Food Programme (“WFP”) has for fifty years supplied food to those in need around the world. Consider the overview from the WFP’s webpage, https://www.wfp.org/overview (emphasis in original).

“The World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading humanitarian organization saving lives and changing lives, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience

“As the international community has committed to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition by 2030one in nine people worldwide still do not have enough to eat. Food and food-related assistance lie at the heart of the struggle to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. 

“For its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020

“In 2019, WFP assisted 97 million people – the largest number since 2012 –  in 88 countries. 

“On any given day, WFP has 5,600 trucks, 30 ships and nearly 100 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance to those in most need. Every year, we distribute more than 15 billion rations at an estimated average cost per ration of US$ 0.61. These numbers lie at the roots of WFP’s unparalleled reputation as an emergency responder, one that gets the job done quickly at scale in the most difficult environments.

“WFP’s efforts focus on emergency assistancerelief and rehabilitationdevelopment aid and special operationsTwo-thirds of our work is in conflict-affected countries where people are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in countries without conflict. 

“In emergencies, WFP is often first on the scene, providing food assistance to the victims of war, civil conflict, drought, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, crop failures and natural disasters. When the emergency subsides, WFP helps communities rebuild shattered lives and livelihoods. We also work to strengthen the resilience of people and communities affected by protracted crises by applying a development lens in our humanitarian response.

“WFP development projects focus on nutrition, especially for mothers and children, addressing malnutrition from the earliest stages through programmes targeting the first 1,000 days from conception to a child’s second birthday, and later through school meals.

“WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation implementing school feeding programmes worldwide and has been doing so for over 50 years. In 2019, WFP provided school meals to more than 17.3 million children in 50 countries, often in the hardest-to-reach areas.

“In 2019, WFP provided 4,2 million metric tons of food and US$2.1 billion of cash and vouchers. By buying food as close as possible to where it is needed, we can save time and money on transport costs, and help sustain local economies. Increasingly, WFP meets people’s food needs through cash-based transfers that allow the people we serve to choose and shop for their own food locally.

“WFP also provides services to the entire humanitarian community, including passenger air transportation through the UN Humanitarian Air Service, which flies to more than 280 locations worldwide.

Funded entirely by voluntary donations, WFP raised a record-breaking US$8 billion in 2019. WFP has 20,000 staff worldwide of whom over 90 percent are based in the countries where the agency provides assistance.

“WFP is governed by a 36-member Executive Board. It works closely with its two Rome-based sister organizations, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. WFP partners with more than 1,000 national and international NGOs to provide food assistance and tackle the underlying causes of hunger.”

The countries in which WFP provides assistance are shown in the list from the WFP webpage, https://www.wfp.org/countries, and include many important trading countries like China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and many more in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Central and South America. Beneficiary countries include the following:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tanzania, The Caribbean, The Pacific, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The December 2020 General Council meeting and proposed General Council Decision

During the December 2020 General Council meeting, there was an effort to adopt a General Council Decision entitled “PROPOSAL ON AGRICULTURE EXPORT PROHIBITIONS OR RESTRICTIONS RELATING TO THE WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECISION,” WT/GC/W/810, TN/AG/46 (4 December 2020). The draft document was modified three times to add cosponsors. WT/GC/W/810/Rev.1, Rev.2, Rev.3. Concerns were raised by India, Pakistan and some African countries (from the above list, at least India and Pakistan and most, if not all others, were beneficiaries of assistance from the the WFP). Hence there was no agreement on adopting the draft General Council Decision. See Washington Trade Daily, December 16, 2020, pages 3-4, WTO Members Talk Food Procurement, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/1b51b4fa-b0a3-4a60-9165-8c5f6d7977a4.pdf; Washington Trade Daily, December 18, 2020, pages 5-6, India Questions WFP Exemption, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/ec47c599-5c0c-47fd-80cf-a46244c5af8b.pdf.

While WTO Members always have multiple concerns and agenda items being pursued, the failure of the membership as a whole to agree to something so limited in nature and so critical for addressing global hunger was disappointing to many and reflects the seeming inability of the WTO Membership to move forward as one on the vast majority of issues before the WTO.

Conclusion

In a post earlier this month, I argued for the need for the WTO to move to liberalization by the willing without benefits for non-participants but with agreements open to all to join. See January 18, 2021, Revisiting the need for MFN treatment for sectoral agreements among the willing, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/18/revisiting-the-need-for-mfn-treatment-for-sectoral-agreements-among-the-willing/. While the MFN issue doesn’t come into play for the 79 Member pledge not to restrict exports to the WFP, the failure of the full WTO membership to agree to the draft General Council Decision is a further manifestation of the need for new approaches to promote expanded trade liberalization.

In recent speeches, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff has expressed both the lack of unity at the WTO on an issue of importance like the draft General Council Decision and also welcomed the joint pledge by the 79 WTO Members not to impose restrictions on exports to the WFP. See WTO press release, DDG Wolff outlines possible responses to calls for WTO reform, 13 January 2020, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgaw_13jan21_e.htm (“Less than a month ago, a General Council meeting took place which lasted over 15 hours (over two and a half days), a recent record for length. It had only one substantive trade policy item on its agenda for decision, the consideration of which produced no agreement. The issue was whether Members would agree to forego a modicum of the policy space they now have by agreeing not to impair procurements by the Nobel-Prize-winning World Food Program. A witness to the proceeding could be forgiven for perceiving drift of the organization in its not living up to its potential. Viewed through a different lens, this was no more than sovereigns reaffirming that they could not be bound without their consent.”); WTO press release, DDG Wolff stresses need to make progress in WTO negotiations to enhance resilience of farm sector, 22 January 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/ddgaw_22jan21_e.htm (“I welcome the pledge this week of WTO members accounting for most of world agricultural exports to refrain from imposing export restrictions on foodstuffs purchased by the World Food Programme for non-commercial humanitarian purposes.”).

If there is to be a WTO capable of reform, the Members will need to reconfirm core principles and find ways to agree instead of searching for excuses to oppose. The membership seems far from sharing a common vision or accepting core principles. Too often, Members are engaged in a search for blocking progress. While all Members undoubtedly share blame for the current challenges, on the topic of blocking the minor proposal to ensure the workings of the WFP, one can look to the Members who remain non-participants in the joint pledge as the problem on this particular issue.

Specifically, the list of those WTO Members pledging not to impose export restrictions on foodstuffs to the WFP is made up of 79 WTO Members, meaning 85 Members did not join the pledge (at least not yet). Some of the major Members who are not participating in the pledge include the following — Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Africa, the Philippines, Malaysia. the Russian Federation, Hong Kong (China), Turkey. In the WTO’s World Trade Statistical Review 2020, China, Indonesia, Argentina and India are among the top 10 exporters of agricultural products and of food in 2019; China, the Russian Federation and Hong Kong (China) are among the top ten importers in 2019. WTO, World Trade Statistical Review 2020, Tables A-13 and A-14, https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/wts2020_e/wts2020_e.pdf. China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Turkey are all beneficiaries of assistance from the WFP.

While there is much that needs to be done for the restoration of the WTO’s relevance, the pledge by 79 Members suggests that liberalization by the willing may be the only road forward.

Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting of December 10, 2020 – no resolution on proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the pandemic

On December 10th, the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights held a meeting to consider a proposed waiver for all countries of various TRIPS Agreement obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have previously looked at the proposed waiver and reactions thereto in two prior posts. See December 6, 2020, Upcoming December 11th Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting – reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/06/upcoming-december-11th-wto-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-property-rights-meeting-reaction-to-proposed-waiver-from-trips-obligations-to-address-covid-19/ (date of meeting incorrectly listed as December 11); November 2, 2020:  India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

The WTO press release on the meeting indicates that Members will continue to discuss the proposal in future meetings as there was no consensus yet on the proposed waiver. See WTO press release, December 10, 2020, Members to continue discussion on proposal for temporary IP waiver in response to COVID-19, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_10dec20_e.htm. The meeting was held to permit the Council to prepare a report to the General Council ahead of its December 16 meeting. As noted in the press release,

“As a result of the consultations, the chair proposed that the TRIPS Council provide a neutral and factual communication to the General Council reflecting the state of play of discussions and the absence of consensus on the waiver proposal in the TRIPS Council at this time. The communication would indicate that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request and may not be able to do so within the 90 days stipulated. Therefore, it would propose that the TRIPS Council continues its consideration of the waiver request and reports back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement.”

The next scheduled TRIPS Council meeting is scheduled for March, but the Chair indicated informal meetings may be held in January and February to work on a path forward.

The press release in its entirety is embedded below.

WTO-_-2020-News-items-Members-to-continue-discussion-on-proposal-for-temporary-IP-waiver-in-response-to-COVID-19

There remains a sharp divide between the proponents and their supporters on the one hand who argue that TRIPS obligations will hinder speedy and equitable distribution of vaccines and other materials needed for handling the pandemic and the range of Members who opposed a waiver on the basis that there hasn’t been a factual showing that TRIPS flexibilities don’t address concerns and that TRIPS provisions are not the only issue that goes to production capacity and production.

As noted in my last post, four WTO Members (Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico) have proposed a series of questions for Members to consider and respond to in an effort to develop a factual record for what actual problems Members are having so any waiver or other action would respond to actual versus feared potential problems. There was no public indication of whether WTO Members will respond to the questions and/or otherwise cooperate in the establishment of a data base of challenges being experienced in fact by Members in addressing the pandemic.

Trade press have reported on the meeting and the continued disagreement between the two groups of Members. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, December 10, 2020, WTO members to continue talks on TRIPS waiver, but no consensus in sight, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-continue-talks-trips-waiver-no-consensus-sight (“The U.S., the European Union and Japan, among others, oppose the waiver, insisting that intellectual property protections are necessary to spur innovation and collaboration. The U.S. on Thursday called instead for members to identify specific problems related to accessing a product and then find targeted solutions. * * * Canada on Thursday argued that the built-in flexibility of the agreement is proven to work, citing the example of Canada’s issuance, in 2017, of a compulsory license granting a Canadian company permission to use nine patents in producing an HIV drug for Rwanda.”); Washington Trade Daily, December 11, 2020, TRIPS Waiver Talks to Continue, https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/25ec633d-96b4-44cd-8c0d-2eb9108795b9.pdf (pages 2-4).

Look for the proposed waiver to be a topic of continued disagreement within the TRIPS Council in 2021 until such time as there is a much clearer picture of the actual problems to which a much narrower waiver would actually be needed and effective if nonwaiver options are not available. With vaccine approvals starting and with production and distribution being ramped up in 2021, there will be materials delivered to many countries next year either through COVAX or through voluntary licensing arrangements. As noted in an earlier post, there are several billion vaccine doses capacity available through these current options.

