South Africa

WTO efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic — the January 10, 2022 General Council meeting and some current developments of interest

As the world enters the third full year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTO continues to seek both a response to the current challenges and a path forward for future pandemics. India, which along with South Africa (and later support from other countries), has sought since October 2020 a waiver from certain intellectual property protections provided under the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) to address the COVID-19 pandemic, in late December 2021 sent a letter to the General Council Chair of the WTO seeking a virtual ministerial meeting to address the WTO response to the pandemic. This followed the postponement of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel flowing from the increase in COVID cases from the omicron variant.

The WTO press release on the General Council informal meeting held on January 10, 2022 to explore India’s request put a largely positive spin on the meeting, although press accounts suggest that there was push back from many other WTO Members to holding such a virtual Ministerial for various reasons, including lack of progress in developing an agreed text on any TRIPS waiver, need to address other pressing issues and the challenges of doing a Ministerial meeting virtually based on last year’s experience. See WTO news release, General Council discusses India’s call for virtual ministerial meeting on pandemic response, 10 January 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_10jan22_e.htm (” General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras) convened the 10 January meeting in response to India’s recent proposal to hold a virtual Ministerial Conference on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a proposed waiver of relevant intellectual property protections. At the meeting, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged WTO members to urgently step up their efforts, suggesting that with the requisite political will, members can in the space of the coming weeks reach multilateral compromises on intellectual property and other issues so that the WTO fully contributes to the global response to COVID-19 and future pandemics.”); Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, WTO members reluctant to hold virtual ministerial on TRIPS waiver, January 10, 2022, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/wto-members-reluctant-hold-virtual-ministerial-trips-waiver (“India’s bid to schedule a virtual ministerial meeting focused on the proposed waiver of some intellectual property obligations to fight the pandemic did not win the support of other World Trade Organization members on Monday, as they raised concerns about the virtual format as well as with a lack of progress in the negotiations.”). While the U.S. was reportedly favorably disposed to such a meeting with greater clarifications, the European Union statement noted all of the issues raised in the Inside U.S. Trade article. See also The Hindu, WTO General Council discusses India’s call for holding virtual Ministerial meet on COVID-19 pandemic response, 11 January 2022, https://www.thehindu.com/business/wto-general-council-discusses-indias-call-for-holding-virtual-ministerial-meet-on-covid-19-pandemic-response/article38231454.ece.

While the U.S., under the Biden Administration, has stopped posting on the U.S. Mission website their statements at meetings other than the Dispute Settlement Body (unclear if this is due to a policy change or simply the lack of a Deputy USTR confirmed by the Senate), the EU is posting their statements on their Geneva website. See EU Statement at the General Council Informal Meeting, 10 January 2022, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/109489/eu-statement-general-council-informal-meeting-10-january-2022_en. The entirety of the EU statement is copied below.

“Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

“For the European Union, the WTO needs to put in place a process that is conducive to progress on all topics of the MC12 agenda.

“Of course, the European Union shares the view that the response to the pandemic is important. However, we need to be careful that a focus on this part of the MC12 agenda must not lead to a loss of momentum on the other key components, which are equally essential to the revitalisation of the organisation – such as the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, agreeing on a way forward on agriculture, and finalising the Ministerial Declaration with a strong commitment on WTO reform – and this, building upon the work done by you, Chairman [Chairman of the General Council], in the run-up to the Ministerial meeting in November. These elements are all essential for the credibility and viability of this organisation. WTO reform is also essential from a health perspective. We need an efficient and effective organisation if we are going to be in a position to act decisively in the case of future pandemics.

“Before any decision to call a virtual Ministerial meeting and topics to be decided, we believe the WTO Director General and the Chair of the General Council should hold consultations with Members, to assess the way forward on all four issues that I referred to.

“As regards trade and health, the aim should be to seek consensus on the way forward both on intellectual property and on the Declaration and Action Plan. As regards the latter, Ambassador Walker’s draft text should be the basis for such consultations. And as regards intellectual property rights, consultations should continue with a view to identifying a text on which the WTO Membership can agree.

“Any virtual Ministerial should take place only once there is a consensus both on intellectual property rights and on the Declaration and Action Plan on the wider pandemic response. Only a comprehensive trade response to the pandemic can make a difference and address the identified bottlenecks as regards the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines such as restricted access to raw materials and other inputs as well as complex supply chains. Agreeing on the comprehensive elements contained in the Walker text will be important not only to tackle Covid-19, but also to address future pandemics.

“If we want to take forward work on all elements of the MC12 agenda, we must have a credible process in place.

“In summary, the European Union is open to consider the proposal by India and to reach an agreement on all aspects of the response to Covid-19 as quickly as possible. However, in the European Union’s view, it is premature to decide at this point in time on either the principle or on the date for such a virtual meeting.”

Thus, while the Director-General is pushing Members for an early resolution of the pandemic response (including any TRIPS waiver), the path forward looks certain to take significantly more time than a few weeks to reach agreement.

The WTO has added a page to its website entitled “Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. The page accessed today states “State of Play – 6 January 2022” — i.e., before the informal General Council meeting on January 10th. However, it provides a good overview of what has been proposed and differences that exist on the waiver issue. See Briefing Note, State of Play 6 January 2022, Trade and health: WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bftrade_and_health_e.htm. The briefing note is embedded below.

WTO-_-Ministerial-conferences-MC12-briefing-note

Some current developments of interest

By the end of 2021, COVID vaccines were being produced at a rate of about 1.5 billion doses per month. Additional vaccines are being added which will drive production up even higher during the early months of 2022. See, e.g., BBC, Covovax and Corbevax: What we know about India’s new Covid vaccines, 28 December 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55748124.

Corbevax has received a lot of attention in the media in the last few weeks. The Indian producer has 150 million doses ready for distribution, will be producing 100 million doses per month and plans to export one billion doses to other countries. The developers and the Indian producer are working with the WHO to pursue emergency use authorization through the WHO as well. See, e.g., NPR, A Texas team comes up with a COVID vaccine that could be a global game changer, January 5, 2022, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2022/01/05/1070046189/a-texas-team-comes-up-with-a-covid-vaccine-that-could-be-a-global-game-changer (“A vaccine authorized in December for use in India may help solve one of the most vexing problems in global public health: How to supply lower-income countries with a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe, effective and affordable. The vaccine is called CORBEVAX. It uses old but proven vaccine technology and can be manufactured far more easily than most, if not all, of the COVID-19 vaccines in use today. ‘CORBEVAX is a game changer,’ says Dr. Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s going to enable countries around the world, particularly low-income countries, to be able to produce these vaccines and distribute them in a way that’s going to be affordable, effective and safe.'” “Hotez says that unlike the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and the viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, protein subunit vaccines like CORBEVAX have a track record. So he and Bottazzi were relatively certain CORBEVAX would be safe and effective. ‘And it’s cheap, a dollar, dollar fifty a dose,’ Hotez says. ‘You’re not going to get less expensive than that.'”); The Times of India, Discussions underway for WHO approval for
Corbevax Covid-19 vaccine, says developer, 31 December 2021, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/discussions-underway-for-who-approval-for-corbevax-covid-19-vaccine-says-developer/articleshow/88604880.cms.

These developments are occurring at a time of record breaking numbers of new infections due to the more highly contagious omicron variant. While many parts of the world are seeing huge surges, Europe and the United States are seeing particularly huge increases. See, e.g., Reuters, U.S. reports 1.35 million COVID-19 cases in a day, shattering global record, January 11, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/us-reports-least-11-mln-covid-cases-day-shattering-global-record-2022-01-11/; WHO, WHO: 7 million new omicron COVID cases in Europe last week, January 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/who-7-million-new-omicron-covid-cases-in-europe-last-week/2022/01/11/7e901e28-72cc-11ec-a26d-1c21c16b1c93_story.html.

A few thoughts

When one looks at vaccination distribution in 2021, the concerns about inequity center largely on the vary small volume of vaccines that have gone to low income countries (as classified by the World Bank) and to some lower middle-income countries. See, e.g., December 30, 2021:  COVID-19 and vaccine equity — outlook for 2022, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/12/30/covid-19-and-vaccine-equity-outlook-for-2022/.

The largest volume of vaccines that COVAX had envisioned going to these countries were lower cost ones that would be easier to store, handle and administer than some of the high cost new technology vaccines. Production problems and export bans of the more cost effective and easier to store vaccines in 2021 were the largest reasons of poor distribution of vaccines to lower income countries.

With large volumes of donations committed for 2022 from countries like the U.S. and EU and others and with Indian production both ramping up significantly and exports having resumed and with the availability of low cost options, including new vaccines like Corbevax already approved in India and likely to be produced in various countries around the world at very low costs, and with the overall very high levels of global vaccine production by the end of 2021 continuing to expand, the question of getting the world vaccinated in 2022 against COVID will almost certainly be more about issues other than availability of vaccines.

So the WTO’s most important role in the coming weeks and months is to focus on reducing barriers to trade such as those covered by the Walker draft text (discussed in the briefing paper). The TRIPS waiver issue is one that has attracted a lot of attention because of the perception of global needs and whether intellectual property rights were restricting access. In my view, while the proposal was popular with many groups, the evidence of production during 2021 did not support the concern that the TRIPS agreement was restricting production. More than 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines were produced and shipped in 2021 — twice as many doses as all vaccines produced and shipped in 2020 for all other needs. Many licenses were granted for production in other countries. A waiver would not have resulted in significantly more production in 2021.

Production in 2022 and the arrival of new low cost vaccines should mean there is adequate volumes for the world to achieve 70% vaccination rates this year. The issue of equity in 2021 had to do with distribution of the production, infrastructure in many countries, trade restrictions on vaccines and inputs. These do not require a TRIPS waiver to address in 2022.

Looking forward to the next pandemic, there is much that the WTO Members could agree to that would reduce many of the challenges COVID-19 has posed. It is not clear that actions on intellectual property beyond what is being proposed by the EU are needed or justified by the experience gained these last several years.

Conclusion of Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation — a win for the WTO and services trade

For an organization seeking to regain relevance and facing continued delays in holding its 12th Ministerial Conference because of restrictions on travel from increased COVID-19 cases, the conclusion of the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) on Services Domestic Regulation through the issuance of a declaration on December 2 was an important accomplishment. Sixty-seven WTO Members agreed to a reference paper and a process for amending services schedules for the participants over the next months with benefits accruing to all WTO Members and with transition periods for developing and least developed countries. See Declaration on the Conclusion of Negotiations on Services Domestic Regulation, 2 Deember 2021,WT/L/1129 (includes Annex 1, Reference Paper on Services Domestic Regulation, 26 November 2021, INF/SDR/2 and Annex 2S, Schedules of Specific Commitments, 2 December 2021, INF/SDR/3/Rev.1). The 67 WTO Members participating the JSI reportedly account for 90% of services trade. The 67 countries are Albania, Argentina, Australia, Kingdom of Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, European Union (and member states), Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Russian Federation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uruguay.

According to the WTO press release on the completion of negotiations, the aim of the JSI was “slashing administrative costs and creating a more transparent operating environment for service providers hoping to do business in foreign markets.” WTO Press Release, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, 2 December 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm.

It is the first agreement at the WTO barring discrimination between men and women. WT/L/1129 at 10 (Annex I, para. 22(d), development of measures — “such measures do not discriminate between men and women.”).

The WTO and OECD released a short paper looking at the benefits to global services trade through a successful conclusion to the JSI on services domestic regulation. The study estimated that savings to service providers and their customers would be around $150 billion/year. See World Trade Organization and OECD, Services Domestic Regulation in the WTO: Cutting Red Tape, Slashing Trade Costs and Facilitating Services Trade, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_26nov21_e.pdf. The four “key messages” in the study (page 1) are copied below.

“Key messages

“• Improving business climate: At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the Joint Initiative on Services
Domestic Regulation will conclude negotiations on a set of good regulatory practices with a focus on procedural aspects of licensing and authorization procedures for services suppliers. By enhancing the transparency, efficiency, and predictability of regulatory systems, the disciplines on services domestic regulation that the Joint Initiative has negotiated will address the practical challenges that affect the ability of businesses and suppliers to operate.