Upcoming December 11th WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meeting — reaction to proposed waiver from TRIPS obligations to address COVID-19

In my post of November 2, 2020, I reviewed a proposed waiver from many TRIPS obligations for all countries to address the COVID-19 pandemic. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/. While originally filed by India and South Africa (IP/C/W/669), a few other countries have joined the proposal including Eswatini (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Kenya (IP/C/W/669/Add.1), Mozambique (IP/C/W/669/Add.2) and Pakistan (IP/C/W/669/Add.3). South Africa made a supplemental filing providing what it described as “Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 pandemic”. Communication from South Africa, Examples of IP Issues and Barriers in COVID-19 Pandemic, IP/C/W/670, 23 November 2020. The South African communication is embedded below.

W670

My post of November 2 had raised a number of question presented by the proposed waiver:

” The proposal raises a series of questions that should be addressed to understand whether the waiver is appropriate. These questions include whether such a broad waiver request is appropriate or envisioned by Article IX:3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement? Shouldn’t those requesting a waiver be required to demonstrate that the existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement are inadequate to address concerns they may have? Can two Members request a waiver of obligations for all WTO Members? Can a waiver request be considered where the product scope is lacking clarity, and the uses/needs of the waiver are very broad and potentially open to differing views? To what extent is there a need for those seeking a waiver to present a factual record of actions being taken by governments, companies and international organizations to provide access to medical goods during the pandemic including to developing and least developed countries? Shouldn’t those seeking a waiver identify the extent of existing licenses by major pharmaceutical companies with them or other WTO Members for the production of vaccines or therapeutics to address COVID-19?”

The supplemental information provided by South Africa identifies various patent pending matters and identifies what it describes as restrictive actions by some companies and some patent litigation by certain companies. As such the communication provides some information of possible relevance in examining the proposed waiver. However, there is little if any information provided on most questions that seem important to an informed discussion of the proposed waiver.

On November 27, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico filed a communication entitled “Questions on Intellectual-Property Challenges Experienced by Members in Relation to COVID-19”. IP/C/W/671. While the entire communication is embedded below, paragraphs 3 and 4 are copied below and present a framework for the consideration of the proposed waiver and seek factual answers to a series of questions which would help understand if there are in fact any significant barriers being confronted by WTO Members in addressing the pandemic.

“3. The co-sponsors of this communication remain of the view that these important, challenging, and complex issues merit further reflection and significant consideration, in order to identify any specific and concrete IP-related challenges faced by Members in addressing COVID-19. In addition, we take note that IP rights are one part of a broad discussion informing the availability and accessibility of treatments for COVID-19. Indeed, as the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health emphasizes, the TRIPS Agreement itself is part of the wider national and international effort to address public health problems. With respect to COVID-19, this broader response includes significant investments through procurement mechanisms like the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility and Advance Market Commitment, as well as work within the WTO and elsewhere to safeguard and protect global supply chains.

“4. The co-sponsors of this communication are actively committed to a comprehensive, global
approach that leverages the entire multilateral trading system in place to supporting the research,
development, manufacturing, and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, equipment, therapeutics, and vaccines. The co-sponsors also reaffirm their support for the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities it provides, and for the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. In this context, we invite consideration of how the existing legal framework under the TRIPS Agreement, including the flexibilities affirmed under the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, have operated thus far in the context of Members’ efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also committed to fully understanding the nature and scope of any concrete IP barriers experienced by Members related to or arising from the TRIPS Agreement, and such that would constitute impediments to the fight against COVID-19. To that end, and with a view to facilitating a consensual, evidence-based approach, the co-sponsors of this communication therefore respectfully submit the following questions to Members for their consideration and response.”

The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico then provides eight questions designed to develop a factual record of challenges faced on procurement of products, local production, compulsory licenses, as well as copyright-related challenges, industrial-designs-related challenges, and challenges from undisclosed information. The questions also include an inquiry as to “what specific legal amendments or actions would the proponents seek to enact for the prevention, containment, and treatment of COVID-19 that are not – or may not be – consistent with the TRIPS Agreement and its flexibilities?”

W671

There is a meeting of the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights scheduled for December 11 at the WTO. It is assumed that the only item on the agenda will be the consideration of the proposed TRIPS waiver submitted by India and South Africa and joined by four other countries. A recommendation should be forwarded to the General Council by December 31. While the proposed waiver may receive support from many WTO Members, it will be opposed by many as well as not justified and undermining the existing WTO TRIPS Agreement and built-in flexibilities. The communication from Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico provides a possible path forward by seeking to gather factual information that would permit Members to identify what challenges actually exist and what existing tools are available for addressing the existing challenges so that the need for any waiver is limited to what is actually needed instead of being the very broad waiver proposal for all countries regardless of actual problems faced.

World COVID-19 pandemic peaks on November 26 and starts to slowly recede

The most recent surge in COVID-19 cases (up from 3.57 million cases over a fourteen day period in early August to over 5 million for fourteen days on October 22 to over 8 million new cases for fourteen days on November 17), seems to have peaked on November 26 with 8,296,264 new cases over fourteen days and has been slowly receding for the last three days, down to 8,142,629 new cases during the period November 16-29. Total cases since the end of December 2019 now stand at 62,271,031 as of November 29 according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) publication “COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 29 November 2020”.

The World Health Organization puts out a publication that tracks cases and deaths on a weekly basis. COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update (data as of 22 November). While it breaks countries and territories into different configuarations that the ECDC, the publication shows new cases in the period November 16-22 declining 6% in Europe and in South East Asia while increasing 11% in the Americas, 5% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 15% in Africa and 9% in the Western Pacific. Because of the large spike in cases in the September – November period in many parts of the world, deaths in the November 16-22 period increased in all regions — up 10% in Europe, 15% in the Americas, 4% in South-East Asia, 10% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 30% in Africa and 1% in the Western Pacific. The latest report is embedded below.

20201124_Weekly_Epi_Update_15

The graphs in the WHO publication show by region the trajectory of new cases and deaths over time. The chart showing aggregate data show a flattening of total new cases in the last weeks of November while the number of deaths globally are sharply increasing.

The WHO Africa region peaked in the summer and has declined until the last few weeks when there has been some increase in both cases and deaths.

The Americas saw a peak in both new cases and deaths in the July period with some declines in new cases until the second half of September when the current surge started and accelerated in November. Deaths declined until early October before starting to grow again.

The Eastern Mediterranean peaked in May-June for both cases and deaths, declined through August/September and have surged to new heights with continued upward trajectory as of November 22.

The WTO European Region had an early surge of cases and deaths in the March-April period. Deaths receded sharply through August. While new cases have increased since summer, there was a massive increase in the September – end of October period in new cases and rising deaths through November.

The WHO South-East Asia region saw a huge increase in cases and deaths in the May-August period, peaking in early September and declining since then. Much of the data for the region reflect activity in India.

The Western Pacific Region has had several peaks in terms of deaths and in new cases, though the numbers are the lowest of any WHO region. The latest peak in new cases was in early August with some increase in the October-November period. Deaths last peaked in early September and have declined through November.

The United States

Turning back to the ECDC data, the United States continues to have more confirmed cases (13,246,651) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (266,063) than any other nation. The United States is also still experiencing a surge in new cases and rising deaths. October 31 was the first day that ECDC data show the U.S. recording 100,000 new cases in a single day. Since November 5, the U.S. has had more than 100,000 new cases every day up to November 29. It is the only country to record one million new cases in a week and the only country to record two million new cases in fourteen days. For the last fourteen days, the U.S. recorded 2,341,760 new cases. The U.S., which accounts for 4.3% of the global population, accounts for 21.27% of all COVID-19 cases that have been reported since December 2019 and accounted for 28.76% of new cases in the last two weeks. The rate of increase remains high for the United States — up 31.67% from the 1,778,530 new cases in the two weeks ending November 15. There are concerns that the number of new cases will continue to increase into the new year based on the high rate of infections in many parts of the country, major potential spreading events around holidays in November (Thanksgiving) and December, and limited compliance with basic requirements for limiting the spread of the virus.

The number of deaths from COVID-19 that the U.S. accounts for has declined from roughly 20% to 18.30% as of November 29. In the last two week, while the U.S. has the largest number of deaths in the two weeks, the percent of total deaths accounted for by the U.S. in the November 16-29 period was 14.65%. However, many cities, communities and even states are at or nearing the limits of the health care capacity with hospitalizations now about 90,000, limits on health care professionals with the surging cases and some challenges on personal protective equipment. Thus, models used by the government projects a continued rise in the number of deaths in the coming months.

While the first vaccine could receive emergency approval for distribution in the U.S. as early as December 10, and the U.S. could have two or three vaccines in distribution in early 2021, the United States will unfortunately likely be a major part of the continued high rate of infections and deaths well into 2021.

Europe

While Europe had faced early challenges in a number of western European countries in February-April and very high death rates in a number of countries, the second wave of cases following the relaxation of restrictions in time for summer vacations accounted for the vast majority of the incrase in new cases during the October and early November time period. In earlier posts, I showed that Europe and the U.S. accounted for nearly all of the increase from 5 million new cases in the two weeks ending October 22 to the more than 8 million new cases in the two weeks ending November 17. See November 17, 2020, New COVID-19 cases over a fourteen day period continue to soar past eight million, up from five million on October 22, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/17/new-covid-19-cases-over-a-fourteen-day-period-continue-to-soar-past-eight-million-up-from-five-million-on-october-22/

While some of the major countries, including France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and others have seen significant reductions in the number of new cases in recent weeks from the extraordinary figures recorded in late October, early November, numbers remain very high for a number of countries including Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania and Luxembourg — all of whom had new cases/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States.

Because deaths lag new cases by a number of weeks, it is perhaps less surprising that much of Europe had deaths/100,000 population in the last fourteen days that were higher than the United States, most at rates that were two-three times the U.S. rate. The rate for the world in total was 1.82 deaths per 100,000 population for the November 16-29 period. The U.S. was 3.38 times the global average at 6.22 deaths per 100,000 population in that two week period. The following 25 European countries exceeded the U.S. rate: France (11.76 deaths/100,000 population); Italy (16.04); Spain (8.31); United Kingdom (9.40); Armenia (12.81); Austria (13.47); Belgium (18.84); Moldova (6.50); Poland (16.65); Portugal (10.30); Romania (11.50); Serbia (7.11); Switzerland (14.98); Bulgaria (23.69); Croatia (15.92); Czechia (18.74); Greece (11.08); Hungary (16.12); Lithuania (8.12); Luxembourg (13.19); Malta (6.79); Slovenia (19.85); Bosnia and Herzegovina (20.75); Georgia (13.19); and North Macedonia (20.12).