“• Facilitating services trade: Building on efforts to identify and disseminate good regulatory practice, an
increasing number of “new generation” trade agreements have moved beyond the removal of quantitative restrictions and discriminatory measures to include a comprehensive set of disciplines largely equivalent to those developed by the Joint Initiative. At the same time, economies at all levels of income have also implemented reforms with a view to making their regulatory environment more trade facilitative for services businesses.

“• Lowering trade costs and generating broader trade benefits: Through the full implementation of the
disciplines on services domestic regulation, economies can lower trade costs and reap substantial trade
benefits: annual trade cost savings could be in the range of USD 150 billion, with important gains in financial services, business services, communications and transport services. Moreover, a positive correlation between the implementation of services domestic regulation measures and services trade by all four modes of supply, as well as a more active engagement of economies in global value chains, hints to even broader economic benefits.

“• Widespread gains beyond participants: Exporters from all WTO members will benefit from the improved regulatory conditions when they trade with participants of the Joint Initiative. However, significantly larger benefits will accrue to WTO members that are implementing the disciplines themselves in their internal regulatory frameworks.”

The study provides a summary of improved disciplines the 67 WTO Members have identified in the reference paper. The improved disciplines are grouped under transparency, legal certainty and predictability, regulatory quality and facilitation. See id at 2.

While the estimated savings once fully implemented is small in comparison to global services trade ($150 billion of 2019 estimated trade of $6.1 trillion (2.6%)(UNCTAD, 2020 Handbook of Statistics, page 33, data for 2019, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/tdstat45_en.pdf) as noted in the WTO press release, it is the first update of WTO rules on services in more than a quarter century. The negotiations had three co-chairs — Costa Rica, Australia and the European Union. Part of the EU’s statement by Ambassador Aguiar Machado from the December 2 meeting and announcement of the declaration is provided below. See Services Domestic Regulation Joint Initiative Meeting to conclude the negotiations (co-hosted by Costa Rica, the European Union and Australia), 2 December 2021, Geneva, https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/brazil/108266/services-domestic-regulation-joint-initiative-meeting-conclude-negotiations-co-hosted-costa_en.

“Today, we are following up on a joint commitment we collectively took two years ago in Paris to finalize the negotiations that had started with the Joint Statement of Buenos Aires in 2017. Since then, several new Members have joined the group and a tremendous amount of work has been done by our negotiators under the valued Chairmanship of Costa Rica. In particular, warm welcome to the Philippines and Bahrain who joined our negotiations most recently.

“We are here today to conclude our negotiations in this JSI and on the Reference Paper with domestic regulation disciplines. This step will allow us to commence our respective domestic procedures required for the certification of our improved schedules of commitments, which will give legal effect to the negotiated disciplines.

“The work on services domestic regulation is of critical importance. It is the first WTO deliverable in the area of trade in services since a very long time. Our additional commitments for domestic regulation will benefit all other WTO Members by giving them the reassurance that we will apply good regulatory and administrative practices also to their service suppliers. 

“Good regulatory practices are crucial for the well-functioning of today’s economy. I believe that the clear rules on transparency and authorisation in the area of services – that were agreed as part of this initiative – will facilitate trade in services significantly. Especially for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises who do not have the same resources and experience to cope with complex processes as their larger competitors.

“The services sector has been hit hard by the pandemic – as other parts of our economy. The adoption and implementation of the disciplines of the reference paper will reduce trade costs for service suppliers substantially and thus help the sector in its recovery. It is a sector where women entrepreneurs often play an important role. The reference paper recognises this role by ensuring non-discrimination between men and women in authorisation processes. This is the first rule of this kind in the WTO.

“Delivering on the WTO services agenda is a long overdue objective we all have. Since Buenos Aires, we have collectively developed a pragmatic approach to negotiations. We have allowed groups of interested Members to advance negotiations on some important issues – through open, inclusive and transparent processes.

“Today, we prove that this plurilateral approach can lead to tangible results. This demonstrates that the Joint Initiative model is a viable one. A large and diverse group of WTO Members can work together towards a common objective, overcome their differences, show flexibility and agree on tangible results that are important for businesses and consumers.

“I believe that this Joint Initiative can be a source of inspiration for work in other areas, allowing interested Members to move ahead while ensuring that the outcome, in its substance and its form, remains supportive of and strengthens the multilateral trading system.”

Since the collapse of the Doha Development talks in 2008, the reality has been that most progress on trade talks have taken place in bilateral, and plurilateral settings. The sole meaningful exception was the completion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement which hopefully will be supplemented by a completion to the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations in the near future. Stating at the WTO’s 11th Ministerial, many WTO Members have started Joint Statement Initiatives to seek progress on important issues facing the trading system.

As noted in earlier posts, India and South Africa (WTO Members who are not participating in any of the Joint Statement Initiatives) have raised objections to the use of JSIs to update rules claiming such approaches are inconsistent with existing WTO requirements. See, e.g., November 17, 2021:  The role of plurilaterals in the WTO’s future, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/17/the-role-of-plurilaterals-in-the-wtos-future/.

The view of the participants in the services domestic regulation JSI is that existing WTO provisions permit the updating of service schedules by Members. The reference paper will apply to those who have participated or who later accept the reference paper. New obligations taken on by the 67 Members are applied by them on an MFN basis to all WTO trading partners.

The Declaration on Services Domestic Regulation and actions to implement it will be an early test of whether the WTO can proceed to update rules through open plurilaterals. While one can expect continued objections from India and South Africa, the path to renewed relevancy for the WTO will almost certainly run through finding room for open plurilaterals.

Postponement of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, continued efforts to increase vaccinations

With the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in Africa last week, a designation by the World Health Organization that the new variant (“Omicron”) was a “variant of concern”, surging infections in Europe, and reintroduced travel restrictions and quarantine requirements for visitors from certain countries, it was not surprising that the WTO Members decided to postpone the 12th Ministerial Conference which had been set to start on November 30 in Geneva. See World Health Organization, Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern, 26 November 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern; WTO News Release, General Council decides to postpone MC12 indefinitely, 26 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/mc12_26nov21_e.htm.

The spate of new travel restrictions ranged from restrictions on countries in southern Africa where early cases had been identified or where transborder movement was likely, to blanket blockage of entry of foreign travelers from any country (e.g., Israel, Japan and Morocco). Countries from Australia to Canada to various countries in Europe including the United Kingdom as well as Israel, Hong Kong and some countries in Africa have confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant. See, e.g., New York Times, Tracking Omicron and Other Coronavirus Variants, updated November 29, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/health/coronavirus-variant-tracker.html (” So far it has been detected in South Africa and Botswana, as well as in travelers to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Hong Kong.”). Government official in South Africa called the restriction unwarranted. See, e.g., BBC, Covid: US joins EU in restricting flights from southern Africa over new coronavirus variant, 27 November 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-59427770 (“South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans against the country were ‘unjustified’.”). Many pointed to the continued inequitable access of vaccines in Africa as the cause of the development of a new variant. See, e.g., The Guardian, Larry Elliott, The Omicron variant reveals the true global danger of ‘vaccine apartheid’, 28 November 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/nov/28/the-omicron-variant-reveals-the-true-global-danger-of-vaccine-apartheid.

The WHO on November 29, 2021 is reported to have indicated that the Omicron variant poses a “very high” risk. See, e.g., New York Times, The W.H.O. says Omicron poses a ‘very high’ risk globally as questions about the variant remain. November 29, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/29/world/omicron-variant-covid#the-who-says-omicron-poses-a-very-high-risk-globally (“The World Health Organization warned on Monday that global risks posed by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus were ‘very high,’ as countries around the world rushed to defend against its spread with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.”). One can expect continued international efforts to limit the spread of the Omicron variant until greater information is known on the variant and whether it reduces the effectiveness of existing vaccines.

With the postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference, there will likely be a slowdown in fact in negotiations by WTO Members on topics such as the fisheries subsidies agreement, an outcome on trade and health including any resolution of the proposed waiver of TRIPS obligations to address the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing agriculture negotiations, various Joint Statement Initiatives (a number of which appear completed already), actions on climate change, an agenda for discussing WTO reform, etc. While the Director-General and the Chair of the General Council have urged continued work and WTO Members have indicated a desire to continue to work to reduce differences, it is hard to imagine that any existing momentum doesn’t get lost at least until Members are approaching the date of the rescheduled Ministerial (which has not yet been announced). See, e.g., WTO News Release, General Council decides to postpone MC12 indefinitely, 26 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/mc12_26nov21_e.htm (“WTO members were unanimous in their support of the recommendations from the Director-General and the General Council Chair, and they pledged to continue working to narrow their differences on key topics like the WTO’s response to the pandemic and the negotiations to draft rules slashing harmful fisheries subsidies. The Director-General and Amb. Castillo urged delegations to maintain the negotiating momentum that had been established in recent weeks. ‘This does not mean that negotiations should stop. On the contrary, delegations in Geneva should be fully empowered to close as many gaps as possible. This new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with,’ the DG said.”).

Much government attention will return to expanding production and distribution of vaccines to countries with low vaccination rates while governments and the WHO seek answers to the questions surrounding the Omicron variant — is it more easily transmissible? Is it more severe in its consequences to those who become infected? How effective are existing vaccines in protecting people from the new variant? And many developed countries will continue to push booster shots to those who are already vaccinated in light of the declining efficacy after six months for the main vaccines used in Europe and the U.S.

In prior posts, I have reviewed some of the challenges in understanding vaccine equity in light of different levels of vaccination in countries of similar economic development. See, e.g., November 23, 2021:  WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides useful information in analyzing vaccine equity, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/23/wto-imf-covid-19-vaccine-trade-tracker-provides-useful-information-in-analyzing-vaccine-equity/; November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. Many actions have been taken which are increasing the volume of vaccines available around the world, including adding capacity for at least fill and finish in Africa and other parts of the world. Greater efforts at donations and filling contracts with COVAX are happening and will increase in 2022.

Interestingly, on November 29, 2021, there was a joint statement from the African Union, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CEPI, GAVI, UNICEF and the WHO on one aspect of getting vaccines to low income countries and others — donations from other countries. See Joint Statement on Dose Donations of COVID-19 Vaccines to African Countries, 29 November 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/29-11-2021-joint-statement-on-dose-donations-of-covid-19-vaccines-to-african-countries. While donations to date have been a small part of total vaccine doses available throughout the world, there are a series of challenges to ensuring donations provide the maximum benefit going forward. See UNICEF, COVID-19 Vaccine Market Dashboard, visited November 29, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (8.856 billion total doses delivered to countries and territories around the world, including 4.535 billion through bilateral/multilateral agreements; 163.3 million from donations; 560.1 million through COVAX and 3.574 billion unknown (but appearl largely from internal production for particular countries). The UNICEF data also looks at donations more granularly and the data are significantly larger than the summary data above (701.8 million donated doses of which 381.3 million are facilitated doses and 470.5 million are delivered doses).

The Joint Statement is copied below because of the importance of donated doses for low income countries in 2022.

“Building on lessons learned from our collective experience with dose donations over the past several months, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and COVAX wish to draw the attention of the international community to the situation of donations of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, and other COVAX participating economies, particularly those supported by the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).

“AVAT and COVAX complement each other’s efforts to support African countries to meet their immunisation targets, recognising the global goal of immunising 70% of the African population. Dose donations have been an important source of supply while other sources are stepping up, but the quality of donations needs to improve.

“AVAT and COVAX are focused on accelerating access to and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. Together we are rapidly expanding supply to the continent, and providing countries with the support to be able to utilise the doses they receive. To date, over 90 million donated doses have been delivered to the continent via COVAX and AVAT and millions more via bilateral arrangements.

“However, the majority of the donations to-date have been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives. This has made it extremely challenging for countries to plan vaccination campaigns and increase absorptive capacity. To achieve higher coverage rates across the continent, and for donations to be a sustainable source of supply that can complement supply from AVAT and COVAX purchase agreements, this trend must change.