With new restrictions in recent weeks bringing new cases down in a number of European countries, death rates should start to decline as well in the coming weeks. Challenges in terms of superspreader events in Europe include holiday travel and events and winter holidays and sports. Germany has proposed placing restrictions on the ski season to try to minimize increased cases from a sport popular across much of Europe. See DW, 26 November 2020, Coronavirus: Germany seeks EU-wide ban on ski trips, https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-germany-seeks-eu-wide-ban-on-ski-trips/a-55732273.

The EU has contracts with at least six pharmaceutical companies or groups for vaccines if approved. The EU and United Kingdom will start to see vaccine dosages within weeks assuming approval in their jurisdictions.

Other countries

While much of the rest of the world has not seen great increases in the number of cases that is not true for all countries. For example, Iran which had 136,753 new cases in the November 2-15 period showed 186,274 new cases in the November 16-29 period (+36.21%). Jordan, which has a total number of cases of 210,709 since the end of December has recorded 65.54% of that total in the last four weeks (68,698 new cases during November 2-15; 69,404 new cases during November 16-29). Similarly, Morocco which has a total of 349,688 cases since December 2019 has more than 37% recorded in the last four weeks (69,127 during November 2-15; 61,477 during November 16-29).

In the Americas the following countries in addition to the United States have two week totals to November 29 greater than 100,000 new cases: Argentina (108,531); Brazil (441,313); Colombia (108,609). The following countries besides the United States have more than one million cases since late December 2019: Argentina (1,413,362); Brazil (6,290,272); Colombia (1,299,613), Mexico (1,100,683). Eleven other countries have more than 100,000 cases (with Peru having 960,368). Other than the U.S., countries are facing different trend lines, many down, some showing increases (e.g., Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Paraguay).

In Asia, while India continues to see declines in the number of new cases, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, South Korea, showed increased in the most recent two weeks, some quite large. This is in addition to Iran reviewed previously.

In Africa, South Africa has the most cases and saw an increase from 23,730 new cases during November 2-15 to 35,967 during November 16-29. Morocco was reviewed above. Most other major countries in Africa saw declines in recent weeks.

Conclusion

The world in the first eleven months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control with several major surge periods. The global number of new cases seems to have plateaued over the last week or so at extraordinarily high levels and the death rates has been climbing after a long period where deaths appeared to be declining. It is likely that the death rate will continue to increase for the rest of 2020.

After a period during the summer and early fall where restrictions in a number of countries were being relaxed, many countries in the norther hemisphere are reimposing various restrictions in an effort to dampen the spread of the coronavirus. While trade has significantly rebounded from the sharp decline in the second quarter of 2020, services trade remains more than 30% off of 2019 levels driven by the complete collapse of international travel and tourism. Many WTO members have put forward communications on actions that could be considered to speed economic recovery. The most recent was the Ottawa Group’s communication about a possible Trade and Health Initiative. See 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 TRIPS Council has a request for a waiver from most TRIPS obligations for all WTO Members on medical goods and medicines relevant to COVID-19 on which a recommendation is supposed to be forwarded to the General Council by the end of 2020 though it is opposed by a number of major Members with pharmaceutical industries. See November 2, 2020, India and South Africa seek waiver from WTO intellectual property obligations to add COVID-19 – issues presented, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/02/india-and-south-africa-seek-waiver-from-wto-intellectual-property-obligations-to-address-covid-19-issues-presented/.

With vaccines very close to approval in major markets like the United States and the European Union, there will be increased focus on efforts to ensure availability of vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics globally on equitable and affordable terms. GAVI, CEPI and the WHO have been leading this initiative with the support of many governments and private sector players. Pharmaceutical companies also have global distribution plans being pursued in addition to the above efforts.

So there hopefully is light at the end of the tunnel that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on the world. But vaccines without vaccinations won’t solve the pandemic’s grip. So communication and outreach globally will be critical to seeing that available vaccines are properly used. And all peoples need to be able to access the vaccines, some of which will be less available simply because of the infrastructure needs to handle the vaccines.

Trade policy options to minimize trade restrictions coupled with global cooperation and coordination should result in the world being able to rebuild in 2021 and beyond as more and more of the world is vaccinated.

Multilateral efforts to help the poorest countries deal with debt, make available trade finance and other actions continue to be a pressing need. Better plans and preparation for pandemics of the future are clearly needed. Reports suggest that many of the poorest countries have experienced loss of a decade or more of economic advancement during the pandemic. Building back greener and in a sustainable manner is critical for all.

The efforts of developed country governments and others to provide the stimulus domestically to reduce the downward spiral of the individual national economies and the global economy has been critical to limiting the damage at home and abroad. But the assumption of large amounts of debt will also pose significant challenges moving forward because of the greatly heightened national debt/GDP ratios that have developed and may restrict options for individual governments moving forward.

What is certain is that 2020 will be remembered as a year in which a virus inflicted enormous damage to the global health and to the global economy. Collectively, the level of spread has been far greater than should have been possible. Many nations were not prepared. Some, like the United States, exacerbated the problems through a lack of national government planning and messaging. Others like many in Europe, having done a good job of controlling the spread in the early months, made major mistakes as they opened up for summer vacations and didn’t deal with the problems that resulted from the reopening and experienced breathtaking surges which roughly doubled the global daily rate of new cases in five-six weeks and have led to the reimposition of a series of restrictions to try to tame the pandemic a second time. We collectively are better than the results achieved to date. The number of deaths in advanced countries is simply disgraceful.

2021 offers the opportunity for the world to come together and put COVID-19 behind us. Whether we will come to the end of 2021 and feel that this global nightmare is behind us and that there are national and global game plans to rebuild in a greener and more sustainable manner with greater opportunities for all is the question. Hopefully, the answer will be yes.

WTO initiatives on trade and the environment — likely to receive a warm welcome under a Biden Administration

The challenges facing the world from climate change are staggering and getting worse. While the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a Biden Administration will have the U.S. rejoin and work with other nations to find solutions to the pressing problems.

Today in Geneva, two initiatives were announced by groups of WTO Members. One addresses trade and environmental sustainability and was presented in a communication from 49 Members. Communication on Trade and Environmental Sustainability, WT/CTE/W/249 (17 November 2020). Neither the U.S., China, India, Brazil nor South Africa are on the communication though most developed countries and other Members are initial sponsors. The communication is embedded below.

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The second initiative was the launch of an informal dialogue on plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade. Seven Members are launching the informal dialogue. All Members are welcome to participate. The seven Members involved in the launch are Australia, Barbados, Canada, China, Fiji, Jamaica and Morocco. Only Australia, Canada and Fiji are part of both initiatives. The press release from the Secretariat on today’s initiatives included the following discussion of the plastics initiative.

“The dialogue is borne out of the recognition of the need for coordinated action to address the rising environmental, health and economic cost of plastics pollution and the importance of the trade dimension as a solution.

“Proponents aim to circulate their communication soon. * * *

“Ambassador Xiangchen Zhang of China said at the online event that possible subjects for discussion include improving transparency, monitoring trade trends, promoting best practices, strengthening policy coherence, identifying the scope for collective approaches, assessing capacity and technical assistance needs, and cooperating with other international processes and efforts. Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji said they hope this informal dialogue will encourage discussion and exploratory work on how the WTO can contribute to efforts to reduce plastics pollution and transition to a circular, more environmentally sustainable plastics trade.”

Deputy Director-General Alan Wm Wolff spoke at today’s event and identified a range of initiatives that have been looked at by the Committee on Trade and Environment, or that could be, that could help move forward both initiatives including resuming talks at eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers on environmental goods and services, reforming subsidies on fossil fuels, promoting a global circular economy, addressing the carbon content of traded products and other actions.

The press release and DDG Wolff’s remarks are embedded below.

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Likely U.S. engagement in a Biden Administration

Because addressing the challenges from climate change are a core priority for the incoming Biden Administration, I would expect that once the new trade team is in place, the U.S. will become involved in both of the initiatives and other activities at the WTO on the importance of finding rules and solutions to pressing trade and environment issues.

The Biden team almost certainly supports most if not all of the items identified in paragraph 1 of the Communication (WT/CTE/W/249), including the importance of multilateral environmental agreements, that there is an urgent need for action on climate change, that trade and environmental objectives and policies should be mutually supportive, that trade and trade policy need to support efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, among others. Similarly, the Biden Administration will presumably strongly support the four areas of activity identified in paragraph 2 of the Communication:

“2. Therefore, express our intention to collaborate, prioritize and advance discussions on trade and environmental sustainability, including by:

“intensifying our work to share experiences and best practices; promote transparency, dialogue and information sharing along the full value chain of products and materials;

“strengthening coherence at the national and international level with a view to identifying areas of common interest and for future work within the WTO, in order for WTO to address more effectively sustainable development issues;

“working in cooperation with relevant international organizations and relevant actors, including the private sector, to identify and support technical assistance and capacity building needs of Members, and in particular least-developed countries (LDCs).

“working on possible actions and deliverables of environmental sustainability in the various areas of the WTO.”

Similarly, I would expect the Biden Administration to have an active interest in working with industry and other governments to address the challenges of plastics pollution, although U.S. interests are likely to be more action oriented than the items teed up by China at today’s announcement.

Conclusion

For years, many Members have fought focusing energies at the WTO on issues involving trade and the environment. With the climate change crisis and consequences being felt around the world, it appears that many or most WTO Members are appreciating the need for the WTO to play its role in addressing sustainable development and the climate change challenge.

With a new U.S. Administration, the U.S. should be a very active participant in moving the WTO and its Members forward.

COVID-19 Pandemic continues to spin out of control globally; U.S. becomes first country to record more than one million new cases in a week

Ten and a half months into the global pandemic, the world remains on a sharply upward trajectory in terms of new cases. As of November 15, the global total of new cases in the last fourteen days is just under 8 million (7,925,568) with total recorded cases since the end of December 2019 topping 54 million (54,110,061). See European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 15 November 2020.

The United States accounts for 1,778,530 of the cases in the last fourteen days and became the first country to record more than one million new cases in a week — 1,043,933 for the seven days ending November 15. The 184,813 new cases recorded on November 14 is more in one day than the vast majority of countries in the world have recorded since the end of December 2019. For example 53 of 55 countries in Africa have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. did on November 14 and the other two (Morocco and South Africa) have recorded fewer cases than the U.S. recorded in the last week. Similarly 32 of 43 countries in Asia (including China) have had fewer cases over the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the other 11, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. In the Americas, 40 of 46 countries or territories (other than the U.S.) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14 and three of the other six countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has recorded in the last seven days. In Europe, the other area very hard hit in the last several months, 39 of 53 countries have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. had on November 14 and of the remaining fourteen countries, 10 have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. has had in the last week. All countries and territories in Oceania (12 of 12) have had fewer cases in the last 10 1/2 months than the U.S. recorded on November 14. Indeed, the total cases of all of Oceania (combined) for the last 10 1/2 months are lower than the U.S. figures for just November 14.