“Countries need predictable and reliable supply. Having to plan at short notice and ensure uptake of doses with short shelf lives exponentially magnifies the logistical burden on health systems that are already stretched. Furthermore, ad hoc supply of this kind utilises capacity – human resources, infrastructure, cold chain – that could be directed towards long-term successful and sustainable rollout. It also dramatically increases the risks of expiry once doses with already short shelf-lives arrive in country, which may have long-term repercussions for vaccine confidence.

“Donations to COVAX, AVAT, and African countries must be made in a way that allows countries to effectively mobilise domestic resources in support of rollout and enables long-term planning to increase coverage rates. We call on the international community, particularly donors and manufacturers, to commit to this effort by adhering to the following standards, beginning from 1 January 2022:

Quantity and predictability: Donor countries should endeavour to release donated doses in large volumes and in a predictable manner, to reduce transaction costs. We acknowledge and welcome the progress being made in this area, but note that the frequency of exceptions to this approach places increased burden on countries, AVAT and COVAX.

Earmarking: These doses should be unearmarked for greatest effectiveness and to support long-term planning. Earmarking makes it far more difficult to allocate supply based on equity, and to account for specific countries’ absorptive capacity. It also increases the risk that short shelf-life donations utilise countries’ cold chain capacity – capacity that is then unavailable when AVAT or COVAX are allocating doses with longer shelf lives under their own purchase agreements.

Shelf life: As a default, donated doses should have a minimum of 10 weeks shelf life when they arrive in-country, with limited exceptions only where recipient countries indicate willingness and ability to absorb doses with shorter shelf lives.

Early notice: Recipient countries need to be made aware of the availability of donated doses not less than 4 weeks before their tentative arrival in-country.

Response times: All stakeholders should seek to provide rapid response on essential information. This includes essential supply information from manufacturers (total volumes available for donation, shelf life, manufacturing site), confirmation of donation offer from donors, and acceptance/refusal of allocations from countries. Last minute information can further complicate processes, increasing transaction costs, reducing available shelf life and increasing risk of expiry.

Ancillaries: The majority of donations to-date do not include the necessary vaccination supplies such as syringes and diluent, nor do they cover freight costs –  meaning these have to be sourced separately – leading to additional costs, complexity and delay. Donated doses should be accompanied with all essential ancillaries to ensure rapid allocation and absorption.

“AVAT, Africa CDC and COVAX remain committed to collaborate with donor countries, vaccine manufacturers and partners on ensuring these standards are upheld, as we continue to work together towards achieving Africa’s vaccination goals.”

The challenge of improving global vaccination rates is complicated. Supply is certainly a major issue. But countries who receive vaccines may also have problems ramping up administration of doses to their populations. While Africa has many low income countries (as classified by the World Bank), it also has countries at higher levels of income. For example, South Africa is an upper-middle income country according to the World Bank criteria but has a very low vaccination rate for an upper-middle income country. A recent New York Times article reviews that there have been significant increases in supplies to South Africa recently such that it has five months of doses on hand but is having trouble getting shots to people in need quickly enough. See New York Times, South Africa, where Omicron was detected, is an outlier on the least vaccinated continent. November 28, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/28/world/covid-omicron-variant-news (“South Africa has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent: Just under one-quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated, and the government said it has over five months’ worth of doses in its stores. But they are not being administered fast enough. Vaccinations in South Africa are running at about half the target rate, officials said last week. To prevent vaccines from expiring, the government has even deferred some deliveries scheduled for early next year.”).

Thus, as the world reacts to the discovery of a new variant and struggles to understand its implications, the WTO will struggle ahead in the hope of narrowing differences ahead of a further delayed Ministerial Conference, and the world will continue to pursue improved vaccine equity while dealing with increased uncertainty flowing from the Omicron variant.

The answer to the issue of vaccine equity is complex and, at least for the COVID-19 pandemic, not really dependent on a temporary waiver of TRIPs obligations for vaccines which would have no meaningful effect on supply availability through at least 2022. Production has been ramped up in many countries. The volumes available in 2022 should permit meeting the global objective of getting 70% of the world’s people vaccinated by next fall. But challenges remain in terms of internal capacities in many poorer countries to get their populations vaccinated, as well as misinformation on vaccines, the large level of vaccine hesitancy in developed countries and in developing countries, and the rise of new variants and what effect on existing vaccines they will have. Cooperation is needed in addressing all aspects of the issue. Time will tell whether improved cooperation is likely as we close out 2021 and start 2022.

WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides useful information in analyzing vaccine equity

On November 22, 2021, the WTO and IMF announced and released their COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker. See WTO News Release, WTO, IMF launch Vaccine Trade Tracker, 22 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/covid_22nov21_e.htm. While the data on access to vaccines is not as granular as the UNICEF COVID Vaccine Dashboard, the new tracker provides data under six topics: summary, exports (options being by producing economy or by supply arrangement type), imports (options being by income group or by continent), total supply (options being by producing economy or by vaccine type), supply to continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, South America) and vaccination status (options being by income group and by continent). Data in the initial release are through October 31, 2021. Income groups are the World Bank’s groupings — Low income, lower-middle income, upper middle income and high income.

In recent posts I have noted that much of the discussion on vaccine equity focuses on access and affordability but doesn’t necessarily help understand widely different outcomes for countries or territories that are at the same stage of economic development. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. The WTO-IMF Tracker doesn’t include the identification of countries/territories within income groups but rather reports on the entire grouping. The World Bank’s 2020 listing is the most recent. See World Bank, GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$), https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD; November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/.

Of the listed producing countries involved in exports of COVID-19 vaccines all are WTO Members. The EU, USA, Japan and Republic of Korea are listed as high income countries by the World Bank though Korea has treated itself as a developing country at the WTO. China, the Russian Federation and South Africa are included as upper middle income countries by the World Bank based on per capita GNI, though both China and South Africa claim developing country status at the WTO. India is listed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank and claims developing country status at the WTO. There is a small amount of exports from other countries not broken out by individual country n the WTO-IMF tracker.

On total supply (“Total supply contains both exported and domestically delivered doses), China is the largest producing country with a total supply of 4.0811 billion doses of which 1.3294 billion doses have been exported. The European Union is the second largest producer with a total supply of 1.7077 billion doses producers of which 876.5 million have been exported. India is the third largest producers with total supply of 1.3608 billion doses of which just 66.0 million doses have been exported. The United States is fourth with total supply of 941.1 million doses and exports of 300.8 million doses. Others have much smaller total supplies and exports.

The vast majority of exports have been through bilateral deals (77.5%). The second largest source of exports has been doses contracted via COVAX (8.1%). Because of several major problems COVAX experienced from suppliers — the largest being the shut down of exports from India for much of 2021 — COVAX has been unable to supply the large volume of vaccine doses in 2021 to low income and lower middle income countries that had been planned on. The third largest source of exports was donations via COVAX (7.5%), followed by direct donations from producing countries to receiving countries (6.1%) and supply via the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (“AVAT”)(0.8%).

The vaccination status data (item six in the Tracker) is helpful in identifying regions with the greatest needs as well as the breakout by World Bank income level. However, because of the lack of granularity to the individual country or territory, the data don’t help understand the large differences between members in the same continent or in the same income grouping.

By continent, all continents except Africa have received more than 50 courses of doses per 100 people (with North America the highest at 81.4 and Europe at 76.2). Africa was just 11.2 courses per 100 people. All but Africa have more than 50% of the population with at least one dose administered. Africa was just 8.7%. And all but Africa have more than 40% of the population fully vaccinated. Africa was only 5.8%. Thus, there is a need to expand availability of vaccine doses to most African countries

When vaccination status is examined by income level, high income and upper middle income countries and territories have much larger vaccination rates than lower middle income and low income. On courses of vaccines per 100 people, high income countries were at 89.5, upper middle income countries averaged 74.8, lower middle income countries were at just 34.8 and low income countries were at just 7.0. Similar discrepancies exist on percent with at least one dose administered and percent fully vaccinated. The inability of COVAX to receive the volumes of doses contracted for in 2021 and the slowness of donations for richer countries are certainly core reasons for the differences in doses for lower middle income and low income countries.

Yet there are major discrepancies among countries or territories in the same continent or same income grouping. I identified a few in yesterday’s post. See November 22, 2021:  Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/22/trade-and-health-at-the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference/. For example, Morocco is classified as a lower middle income country by the WTO but had the highest level of administered vaccines/100 people in Africa (136.5 (assumed to be 68.25 courses of doses/100 people)) while South Africa, classified as an upper middle income country had a rate of administered vaccine doses less than 1/3 that of Morocco (41.4 (assumed to be 20.7 courses of doses/100 people). Similarly, two low income countries as classified by the World Bank have drastically different administered doses despite nearly identical per capita GNIs and both being countries in Africa. Specifically, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people.

Conclusion

The WTO-IMF COVID-19 Vaccine Trade Tracker provides very useful information, although much is at a continent or income group level. It appears likely that the tracker will be updated only monthly. If not being considered, the designers of the new tracker should provide a link to a data base that provides the type of data shown in the aggregate for each country or territory. Such data would permit a better understanding of differences within continents and within income groups and potentially improve the ability to improve vaccine equity moving forward. It is also possible to update the tracker more frequently than once a month, though some charts, etc. are fine with monthly updates. .

Trade and Health at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

An area of focus the last two years at the WTO has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included various statements from Members, monitoring by the Secretariat of export and import actions either impeding or expediting the flow of medical goods and services, and various proposals for actions to address the pandemic or for future preparation. The proposal for a waiver from various TRIPS obligations from India and South Africa (and now supported by a range of countries) is one proposal. A number of countries (Ottawa Group) have put forward a proposal for a trade and health initiative to permit a more rapid response by WTO Members in the future. See COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH, COMMUNICATION FROM AUSTRALIA, BRAZIL, CANADA, CHILE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, JAPAN,
KENYA, REPUBLIC OF KOREA, MEXICO, NEW ZEALAND, NORWAY, SINGAPORE AND SWITZERLAND, 24 November 2020, WT/GC/223; November 27, 2020:  The Ottawa Group’s November 23 communication and draft elements of a trade and health initiative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/27/the-ottawa-groups-november-23-communication-and-draft-elements-of-a-trade-and-health-initiative/. The WTO Director-General and the Members have engaged in a number of meetings with other multilateral organizations and the private sector exploring options for expanding production of COVID-19 vaccines and expanding distribution to countries in need.

Amb. David Walker of New Zealand has been tasked to work with Members to see if a declaration on trade and health can be agreed to at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on November 30.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, provided his thoughts on likely outcomes at the 12th Ministerial during a WITA virtual event on November 18th and opined that a declaration on trade and health was likely only if there was some resolution of the waiver proposal for vaccines. See PIIE, Alan Wm. Wolff, Defining Success for MC12, 18 November 2021, Presented at WITA, slides 5, 7, 10-11. Slide 10 is presented below.

I have written before on the challenges of the waiver of TRIPs obligations proposal put forward by India and South Africa. See, e.g., 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 EU and some others have not agreed to a waiver but have focused on making compulsory licensing more effective. See, e.g., DRAFT GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION ON THE TRIPS AGREEMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF A PANDEMIC, COMMUNICATION FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION TO THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS, 18 June 2021, IP/C/W/681.

Thus, the outcome on trade and health heading into the Ministerial is uncertain. See WTO News Release, Members to continue discussion on a common COVID-19 IP response up until MC12, 19 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_18nov21_e.htm.

A driver behind the waiver proposal has been the limited availability of vaccines to least developed and some developing countries. Vaccine equity is the shorthand term for the concerns about availability and affordability of vaccines for all people. While the issue of availability and access is complicated and beyond just WTO competence, the world’s vaccine manufacturers have ramped up capacity and production, governments have belatedly gotten involved in expanding donations and some of the major bottlenecks to getting vaccines to COVAX in 2021 appear to be resolved going forward, though many LDCs and developing countries will not get large volumes of vaccines until 2022.

The pandemic and the challenges of ramping up production and ensuring access to all people has been the subject of dozens of my prior posts. See, e.g., October 12, 2021: See WTO Information Notes on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and Potential Bottlenecks, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/12/wto-information-notes-on-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-potential-bottlenecks/; September 27, 2021:  Global efforts to expand COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution — an all hands on deck effort being led by the U.S. and EU with active support of many governments and others, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/27/global-efforts-to-expand-covid-19-vaccine-production-and-distribution-an-all-hands-on-deck-effort-being-led-by-the-u-s-and-eu-with-active-support-of-many-governments-and-others/; 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/.