Nearly every one of the fifty U.S. states is experiencing significant increases and a number of states are already struggling with health care facilities, personnel and supplies. U.S. hospitalizations are at a record high for patients with COVID-19 ( 69,455 on November 14; https://covidtracking.com/data/charts/us-currently-hospitalized) and are expected to go above 100,000 by the end of the year. The U.S. recorded 8,487 deaths from COVID-19 in the last week and is projected to have more than 2,000 deaths/day from COVID-19 by January. A large number of U.S. states are imposing new restrictions in an effort to halt the dramatic increase in the U.S. number of new cases. See, e.g., New York Times, November 15, 2020, Doctors Call for More Restrictions and Caution as Virus Surges, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/11/14/world/covid19-coronavirus-updates; CNBC, November 14, 2020, U.S. reports record Covid hospitalizations as states roll out restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/14/us-reports-record-covid-hospitalizations-as-states-roll-out-restrictions-again.html; Bloomberg, November 13-14, 2020, World Clamps Down as Covid-19 Refuses to Cede: Virus Update, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-13/u-s-sets-record-as-states-move-to-tighten-rules-virus-update.

As the last of the articles referenced above shows, many European countries have also been imposing significant restrictions in an effort to bring the pandemic back under control. Some European countries are seeing some significant retrenchment from the extraordinary numbers recorded within recent weeks in the last week. Others are seeing a slowing of the rate of growth or a plateauing of new cases. For example, the ECDC data for France shows new cases in the week ending November 15 at 205,894 down significantly from the 384,080 new cases of the prior week. Italy’s rate of increase slowed with new cases in the last week at 242,962 compared to 223,060 the prior week. Spain saw a small decline from 143,154 new cases the week ending November 8 to 129,759 new cases during the week ending November 15.

While there has been very encouraging news on the vaccine front from Pfizer/BioNTech and with likely similar good news expected from Moderna, broad distribution in the U.S. and Europe and other developed countries is still likely months away even if started in the next month or two. The requirement for extreme cold storage and transfer of the product will make global distribution even more challenging because of extra infrastructure/equipment needs. Thus, every country has an ongoing need to take the steps necessary to bring the pandemic under control without a vaccine.

In the United States where the current Administration has focused its efforts on expediting development of new vaccines and therapeutics, the failure to provide national leadership on controlling the pandemic and the continual issuance of misinformation has unfortunately politicized much of the health care preventive efforts needed by individuals and communities. The Administration’s current refusal to recognize the results of the recent elections and failure to accord the President-elect’s team access to agencies will complicate the process of the incoming Administration being able to implement a more comprehensive and consistent response to the pandemic to assist the states. Thus, the current crisis will certainly just get worse in the coming months. Projections now are that the U.S. will suffer an additional 200,000 deaths in the next four-five months. Many of those deaths are preventable but will happen because of our inability to focus on and accept the scientific facts and known action steps to control the spread. Remarkably a recent poll suggested that a large percent of the U.S. population believes the U.S. response to COVID-19 has been well handled. Thus, a wealthy developed country with 4.3% of the global population is apparently doing well by having roughly 20% of cases and 20% of deaths.

The rebound economically of European and U.S. economies during the third quarter after the steep decline in the second quarter following largescale closures will be negatively affected by the fourth quarter surge in cases and needed renewed restrictions in both areas. Such restrictions will negatively affect not only domestic economies but global trade as well in both goods and services. Even for areas of the world where the COVID-19 pandemic has not had tremendous direct effects, there have been negative effects because of the contraction of trade in goods and services as reviewed in a recent WTO Secretariat paper. See WTO, Trade and Development, November 11, 2020, Least developed countries hit hard by trade downturn triggered by COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/devel_11nov20_e.htm; Sub-Committee on Least Developed Countries, MARKET ACCESS FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES OF EXPORT INTEREST TO LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT1, WT/COMTD/LDC/W/68, 23 October 2020.

The likely approach of more tailored restrictions being imposed by countries or states/provinces hopefully will mean a smaller negative economic effect from the current surge in cases. However, in the U.S., Congress and the Administration have been unable to agree to renewed stimulus measures and past stimulus packages have come to an end. There are more than 20 million Americans who have been receiving some form of unemployment assistance where assistance has or is ending. Millions of renters and home owners face potential evictions or foreclosures on homes because of non payment of rent or mortgages. The continued failure of the federal government to address these ongoing needs will depress the U.S. economy going forward and will cause major problems for millions of families — making the future months different than the U.S. economic response to the earlier surges.

The bottom line — the global challenges from the pandemic are growing and not receding.

India and South Africa Seek Waiver from WTO Intellectual Property Obligations to Address COVID-19 — Issues Presented

India and South Africa submitted a communication to the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights entitled “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention,
Containment and Treatment of COVID-19.” IP/C/W/699 (October 2, 2020). The document and correction are embedded below.

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The waiver request was made part of the agenda of the Council for TRIPS agenda for its meeting on October 15-16. The WTO Secretariat provided a short press release on the TRIPS Council meeting. The discussion on the waiver proposal is quoted below.

“Some 40 members engaged in a substantive discussion on a proposal submitted by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations they said would facilitate an appropriate response to COVID-19. The proposal suggests a waiver for all WTO members on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to the “prevention, containment or treatment” of COVID-19. The proponents argued this would avoid barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and
medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of essential medical products.

“The waiver would cover obligations in four sections of Part II of the TRIPS Agreement (https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/27-trips_04_e.htm) — Section 1 on copyright and related rights, Section 4 on industrial designs, Section 5 on patents and Section 7 on the protection of undisclosed information. It would last for a specific number of years, as agreed by the General Council, and until widespread vaccination is in place globally and the majority of the world’s population is immune. Members would review the waiver annually until its termination.

“According to the proponents, an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires rapid access to affordable medical products such as diagnostic kits, medical masks, other personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as vaccines and medicines. The outbreak has led to a swift increase in global demand, with many countries facing shortages, constraining the ability to effectively respond to the outbreak. As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, there were significant concerns about how these will be made available
promptly in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.

“The proponents argued that many countries — especially developing countries — may face institutional and legal difficulties when using TRIPS flexibilities, including the special compulsory licensing mechanism provided for in Article 31bis (https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/publications_e/ai17_e/trips_art31_bis_oth.pdf), which they saw as a cumbersome process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products. Now was the time for the WTO as an organization to rise up to the collective call for defeating the pandemic. The WTO would not succeed in its efforts to rebuild the COVID-19 affected economies unless it acts now to first save those lives that are going to build these economies. It is time for members to take collective responsibility and put people’s lives before anything else, they concluded.

“While a number of developing and least developed country members welcomed the proposal as a contribution to the discussion, many were still studying it in their capitals and asked for clarification on certain points, particularly regarding its practical implementation and the possible economic and legal impact of the waiver at national level. A number of developing and developed country members opposed the waiver proposal, noting that there is no indication that intellectual property rights (IPRs) have been a genuine barrier to accessing COVID-19 related medicines and technologies.

“While acknowledging that the sustained and continued supply of such medicines and technologies is a difficult task, they observed that non-efficient and underfunded health care and procurement systems, spiking demand and lack of manufacturing capacity are much more likely to impede access to these materials. In the view of these members, solutions can be legitimately sought within the existing IP system as the TRIPS Agreement provides enough tools and sufficient policy space for members to take measures to protect public health. The suspension of IPRs,
even for a limited period of time, was not only unnecessary but it would also undermine the collaborative efforts to fight the pandemic that are already under way.

“Given this range of positions, the Council chair, Ambassador Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter of South Africa, said that the item would remain suspended as members continue to consider the proposal. Requests for waivers concerning WTO agreements must be submitted initially to the relevant council for consideration. After 90 days, the TRIPS Council has to submit a report to the Ministerial Conference. Given that the proposal was submitted on 2 October, the 90-day time-period expires on 31 December 2020. The TRIPS Council meeting will be reconvened on the item of the waiver proposal as appropriate before that date, the chair said.”

WTO, 20 October 2020, Members discuss intellectual property response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/trip_20oct20_e.htm.

Waiver provisions in the WTO

Article IX:3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trde Organization deal with waivers from obligations WTO Members have assumed.

“Article IX

“Decision-Making

” * * *

“3.   In exceptional circumstances, the Ministerial Conference may decide to waive an obligation imposed on a Member by this Agreement or any of the Multilateral Trade Agreements, provided that any such decision shall be taken by three fourths of the Members unless otherwise provided for in this paragraph.

“(a)    A request for a waiver concerning this Agreement shall be submitted to the Ministerial Conference for consideration pursuant to the practice of decision-making by consensus. The Ministerial Conference shall establish a time-period, which shall not exceed 90 days, to consider the request. If consensus is not reached during the time-period, any decision to grant a waiver shall be taken by three fourths of the Members.
 

“(b)    A request for a waiver concerning the Multilateral Trade Agreements in Annexes 1A or 1B or 1C and their annexes shall be submitted initially to the Council for Trade in Goods, the Council for Trade in Services or the Council for TRIPS, respectively, for consideration during a time-period which shall not exceed 90 days. At the end of the time-period, the relevant Council shall submit a report to the Ministerial Conference.

“4.   A decision by the Ministerial Conference granting a waiver shall state the exceptional circumstances justifying the decision, the terms and conditions governing the application of the waiver, and the date on which the waiver shall terminate. Any waiver granted for a period of more than one year shall be reviewed by the Ministerial Conference not later than one year after it is granted, and thereafter annually until the waiver terminates. In each review, the Ministerial Conference shall examine whether the exceptional circumstances justifying the waiver still exist and whether the terms and conditions attached to the waiver have been met. The Ministerial Conference, on the basis of the annual review, may extend, modify or terminate the waiver.”

Some questions from the waiver proposal

The waiver proposal put forward by India and South Africa is extraordinarily broad – covering all WTO Members for a broad range of products not clearly delineated, with the waiver of a broad array of TRIPS obligations without a demonstration of the relevance of the requests for some (e.g., copyright) for a potentially lengthy period of time.

The proposal raises a series of questions that should be addressed to understand whether the waiver is appropriate. These questions include whether such a broad waiver request is appropriate or envisioned by Article IX:3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement? Shouldn’t those requesting a waiver be required to demonstrate that the existing flexibilities within the TRIPS Agreement are inadequate to address concerns they may have? Can two Members request a waiver of obligations for all WTO Members? Can a waiver request be considered where the product scope is lacking clarity, and the uses/needs of the waiver are very broad and potentially open to differing views? To what extent is there a need for those seeking a waiver to present a factual record of actions being taken by governments, companies and international organizations to provide access to medical goods during the pandemic including to developing and least developed countries? Shouldn’t those seeking a waiver identify the extent of existing licenses by major pharmaceutical companies with them or other WTO Members for the production of vaccines or therapeutics to address COVID-19?

Historical usage of waivers have not been as broad as that requested by India and South Africa

Waivers are exceptional by their nature and Article IX:3 talks in terms of a waiver of some obligation for a particular Member, not the waiver of many parts of an agreement for all members. When one looks at waivers granted previously by the WTO, one sees a range of topics — many relate to time for Members to implement changes from updates of the harmonized tariff systems (for individual countries who sought the temporary waiver), some pertain to preferential arrangements between one Member and another or a group of Members and some pertain to waiver of deadlines or specific obligations for least developed countries. Two documents prepared by the WTO Secretariat show waivers granted or continuing in existence in 2019 and all waivers between 1995 AND 2015. The two documents are embedded below.

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Thus, the present request for a waiver by India and South Africa doesn’t seem to comply with the literal terms of Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement or with the much more narrow scope of waivers typically considered. As reviewed above, the request would apply to all members, not just India and South Africa. The request also seems overly broad both in terms of products (not clearly defined), uses and provisions to be waived.

Existing flexibilities within the TRIPs Agreement

Because of the importance to all WTO Members of the health of their citizens, there has been a lot of focus and discussion within the WTO on the interface between intellectual property and public health. Under the original TRIPs Agreement and the subsequent amendment to the Agreement in 2005 that took effect as Article 31bis to the TRIPs Agreement in 2017, there is flexibility within the TRIPs Agreement for Members to deal with health emergencies including through compulsory licensing which can include the right to manufacture and export to developing and least developed countries who don’t have pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities in-country. See TRIPs Agreement Article 31, Article 31bis and WT/L/641. The current language of Articles 31 and 31bis from the patent portion of the TRIPS Agreement are presented below.

Article 31 Other Use Without Authorization of the Right Holder

“Where the law of a Member allows for other use (7) of the subject matter of a patent without the authorization of the right holder, including use by the government or third parties authorized by the government, the following provisions shall be respected:

“(a)  authorization of such use shall be considered on its individual merits;
 

“(b)  such use may only be permitted if, prior to such use, the proposed user has made efforts to obtain authorization from the right holder on reasonable commercial terms and conditions and that such efforts have not been successful within a reasonable period of time. This requirement may be waived by a Member in the case of a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency or in cases of public non-commercial use. In situations of national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency, the right holder shall, nevertheless, be notified as soon as reasonably practicable. In the case of public non-commercial use, where the government or contractor, without making a patent search, knows or has demonstrable grounds to know that a valid patent is or will be used by or for the government, the right holder shall be informed promptly;
 

“(c)  the scope and duration of such use shall be limited to the purpose for which it was authorized, and in the case of semi-conductor technology shall only be for public non-commercial use or to remedy a practice determined after judicial or administrative process to be anti-competitive;
 

“(d)  such use shall be non-exclusive;
 

“(e)  such use shall be non-assignable, except with that part of the enterprise or goodwill which enjoys such use;
 

“(f)  any such use shall be authorized predominantly for the supply of the domestic market of the Member authorizing such use;
 

 “(g)  authorization for such use shall be liable, subject to adequate protection of the legitimate interests of the persons so authorized, to be terminated if and when the circumstances which led to it cease to exist and are unlikely to recur. The competent authority shall have the authority to review, upon motivated request, the continued existence of these circumstances;
 

“(h)  the right holder shall be paid adequate remuneration in the circumstances of each case, taking into account the economic value of the authorization;
 

“(i)  the legal validity of any decision relating to the authorization of such use shall be subject to judicial review or other independent review by a distinct higher authority in that Member;
 

“(j)  any decision relating to the remuneration provided in respect of such use shall be subject to judicial review or other independent review by a distinct higher authority in that Member;
 

“(k)  Members are not obliged to apply the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (b) and (f) where such use is permitted to remedy a practice determined after judicial or administrative process to be anti-competitive. The need to correct anti-competitive practices may be taken into account in determining the amount of remuneration in such cases. Competent authorities shall have the authority to refuse termination of authorization if and when the conditions which led to such authorization are likely to recur;
 

“(l)  where such use is authorized to permit the exploitation of a patent (“the second patent”) which cannot be exploited without infringing another patent (“the first patent”), the following additional conditions shall apply:
 

“(i)  the invention claimed in the second patent shall involve an important technical advance of considerable economic significance in relation to the invention claimed in the first patent;
 

“(ii) the owner of the first patent shall be entitled to a cross-licence on reasonable terms to use the invention claimed in the second patent; and
 

“(iii)  the use authorized in respect of the first patent shall be non-assignable except with the assignment of the second patent.

Article 31bis

“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).”

The WTO Secretariat has a page on its website that discusses intellectual property and the public interest, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/trips_and_public_interest_e.htm, which reviews both flexibilities for Members in addressing public interest needs as well as current topics being discussed within the TRIPS Council. There also have been publications by the WTO Secretariat, WIPO and WHO on flexibilities in accessing medical technologies. See, e.g., WTO, WIPO and WHO, Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation, SECOND EDITION, https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/who-wipo-wto_2020_e.pdf. And on October 21, 2020 the WTO held a technical workshop on health, trade and intellectual property in addressing COVID-19. See 21 October 2020, WTO workshop on health, trade and intellectual property: an integrated approach to COVID-19; https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/heal_21oct20_e.htm. There is a lengthy combined powerpoint presentation available from the webpage which was used in the workshop.

Thus, there can be no doubt that the WTO TRIPS Agreement provides significant flexibilities to Members to address health emergencies. The waiver proposal from India and South Africa doesn’t review any actual efforts to utilize the flexibilities but just opines that Members won’t be able to effectively utilize them. Such an approach should not be acceptable for such far reaching requests as the proposal from India and South Africa.

Ongoing efforts by governments, companies and organizations to make medical goods available to developing and least developed countries

Strangely missing from the waiver request submitted by India and South Africa is any mention of the global efforts underway to ensure access to medical goods and vaccines and therapeutics as approved.

There have been various fund raising efforts in 2020 to provide the necessary wherewithal to organizations focused on developing vaccines for global distribution or focused on the distribution of medical goods, vaccines and therapeutics globally.

CEPI and GAVI in coordination with the WHO have extensive efforts underway, including access to large manufacturing capacity for approved vaccines within the pool of vaccines being developed and included in the CEPI portfolio.

In addition, some private companies involved in manufacturing vaccines under development have licensing arrangements with certain producers for distribution to developing and least developing countries. Some companies have made access to the drawings of their medical equipment available to any company wishing to produce the equipment.

Thus, it is hard to understand a need for a broad waiver when there is considerable international cooperation and substantial vaccine capacity available for some of the vaccines in late stage testing. The WTO membership deserves to have a full compilation of developments and existing actions to facilitate access to medical supplies for developing and least developed countries. The India and South Africa waiver proposal provides none of the relevant information.

While it is not the purpose of this post to develop the full factual record, I provide below some links which supply some information on ongoing developments. See The Guardian, October 20, 2020, India at heart of global efforts to produce Covid vaccine, Country plays central role in development, manufacture, and possible distribution of potential vaccines, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/20/india-at-heart-of-global-efforts-to-produce-covid-vaccine (“A deal has already been struck for the Serum Institute of India, based in the city of Pune, to produce 1bn doses of the the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, seen as the forerunner in the vaccine race.” “Johnson and Johnson, whose Covid-19 vaccine is also in phase 3 clinical trials, has struck a deal with the Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E to produce up to 500m doses if successful.” “Bharat Biotech, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company, has a deal to manufacture 1bn doses of Washington University’s intranasal vaccine, now in clinical trials, and Indian pharmaceutical giant Dr Reddy’s has a deal to do a phase 2/3 human trials in India of Russia’s controversial Sputnik vaccine and then produce 100m doses. There are also at least a dozen indigenous vaccines being developed within India. ” “Poonawalla of the Serum Institute said that ‘50% of whatever quantity we manufacture will be kept for India and the remaining will go to low- and middle-income countries.'”).

GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, October 15, 2020, COVID-19 SITUATION REPORT #19, https://www.gavi.org/sites/default/files/covid/Gavi-COVID-19-Situation-Report-19-20201015.pdf (“COVAX is the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition
for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO. Gavi is coordinating the development and implementation of the COVAX Facility, the global procurement mechanism of COVAX. The COVAX Facility will make investments across a broad portfolio of promising vaccine candidates (including those being supported by CEPI) to make sure at-risk investment in manufacturing happens now. Gavi is also coordinating the development and implementation of the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), the financing instrument that will support the participation of 92 low- and middle-income countries and economies in the COVAX Facility.
The goals of the COVAX Facility and AMC include:
“❖ to support the largest actively managed portfolio of vaccine candidates globally
“❖ to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021
“❖ to offer a compelling return on investment by delivering COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible
“❖ to guarantee fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all participants
“❖ to end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021”).

CEPI, October 21, 2020, CEPI expands global manufacturing network, reserving manufacturing capacity for more than 1billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/cepi-expands-global-manufacturing-network-reserving-manufacturing-capacity-over-1-billion-doses (“CEPI signs agreements with Biofabri (Spain) and GC Pharma (Republic of Korea) to reserve vaccine manufacturing capacity for more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines designated by CEPI.
CEPI’s strategic investments in vaccine manufacturing at facilities around the world will support the COVAX goal to produce 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccine by the end of 2021.”).

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a global health crisis. In response to the crisis there have been activities within the WTO to minimize restrictions on the movement of medical goods and a workshop looking at the interface of trade, intellectual property and public health to help Members address internal needs. The TRIPS Agreement has various flexibilities to permit Members to address health challenges. At the same time there have been extraordinary efforts by many governments, companies and international organizations to cooperate both to develop vaccines and therapeutics but also to speed up manufacturing and work towards equitable distribution of medical goods. Leading pharmaceutical companies have already entered into licensing arrangements to provide billions of doses of vaccines when approved to developing and least developing countries. GAVI and CEPI in coordination with the WHO are working on supporting various vaccine development, securing manufacturing capacity and raising funds to permit broad distribution of vaccines and other products to countries in need and others who have contributed to the group effort.

So factually, it is hard to understand the waiver request filed by India and South Africa. Against a backdrop of how waivers have been used in the past and the lack of a demonstration that existing flexibilities won’t provide acceptable answers, the waiver proposal also is deficient in terms of legal justification. The proposal is not justified, is too broad both in terms of product coverage, Members who would be given waivers, and the range of
TRIPS provisions that would be waived for some number of years.

These are serious problems with a proposal that requires TRIPS Council action and referral to the General Council by the end of the year. Thus, the TRIPS Council should recommend against acceptance of the waiver proposal put forward by India and South Africa.