Prior to 2021, global capacity for all vaccines was estimated at 5 billion doses/year. In 2021, COVID-19 vaccine production alone will be around 10 billion doses. As of November 20, 2021, UNICEF’s COVID Vaccine Market Dashboard shows 8.624 billion doses delivered to countries and territories of which COVAX deliveries were 524 million (and 565 million delivered or cleared for shipment). https://www.unicef.org/supply/covid-19-vaccine-market-dashboard (visited on November 20, 2021).

Administration of vaccine doses to populations has been less than doses delivered. Data from Blomberg’s COVID Vaccine Tracker as of November 19, 2021 9:34 a.m., shows 7.63 billion doses administered. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/ (visited November 20, 2021). From the Vaccine Tracker data, there are a large number of countries or territories (95) that have administered 100 or more doses to every 100 people in the country. As major vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna need two shots, and as some countries have started supplying boosters, data are not necessarily comparable across countries in terms of percentage of people vaccinated. But the doses administered per 100 people is a reasonable measure of equitable distribution. A review of the data do show large differences in administration of doses. However, which countries or territories have administered large numbers of doses/100 people is not tied to a country or territory having vaccine production capacity, nor is it tied to level of income in the country or territory.

For example, the top ten countries or territories for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the Bloomberg report were:

Gibraltar, 279.2 doses/100 people

Cuba, 244.2 doses/100 people

Chile, 207.5 doses/100 people

Maldives, 204.8 doses/100 people

UAE, 201.6 doses/100 people

Bahrain, 191.7 doses/100 people

Uruguay, 190.7 doses/100 people

Malta, 185.9 doses/100 people

Cayman Islands, 183.7 doses/100 people

Seychelles, 182.7 doses/100 people

China ranked 16th at 172.1 doses/100 people; the United States ranked 66th at 134.0/100 people; EU members were generally greater than 100 doses/100 people but had several member states below that (Bulgaria at 45.4 doses/100 people; Romania at 73.0 doses/100 people) and had an overall average of 138.7. Morocco had the most doses/100 people for a country from Africa — 136.5.

Twenty-eight countries or territories have administered between 75 and 99.4 doses/100 people (including India at 84.6 doses/100 people); twenty-three countries or territories have administered between 50 and 73 doses/100 people (including Rwanda at 65.2 doses/100 people and Botswana at 52.8 doses/100 people); twenty-two countries or territories have administered between 25 and 47.1 doses/100 people (including South Africa at 41.4 doses/100 people); thirty-three countries or territories have administered between 0.2 and 18.7 doses/100 people.

Obviously, there are a large number of countries (including some developed countries) where vaccines administered are far too limited. For many developing and LDC countries with low numbers of doses administered, the failure of supplies to be delivered to COVAX for shipment is certainly a significant cause. India’s need to keep vaccine doses at home was a major cause of the shortfall to COVAX in 2021, but not the only reason.

Belatedly larger volumes of vaccine doses are making it to those in greatest need. The increases flow from a combination of increased production volumes globally, India resuming exports, increases in donations from a number of countries and more. For example, the UNICEF data on deliveries shows that there have been some significant increases in doses available to the countries or territories with very low doses administered levels. For example, Nigeria shows only 4.6 doses/100 people administered in the Bloomberg vaccine tracker data. The UNICEF vaccine market dashboard shows roughly three times the number of doses delivered to Nigeria as are reported administered (29.689 million vs. 9.254 million). Benin has 1.968 million doses delivered and just 0.347 million administered (2.9/100 people). It is also true for countries receiving doses from COVAX with higher existing doses administered. For example, Zimbabwe which had 42.3 doses administered per 100 people in the Bloomberg data showed nearly twice as many doses delivered in the UNICEF data as had been administered (11.322 million doses delivered vs. 6.31 million doses administered).

What the two reports suggest is that while vaccine equity is a real issue, the causes of the very different experiences of different countries or territories in the same general area are complex and not easily or completely understood by the current discussion. For example, Zimbabwe’s per capital GNI in 2020 was $1,090 and yet they had administered 42.3 COVID vaccine doses/100 people. Cameroon, with a per capita GNI in 2020 of $1,100, had COVID vaccines administered of only 2.4/100 people. Similarly, Morocco had a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,980 and COVID vaccines administered of 136.5/100 people. In comparison, South Africa with a much higher per capita GNI in 2020 ($5,410) had COVID vaccines administered at less than 1/3rd the rate of Morocco – 41.4 vs.136.5/100 people. Nigeria, with a 2020 per capita GNI of $2,000 had administered only 4.6 COVID vaccines/100 people.

Thus, those working on improving vaccine equity need to identify and address the other causes besides vaccine production and availability through COVAX in the coming months.

I paste below the data from the Bloomberg COVID Vaccine Tracker ranked in descending order of COVID vaccine doses administered per 100 people as of November 19, 2021.

Countryvaccines

Will there be another extension of the WTO Moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce — expanding global trade or creating additional barriers

WTO Members have engaged for years in debate over the wisdom of extending the temporary moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce. Each Ministerial Conference has resulted in Members agreeing to an extension of the moratorium until the next Ministerial Conference along with an extension of a moratorium on non-violation TRIPs disputes. While Members have agreed to a draft extension of the moratorium on non-violation TRIPs disputes for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial, there is no agreement as yet on extending the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce. See WTO News Release, Members agree on recommendation to extend moratorium on IP “non-violation” cases, 5 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_05nov21a_e.htm; Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, India, South Africa question WTO e-commerce moratorium ahead of MC12, November 9, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/india-south-africa-question-wto-e-commerce-moratorium-ahead-mc12.