As November approaches, Europe and the United States facing rapidly growing new COVID-19 cases

The number of new cases of COVID-19 reported globally skyrocketed during the October 12-25 period (5,431,119), up 24.37% from the September 28 – October 11 period (4,336,825). Data are from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control worldwide update series. Global confirmed cases to date are now 42,758,015.

The United States which has more confirmed cases (8,576,725) than any other nation and more confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (224,899), saw the number of new cases surge by 34.0% over the last two weeks with daily records set twice in the last week (both days over 80,000 new cases). The U.S. recorded the extraordinary number of 908,980 new cases during the fourteen day period July 20-August 2. That number declined to 740,721 during August 3-16 and further declined to 600,417 new cases in the August 17-30 period and was further reduced to 524,526 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The downtrend was reversed during September 14-27, when the number of new cases increased to 592,690 or a daily average of 42,335 cases. During September 28-October 11, the United States recorded 640,149 new cases (45,725/day). During October 12-25, the United States recorded 857,778 new cases and will likely surpass the prior two week peak in the next two weeks.

The United States regained the dubious distinction of recording the largest number of new cases in the last two weeks as India’s number of new cases continues to decline to 811,005 new cases from its peak of 1,238,176 new cases during the September 14-27 period. India is the only country to have recorded more than one million cases in a two week period. The United States appears likely to join India in the coming weeks.

Brazil (297,998 new cases) lost its hold on third place to France (367,624 new cases). Brazil’s new cases have been falling since July 20-August 2 (633,017 new cases) to 609,219 new cases during August 3-16, 529,057 new cases during August 17-30, 469,534 new cases during August 31-September 13, 402,304 new cases during September 14-27, 364,646 during September 28-October 11 and 297,998 new cases in October 12-25 (a decline of 52.92% since the end of July).

With the tremendous overall global growth and the declining volume of new cases in India and Brazil, the share of total new cases in the last fourteen days and since the end of December 2019 accounted for by India, Brazil and the United States declined to 36.21% in the most recent fourteen days from 47.31% in September 28-October 11. and from 54.33% during September 14-27 and down from 58.34% in the August 31-September 13 period. The three countries account for 51.04% of total cases since late December 2019 in the prior two weeks down from 53.25% of all cases confirmed since late December 2019 as of October 11.

The United States with 4.3% of global population has accounted for 20.06% of total confirmed cases since December 2019 — 4.67 times the share of total cases our population would justify. With the large increase in the most recent two weeks, the U.S. was 15.79% of the total new cases during the last two weeks (up from 14.66% during Sept. 28-October 11) or 3.67 times the U.S. share of global population. The U.S. also accounts for 19.53% of total deaths or 4.54 times the U.S. share of global population.

Changing pattern of growth in cases, Europe experiencing a spike in cases surpassing its first wave

Much of Europe is in a massive build-up of new cases, rivaling or exceeding the challenges faced during the March-April time period. This is resulting in reimposition of some restrictions by some European countries with a fair amount of pushback from citizens weary of the restrictions.

France has been hit hardest in terms of the number of new cases with the October 12-25 number of new cases reaching 367,624 up 92.04% from the 191,427 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was up from 153,535 in the September 14-27 period. The current number of new cases compares to the prior peak in the March 30-April 12 period of 56,215 new cases (or is 6.54 times the prior peak in the latest two week period).

The United Kingdom is similarly facing major challenges as the last two weeks saw new cases of 263,166 up 62.88% from the 161,567 new cases in September 28-October 11 which was more than twice the 64,103 new cases in September 14-27 and just 32,422 new cases in the August 31-September 13 period. The United Kingdom’s prior peak in the April 13-26 period was 69,386 new cases. So the most recent two weeks is at a level that is 3.79 times the prior peak.

Spain’s number of new COVID-19 cases rose to 185,020, an increase of 27.93% rom the September 28-Ocotber 11 period with 144,631 new cases. Spain’s peak in the spring had been in the period March 30-April 12 with 81,612 new cases. Thus, the last two weeks were 2.27 times the Spring peak number of new cases.

Italy’s last two weeks saw a breathtaking spike to 155,015 new cases, 3.74 times the number of new cases from the prior two week period September 28-October 11 when Italy recorded 41,390 new cases which was nearly double the number of cases in the September 14-27 period (21,807 new cases). Italy’s most recent two weeks was 2.59 times the prior peak for Italy in the Spring during the March 30-April 12 period of 59,799 new cases.

Czechia which spiked following summer vacations saw its number of new cases during October 12-25 surge to 136,790 up from 46,080 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period and 23,893 new cases in the September 14-27 period and 11,307 new cases in the August 31 – September 13 period. Czechia largely escaped the March-April wave in Europe. The data for the last eight weeks constitutes 86.95 percent of Czechia’s total recorded cases since December 2019.

Belgium surged to 133,439 new cases in the October 12-25 period more than tripling the 40,791 new cases recorded in the September 28-October 11 period which more than doubling the numbers from September 14-27 of 17,797.

Poland, which had largely escaped the Spring wave of infections, recorded 120,308 new cases in the latest two week period (Oct. 12-25) up from 35,658 new cases in the September 28-October 11 period.

The Netherlands nearly doubled its number of new cases in the October 12-25 period (112,649) compared to the number of new cases in the September 28-Ocotber 11period (59,561). The last two weeks constitute 40.13% of total cases the Netherlands has recorded since December 2019.

Germany’s new cases in the October 12-25 period surged to 106,317 from 38,724 new cases during the September 28-October 11 period. The Spring peak for Germany had been during the March 30-April 12 period (67,932 new cases).

The Russian Federation saw continued increases in the number of new cases during the October 12-25 period (228,793) up from 141,513 in the September 28-October 11 period which was up 86,209 new cases in the September 14-27 period. Russia’s earlier peak was during the May 11-24 period when Russia recorded 137,206 new cases.

Ukraine recorded 81,144 new cases during the October 11-25 period compared to 60,762 new cases in September 28-October 11, and 43,645 new cases in the September-27 period.

Many other European countries saw large increases as well in the last two weeks, though the number of new cases are smaller those the countries reviewed above.

Developing country hot spots

Still a very large part of the new cases are in developing countries as has been true for the last few months although many countries, including India and Brazil are seeing many fewer new cases in the last two weeks. While India and Brazil had by far the largest number of new cases from developing countries, they were followed by Argentina (197,440), Colombia (104,964), Iran (66,452), Indonesia (57,028), Mexico (55,807), Iraq (49,029), Morocco (48,063), Peru (40,126), the Philippines (30,893), Turkey (25,753), South Africa (23,350), Chile (20,947), Bangladesh (20,434) and then dozens of other countries with smaller numbers of new cases. Of the listed developing countries, only Argentina, Colombia, Iran, Morocco, Turkey and South Africa saw increases from the September 28-October 11 period.

Deaths/100,000 population

The United States has the largest number of deaths of any country to date (224,899) and had the largest number of deaths in the last two weeks (10,522). Because the number of deaths typically follows increases in new cases (with a significant lag), the U.S. saw the number of new deaths increase 6.5% from the prior two weeks deaths (9,880). The countries with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 population for the last two weeks were the following: Argentina (11.24), Armenia (5.54), Moldova (5.22), Israel (5.06), Romania (4.94), Belgium (4.91), Iran (4.86), Colombia (4.65), Costa Rica (4.08), Mexico (4.00), Poland (3.63), Panama (3.44), Chile (3.27), and the United States (3.20). All other countries (including all other developed countries) had lower rates of death per 100,000 population. For all countries, the death rate over the last two weeks was 1.02 deaths/100,000 population. So the U.S.’s death rate over the last two weeks was 2.91 times the global average and was much higher than many large and/or developed countries. China’s number was so low, it was 0.00 people/100,000 population; France was 2.93, Germany 0.50, India 0.75, Italy 1.77, Japan 0.07, South Korea 0.05, Singapore 0.02, United Kingdom 2.98, Taiwan 0.00, Canada 0.90, Australia 0.03, New Zealand 0.00.

If looking at the entire period since the end of December 2019 through October 25, the average number of deaths for all countries per 100,000 of population has been 15.16 deaths. The nine countries (of 86 which account for over 98% of total deaths) with the highest death rates/100,000 for the full period are: Peru (10.87), Belgium (93.73), Bolivia (74.93), Brazil (74.34), Spain (74.04), Ecuador (72.19), Chile (73.30), Ecuador (72.19), Mexico (69.56), the United States (68.34). The United States death rate has been 4.51 times the global rate and many times higher than nearly all other developed countries and most developing countries. Consider the following examples: China, where the virus was first found, has a death per 100,000 population of just 0.33 people. India’s data show 8.67 per 100,000 population; Germany has 12.08; Japan has 1.35; Korea is just 0.89; Canada is 26.52; Switzerland is 21.96; Poland is 11.46; Ukraine is 14.30; Norway is 5.24; Australia is 3.59; New Zealand is 0.52.

Conclusion

The world in the first ten months of 2020 has struggled to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control. While many countries in Europe and some in Asia and the major countries in Oceania had greatly reduced the number of new cases over time, there has been a significant resurgence in many of these countries (particularly in Europe where current rates of new cases are greater than during the March-April initial wave) as their economies reopen, travel restrictions are eased, schools reopen in many countries and fall comes to the northern hemisphere. But the number of new cases continues to rage in a few countries in the Americas, with the United States heading to new records. While there are growing number of cases in many developing countries in Asia and Africa, many countries are seeing significant declines with relatively smaller number of cases in Africa in total than in other continents.

A recent WTO Secretariat information paper showed that there has been a reduction in shortages of many medical goods needed to handle the COVID-19 pandemic which is obviously good news, although as the global total of new cases continues to rise, there may yet be additional challenges in terms of supply. See 18 September 2020, Information Note, How WTO Members Have Used Trade Measures to Expedite Access to COVID-19 Critical Medical Goods and Services, https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/covid19_e/services_report_16092020_e.pdf.

Despite significant expansion of production of PPE around the world and despite progress within GAVI on its program for outreach with various vaccines when developed (including securing production capacity in a number of countries), and other relevant medical goods and the ongoing efforts of CEPI on vaccine developments, and the license agreements that have been entered into by a number of the major groups developing vaccines for COVID-19, India and South Africa have filed a waiver request from most TRIPs obligations “in relation to prevention, containment of treatment of COVID-19”. The waiver request would apply to all WTO Members for a number of years (yet to be determined). See Communication from India and South Africa, Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPs Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19, 2 October 2020, IP/C/W/669. While I will address the waiver request in a later post, it is hard to imagine that the normal requirements for seeking a waiver have been met with the current communication. Based on the readout of the October 20, 2020 TRIPs Council meeting, it is likely that the waiver request will generate significant controversy in the coming three months and could complicate current efforts at greater global cooperation in addressing the pandemic.

With the third round of consultations for a new Director-General concluding on Tuesday, October 27, whoever the new Director-General ends up being can add the waiver request to the list of highly controversial matters that confront the WTO heading towards the end of 2020.

Reform at the WTO — fundamental divisions continue on key issues for U.S.

At the recent Informal Trade Negotiations Committee and Informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 12 and the General Council meeting on October 13, WTO Members continued to line up on opposite sides of major reform proposals from the United States and others.

While the U.S. and other supporters of change in developing country status for special and differential treatment (“S&DT”) have not included least developed countries (where there is no dispute on the need for assistance), China, India, and South Africa hide behind a Doha Development Agenda item on S&DT on existing agreements and proposals put forward by the G90 in an effort to avoid their need to justify any special and differential treatment in new agreements or ongoing negotiations. The concept that Members who have advanced economically rapidly over the last twenty-five years are going to get additional S&DT benefits on existing agreements while not permitting a better differentiation of which WTO Members have actual needs is not one likely to move forward and will exacerbate the negotiating impasse at the WTO. There is a good summary of the S&DT debate at the General Council meeting on October 13 in the October 14 issues of Washington Trade Daily. https://files.constantcontact.com/ef5f8ffe501/7ce1179a-5882-4f55-96ce-84eea151fa27.pdf.

The U.S., EU and China statements at the General Council meeting and the U.S. and EU statements at the informal TNC and Heads of Delegation meeting the day before are available on each country’s WTO website.

Developing Counry criteria; Special and Differential Treatment

Below are excerpts from the October 13 General Council meeting on agenda item 6, “Procedures to strengthen the negotiating function of the WTO — Statement by the United States (WT/GC/W/757/Rev.10 and WT/GC/W/764/Rev.1).”

Statement by U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

“At the HODs meeting yesterday, I spoke about the paralysis of the WTO’s negotiating function.

“In our view, the root causes are complex and varied. They include:

“- Appellate Body overreach, which enticed many Members to disfavor negotiation and instead pursue litigation to achieve desired outcomes;

“- A chronic lack of transparency by many Members, especially some major players, which is distorting our grasp of key issues and undermining the foundation for negotiations; and

“- Certain Members’ unjustifed claim of automatic entitlement to blanket special and differential treatment (S&D), which ensures that ambition levels remain far too weak to produce negotiated outcomes. Members cannot find trade-offs or build coalitions when significant players use S&D to avoid making meaningful offers.

“As we’ve discussed our S&D reform proposal with Members, we have heard three criticisms.

“First, certain advanced, wealthy, or influential Members claim they have an automatic, permanent, and sacrosanct entitlement to blanket S&D. We disagree. Our approach to S&D eligibility can and must evolve to reflect the trade and development reality of today.

“Second, some Members argue for a different solution – the “case-by-case” approach, where each Member is asked to contribute to the full extent of its capabilities to a set of disciplines. But we know from experience—it’s called the Doha Round—that this approach does not work when some Members are not willing to take on obligations commensurate with their role in the global economy.

“- Some Members point to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) as a successful case-by-case approach to S&D, but the TFA is not a readily or generally applicable model moving forward. Recall that under the TFA, a Member may lose competitiveness if other Members fully implement the agreement and it does not. Most trade agreements operate differently, in that a Member is likely to believe it will be better off if other Members fully implement the obligations and it does not.

“Third, some Members say it is folly to try to create categories of Members. This is an odd criticism, given that categories already exist. Today, there are three categories – first, those Members to which all obligations apply; second, the LDCs that enjoy enhanced flexibilities; and third, the majority of Members – around 90 – that claim entitlement to blanket S&D as self-declared developing countries.

“So the starting point is not categorization, but what to do with this last category of Members that represent significantly divergent economies. These Members simply do not fit the same mold or have the same needs. The more economically advanced of these countries are clearly capable of negotiating the flexibilities they need, rather than availing themselves of blanket S&D.

“As just one example, China’s global merchandise exports are 14 times greater than the combined exports of all 49 countries that the UN categorizes as LDCs. Its economy is more than 11 times the economies of all 49 LDCs combined. China’s per capita income is more than five times higher than that of the LDC average – a remarkable development since 1995, when China’s per capita income was within $900 of the LDC’s average.

“China even admitted at the General Council meeting in July that China is not in the same position as Benin or Liberia. It is helpful that China recognizes that it should not receive the same flexibilities as LDCs. But does that mean that China believes it is in the same position as Pakistan or Kenya? Because today, China claims the right to seek the same blanket S&D as these and other lower-income countries.

“In 1995, China’s per capita income was nearly 20 percent smaller than that of Kenya and more than 25 percent smaller than that of Pakistan. Today, China’s per capita income is nearly four times that of Kenya, and more than triple that of Pakistan.

“The failure to differentiate some of this organization’s most advanced, wealthy, or influential Members from LDCs and others diminishes the value of special and differential treatment to those who need it most. It also imperils our ability to reach new agreements that could provide greater opportunities for the WTO’s poorest Members who are least integrated into the global trading system.

“This issue, and the need for reform, is not going away. We look forward to continuing our engagement with Members.”

U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, WTO General Council Meeting, October 13, 2020, item 6, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/10/13/statement-by-ambassador-shea-at-the-wto-item-6/.

Statement by EU Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado:

“PROCEDURES TO STRENGTHEN THE NEGOTIATING FUNCTION OF THE WTO – STATEMENT BY THEUNITED STATES

“The EU reconfirms that development is a central pillar of this organisation.

“The current distinction between developed and developing countries no longer reflects the reality of the rapid economic growth in some developing countries. We should therefore continue to work on special and differential treatment with a view to ensuring that flexibilities are made available to those members who actually need them to enable them to fully benefit from their membership to this Organisation.

“The European Union firmly believes that if this organisation is to prosper, special and differential treatment must become much more granular, in function of an individual Member’s demonstrated needs and capacities. Future differentiation should be designed in terms of specific individual country needs at the sectoral or activity level rather than calling for a block exemption of a large category of Members. Furthermore, the EU considers that each developing country’s need for SDT should be assessed on a case-by-case and evidence-based basis. The notable exception should be the LDCs who deserve particular treatment and who in any case have graduation mechanism.

“We are open to looking into special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions in future agreements, such as the ongoing negotiations on fisheries subsidies. We expect to have a discussion with Members as to what development concern is raised by the provisions under discussion and what flexibility is necessary in order to eventually allow the affected Members to fully implement the agreement. It is only where special and differential treatment responds to a specific need that it can be truly effective. In this context, we call on advanced WTO Members claiming developing country status to undertake full commitments in ongoing and future WTO negotiations. As mentioned previously, this should particularly be the case for members of the G20, which represent the world’s most important economies.

EU Statements by Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado at the General Council meeting, 13 October 2020, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/86935/eu-statements-ambassador-jo%C3%A3o-aguiar-machado-general-council-meeting-13-october-2020_en

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 6:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“I have repeated many times that, the debate on criteria to differentiate developing members is totally meaningless, as it is a systematic and directional mistake. Development is one of the key objectives of the WTO, which is also an important attraction for many countries choosing to join in this Organization. As WTO members, our focus on development should be on how to translate the concept of development into practice rather than anything else.

“To be specific, our collective efforts should be focused on how to effectively enforce the existing special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions, and negotiate meaningful S&DT for the developing members, for example in the fisheries subsidy negotiations. For the existing S&DT provisions, there should be assurance that developing members in need could truly benefit from and fully integrate into the multilateral trading system.

“Mr. Chairman, we did a preliminary review on the current 155 S&DT provisions contained in the 16 WTO agreements, finding that at least 105 provisions are too vague to operate, accounting for 67.7%; for the remaining 50 provisions, at least half of them are related to transitional period or technical assistance. So, there are only 25 S&DT provisions in existing WTO agreements that are directly linked to individual Members’ rights and obligations, accounting for 16.1% of the total. It is therefore fair to say, the overwhelming majority of current S&DT provisions are only pie in the sky. There has never been an almighty blank check.

“It is a long-standing consensus to make S&DT provisions more “precise, effective, and operational”, which is also a commitment across WTO Agreements. That is the very reason why developing members requested to discuss more than 200 ‘Implementation Issues’ aiming at rebalancing the imbalanced rules from the Uruguay Round, and G90 put forward their written proposals. I fully endorse the statement made by the Ambassador of South Africa. Actually, recalling the past 20 years, G90 has been compromising by reducing their 88 original requests, to 25 in Nairobi, and to 10 in Buenos Aires, demonstrating their utmost sincerity and restraint. Such reduction is not because their request was wrong, rather it is because they do hope all Members could be engaged and thus show flexibility.
For the current 10 proposals, some are to fill the loopholes of existing provisions, such as proposing procedural arrangement to invoke Article 18 of GATT; some are to restore good practices in multilateral rules, such as treating subsidies granted by LDCs and developing members facing certain constraints as non-actionable subsidies according to Article 8 of ASCM; some are to allow developing members to have longer time-frames for transitions or comments, such as granting 180 days for members facing capacity constraints to make comments on SPS measures notified by developed members, whereas the current practice is 90 days; some are to urge developed members to honor their already-committed obligations, including technology transfer. G90 has made comprehensive responses both orally and in writing to all questions from members on their proposals. However, no progress has been made due to certain Members’ reluctance to engage.

“Mr. Chairman, the WTO is a rule-based organization. If we want to win back people’s confidence in this organization, the most fundamental thing is to treat existing rules and implement promised commitments, with respect and awe. To make existing S&DT provisions “more precise, effective and operational” is the clear commitment and unfinished mission of all members, which is also the most urgent task in the area of development. I call upon all members to show our sincerity by meaningfully engaging in the discussion of the G90 proposal and carefully responding to practical concerns of developing members, rather than wasting time and resources on no outcome debates.

“Mr. Chairman, since China was mentioned specifically, I would like to make a comment to respond. China standing against to the differentiation of developing members does not mean we want to enjoy the same favorable treatment as small economies and LDCs. What we want is only to safeguard our institutional right of S&DT.

“In practice, according to our accession agreement, China has 14 specific S&DT provisions among all 155 articles, accounting only for 9%. Among the 14, 6 provisions are traditionally “obligations” of the developed members, such as providing translations of documents in WTO official languages upon request, only 8 provisions are so called meaningful “rights”, such as relatively higher tariffs for certain goods.

“Even in such circumstances, China always shows restraint in invoking S&DT provisions. Obviously, China did not request to have the same S&DT as Benin, Liberia, Kenya or Pakistan, which was proclaimed by the United States. On the contrary, as a large trading nation, we recognize the responsibility China should bear. Our approach is to address different issues according to their specific situations and make contributions within our capability. As we did in the ITA expansion negotiations, China is the largest contributor among all the participants. We will continue to do that in the future.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Source: Ministry of Commerce website, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the World Trade Organization, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 6 and 7) October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml.

The two documents that are the basis of agenda item 6 are embedded below.

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Market-Oriented Conditions

The U.S. with support from Japan and Brazil and with concurrence of the EU put forward again the importance for market-oriented conditions to the global trading system. Not surprisingly, China led the opposition. Below are the formal statements of the U.S., EU and China on agenda item 7, “Importance of Market-Oriented Conditions to the World Trading System, Joint Statement by Brazil, Japan, and the United States (WT/GC/W/803/Rev.1)

Statement of U.S. Amb. Dennis Shea:

“The United States, Brazil, and Japan have requested this agenda item to continue addressing the importance of market-oriented conditions to the global trading system.

“As a result of our work together, Brazil, Japan, and the United States have released a joint statement (WT/GC/W/803/REV.1). The statement reflects the importance we attach to market-oriented conditions for the world trading system and further elaborates the draft General Council decision circulated earlier this year.

“The joint Brazil-Japan-U.S. statement reflects our shared belief in the core principles of the WTO, to include that market-oriented conditions are fundamental to a free, fair, and mutually advantageous world trading system.

“We affirm a number of criteria that reflect the market-oriented conditions and disciplines to which our own enterprises are subject.

“And, we affirm that all Members’ enterprises should operate under these conditions to ensure a level playing field for our citizens, workers, and businesses.

“When Brazil and the United States first introduced the joint statement in July, we invited the support and engagement of Members who wish to become co-sponsors.

“We are pleased to report that, since that time, we have been able to hold consultations with a number of supportive Members. We were also pleased to welcome Japan’s decision to become a co-sponsor of the joint statement, and we are thankful for their efforts to engage with other Members on this important matter. The views that we have heard in small group discussions confirm that the joint statement reflects our shared values as WTO Members.

“We will continue to invite supportive Members to participate in one of our small groups as the discussions intensify.

“We see this discussion as necessary in the context of achieving meaningful WTO reform. To achieve such reform, WTO Members must continue moving toward – and not away from – more open, market-oriented policies and conditions.

“But as was made clear in recent G20 discussions, and reflected in the Riyadh Initiative Annex to the Trade Ministers’ Communique, not all WTO Members agree that “market-oriented policies” is a principle of the WTO.

“One Member in particular could not reaffirm the principles of the Marrakesh Declaration or even bring itself to reference the Declaration, and went on to dispute that its accession commitments tied it to any market-oriented policies.

“The usefulness of the recent G20 exercise was to clearly articulate this division in the Membership, and that some do not agree with the core values of the institution. This crystalizes for us the importance of reaffirming those core values.

“The Brazil-Japan-U.S. joint statement recalls that the WTO was established to promote Member economies’ participation in a world trading system ‘based on open, market-oriented policies and the commitments set out in the Uruguay Round Agreements and Decisions’.1

“The market-based reforms that GATT parties and acceding Members undertook during that process helped to ensure that their participation was indeed based on open, market-oriented conditions. These Members’ reform efforts demonstrated their commitment to an international trading system that depends on the operation of market-oriented conditions in each of our economies.

“Ensuring that market-oriented conditions exist for market participants is critical to realizing the benefits of the international trading system that come from our mutual commitment to these rules. This common foundation is necessary to ensure a level playing field for all Members.

“Some Members have argued that our efforts to affirm the importance of market-oriented conditions are a pretext for questioning Members’ choice of different economic models. They argue that the WTO provides no basis for discussing those choices.

“However, that is not the discussion we are proposing to have, and these Members may have misunderstood our purpose. What we have argued is that market-oriented conditions provide a level playing field and therefore are necessary conditions for fair trade. And, we have not heard any Member argue for a different position. Do any Members really believe that fair trade can result when special advantages are given to domestic entities under these conditions?

“Take, for example, the joint statement elements on financing and investment. Where a Member’s economic conditions generally ensure market-determined financing and investment decisions, it would mean that receipt of state-directed or politically-directed financing confers an
unfair advantage. This is not a question of debating different economic models, but rather reflects a shared understanding of fair play.

“To this end, the Brazil-Japan-U.S. joint statement affirms that Members’ enterprises should operate under market-oriented conditions and notes the elements that indicate and ensure those conditions for market participants. We encourage Members to review these elements in detail as our discussions advance.

“As we see it, the continued relevance of the WTO will depend on whether it can deliver on the promises of a world trading system based on open, market-oriented policies. The success of our reform efforts will depend on our ability to ensure the fundamental premise of free, fair, and mutually advantageous trade remains intact.

“1.Marrakesh Declaration of 15 April 1994, fifth preambular paragraph.”

U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, WTO General Council Meeting, October 13, 2020, item 7, https://geneva.usmission.gov/2020/10/13/statement-by-ambassador-shea-at-the-wto-item-7/.

Statement of EU Amb. Joao Aguiar Machado:

“IMPORTANCE OF MARKET-ORIENTED CONDITIONS TO THE WORLD TRADING SYSTEM – JOINTSTATEMENT BY BRAZIL, JAPAN, AND THE UNITED STATES

“The EU has repeatedly stated that market-oriented conditions are central to allowing a level-playing field. EU has also repeatedly expressed its concerns with non-market-oriented policies and practices that have resulted in distortions to the world trading system.

“The role of the WTO – and therefore the role of all of us, as Members – is to ensure that there are effective rules in place to eliminate these distortions and to ensure a level-playing field. There are clearly gaps in the WTO rulebook that do not enable us to do so. These gaps must be addressed through the negotiation of new or updated rules to address the issues raised in the statement of the United States and its co-sponsors.”

EU Statements by Ambassador Joao Aguiar Machado at the General Council meeting, 13 October 2020, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/86935/eu-statements-ambassador-jo%C3%A3o-aguiar-machado-general-council-meeting-13-october-2020_en.

Statement of China Amb. Zhang Xiangchen on item 7:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

“It is true that the multilateral trading system is built on the basis of market economy, and all the WTO rules reflect the prevailing practices of market economy and are binding on all Members. There is also no doubt that in the past 40years, China persistently deepens its reform and opening up to the world in the direction of market economy, which is exactly the basis of our accession to the WTO and the reason for our firm support for the multilateral trading system.

“However, the challenge we are facing is not what Marrakesh Declaration says, but what some Members are doing. By the way, with regard to Marrakesh Declaration, when we talk about open and market-oriented policies, we should not forget Article 5, which I quote “Ministers recall that the results of the negotiations embody provisions conferring differential and more favorable treatment for developing economies, including special attention to the particular situation of least-developed countries”. Those words are equally important. Unfortunately, now some Members have selective amnesia.

“I have no intention to repeat what I have said at the previous meeting that ‘common sense issues like market orientation do not need to be discussed at the General Council’, and simply dismiss the whole discussion. Albert Einstein, a scientist who had worked in Bern, once said, ‘Success is equal to hard work plus correct method plus less empty talk’. Chinese people have also believed in ’empty talks harm the country’ since ancient times. So, my questions are: what is the purpose of this proposal? what are the follow-up measures to be taken in the next step? What puzzles me even more is that, at this moment, if we cannot prevent a Member’s government from forcing foreign companies to sell their equities and technology to its national companies in any way, how can we sit here comfortably and discuss and tell the world what the market orientated conditions are?

“Mr. Chairman, we need to bear in mind that for more than three years, we have failed to take effective actions to stop unilateralist and protectionist measures that undermine the market rules from raging around the world, and this organization we work for has been widely criticized for falling short of such actions. We should feel ashamed. However, at least, we could still argue that it is not because we do not want to, but because we are not capable enough. But now, why should we talk empty about the market-oriented conditions to give more reasons for the international community to laugh at us, for being not only incapable, but also naive?

“When a principle or a system is broken, what we should do is to take concrete actions to try to fix it rather than verbally repeating the importance and correctness of the rules to show the innocence of someone who broke the rules.

“Ambassador Shea once said that ‘when the state puts its thumb – or even its fist – on the scale to distort competition and drive preferred outcomes to benefit certain domestic actors, that is unfair.’ I couldn’t agree with him more about that. But it is a common sense that if you ask others to do something, you should do it first.

“Let me give you some specific examples. When a country, on the grounds of national security, arbitrarily and frequently imposes tariffs on foreign goods or deprives foreign services of market access, that is unfair. When a country uses tariffs as a leverage to force its trading partners to concede in trade negotiations, the market is distorted. When a country blatantly violates fundamental trade rules and at the same time blocks the independent and neutral adjudications, the level playing field is gone. Instead of chanting the empty slogan of ‘market-oriented conditions’, it’s better for us to take concrete actions to address the above wrongful practices which undermine the fair competition and market-oriented conditions.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

Source: Ministry of Commerce website, Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the World Trade Organization, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen of China at the General Council Meeting (Item 6 and 7) October 13, 2020, http://wto2.mofcom.gov.cn/article/chinaviewpoins/202010/20201003007644.shtml.

The joint document discussed is embedded below.

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Conclusion

The WTO is in crisis. None of its three core functions are operating as intended. The negotiating function is barely operational for various reasons including the move by many Members to try to achieve through litigation what they haven’t pursued or achieved through negotiations. The excesses of the Appellate Body has led to its temporary inoperability.

Moreover, the changing reality of competition internationally is that many WTO Members who have claimed developing country status have rapidly developed yet have not generally denounced special and differential treatment nor have they taken up greater liberalization commitments commensurate with their level of economic development. S&DT is treated as a perpetual right versus a temporary assist for Members with demonstrable needs. Self-selection is not the norm in other international organizations and makes no sense where not rooted in factual criteria which are reviewed over time with countries which advance accepting full obligations as appropriate.

The rise of countries like China which have many aspects of their economies which create distortions not covered by existing WTO rules calls out for leadership by those countries to work within the system to adopt new rules so that all trade distorting practices are addressable within the system. China appears intent of ensuring that the WTO is not able to address its acts, policies and practices which distort trade but which are not presently addressable by WTO agreements.

Similarly, the functioning of the WTO Committees in terms of notifications and review is problematic in at least many of the Committees. Without timely, complete and accurate information, trading partners are unable to understand how other Members are conducting themselves and where potential problems may exist. Subsidies notifications have been an area of particular concern but it is not the only area.

The recent General Council meeting showed the continuing deep divide of core reform concerns of the United States and others. A WTO incapable of reform will drift into irrelevance.

With the selection process of the next Director-General starting the last round of consultations on Monday, October 19, WTO Members not only need to decide who will lead the Secretariat but whether the WTO is important enough to have Members come together on the common vision of the organization and develop a willingness to find a road forward. The odds of success seem small at the moment.

WTO remaining candidates for the Director-General position — Questions and Answers from the July 15 and 16 meetings with the General Council

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.

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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.”

Conclusion

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.