In recent years, India and South Africa have cited to information from UNCTAD to support their concern that the moratorium is costing developing countries tax revenues as well as their concern that the moratorium is limited to transmission and not content and doesn’t apply to services. See WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, THE MORATORIUM ON CUSTOMS DUTIES ON ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS: NEED FOR CLARITY ON ITS SCOPE AND IMPACT, 8 November 2021, WT/GC/W/833 (communication from India and South Africa); WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, THE E-COMMERCE MORATORIUM: SCOPE AND IMPACT, Communication from India and South Africa, 11 March 2020, WT/GC/W/798; UNCTAD, RISING PRODUCT DIGITALISATION AND LOSING TRADE COMPETITIVENESS, 2017, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/gdsecidc2017d3_en.pdf; UNCTAD Research Paper No. 29, UNCTAD/SER.RP/2019/1, Rashmi Banga, Growing Trade in Electronic Transmissions: Implications for the South, February 2019, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/ser-rp-2019d1_en.pdf.

Some of the concerns expressed by India and South Africa and their rebuttal of OECD and other papers which look at upside benefits from the moratorium are captured in the following excerpt from the recent submission (WT/GC?W/833, pages 2-3).

2.2 Tariff Revenue Loss

“2.4. In our previous submission, WT/GC/W/798, we highlighted that based on the identification of a small number of digitizable goods in five areas, namely, printed matter, music and video downloads, software and video games, UNCTAD estimated a loss in tariff revenue of more than US$10 billion per annum globally because of the moratorium, 95% of which is borne by
developing countries.

“2.5. These submissions attempt to make the revenue foregone on account of the e-commerce moratorium seem insignificant by showcasing this revenue loss in terms of its share in customs revenue and total government revenue. However, even compared in this manner, it is evident that the percentage of government revenue lost for developing countries is higher than that for the
developed countries. The percentage of customs revenue lost for developing countries is 4.35% while that for the developed countries is a mere 0.24%. It is evident that the cost of the moratorium is almost completely borne by the developing countries for extending duty free quota free market access, largely for the developed countries.

“2.6. These submissions conclude that the amount of physical trade replaced by 3D printing is expected to be limited. UNCTAD (2019) provides a deeper analysis on the status of 3D printing though. It indicates that while 3D printing is currently at a nascent stage in developing countries, its market has grown annually by 22% in the period 2014-2018 and it is estimated that if investment
in 3D printing is doubled, it could potentially replace almost 40% of cross-border physical global trade by 20407. Such a growth is expected to significantly increase the potential tariff revenue loss.

2.3 Impact on SMEs and Digital Industrialization

“2.7. Interestingly, when assessing the total trade of electronic transmissions, these submissions consider only digitizable goods and conclude that these remain modest but when estimating the impact of the moratorium on exports, especially of SMEs, these submissions considers the extended scope of the moratorium by including services8 and find the impact to be huge. Defining the scope of the moratorium is therefore important in order to estimate its impact.

“2.8. These submissions state that the use of 3D printing is growing slowly since the opportunities for mass production and economies of scale are limited and the inputs, materials and time required for 3D printing further constrain its use for manufacturing complex items. In this context, it is highlighted that with recent technological advances, namely high-speed sintering, mass production is becoming possible with 3D printers, where mass-producing up to 100,000 (smaller) components
in a day will be possible at a speed which is 100 times faster9. According to D’Aveni (2015)10, the advent of additive manufacturing in the US hearing aid industry meant that, in less than 500 days, 100% of the industry was transformed and not one company stuck to the traditional mode of manufacturing.

“2.9. These submissions do not reflect the impact that new technologies such as 3D printing can have on domestic industries especially MSMEs in developing countries. As outlined before, while 3D printing is currently at a nascent stage in developing countries, its market is expected to grow at a rapid pace. The most affected sectors could include sectors such as textiles and clothing, footwear, auto-components, toys, mechanical appliances, and hand tools, etc. which generate large scale employment for low skilled workers and are sectors in which most MSMEs operate. This could have a catastrophic effect on the ability of developing countries to protect their nascent domestic industries including MSMEs11.

“2.10. If, ‘customs duties on electronic transmissions’ cover not only digitised and digitizable goods but also digitally transmitted services, as asserted by a couple of institutions recently, then the negative impact of continuing with the moratorium on developing countries would be even greater. Effectively, this implies that the economy of the future (the digital economy) is totally liberalised. History has shown that trade policies are integral to successful economies’ development trajectory and are critical in advancing industrial policy.

“7 UNCTAD Research Paper No 47 (2020).
“8 UNCTAD Research Paper No 58 (2021).
“9 Ibid.
“10 Richard D’Aveni, ‘The 3-D Printing Revolution’ (2015) Harvard Business Review
https://hbr.org/2015/05/the-3-d-printing-revolution accessed 1 June 2021.
“11 UNCTAD Research Paper No 58 (2021).”

There are many WTO Members who support the continuation of the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce, and there have been studies by the OECD taking a position opposite that of UNCTAD. See, e.g., WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE BROADENING AND DEEPENING THE DISCUSSIONS ON THE MORATORIUM ON IMPOSING CUSTOMS DUTIES ON ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS, Communication from Australia; Canada; Chile; Colombia; Hong Kong, China;
Iceland; Republic of Korea; New Zealand; Norway; Singapore; Switzerland; Thailand and Uruguay, 29 June 2020, WT/GC/W/799/Rev.1; Andrenelli, A. and J. López González (2019-11-13), “Electronic transmissions and international trade – shedding new light on the moratorium debate”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, No. 233, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/57b50a4b-en. An excerpt from the submission of various WTO Members in WT/GC/W/799/Rev.1 is presented below characterizing some of the OECD analysis (pages 2-3).

“3 AN INSIGHTFUL WELFARE ANALYSIS OF ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSIONS

“3.1. Members have been referring to many different estimates in past discussions on this matter, which did not take into consideration the benefits associated with relevant reductions of trade costs, potential gains in productivity and increased consumer welfare. The welfare analysis in the study provides a clear illustration of what is induced by the absence of duties on electronic transmissions in terms of both revenue loss and the welfare surplus for consumers. Taking into consideration consumer welfare would bring depth to the discussion and could help move them forward.

“3.2. The welfare analysis outlines that the reduction in production and transportation costs associated with digital deliveries, as well as the removal of the tariff, can lead to a reduction in price. In consequence, the increase in demand leads to a rise in imports and an increase in consumer surplus, part of which is associated with redistribution from the domestic producer and part of which is from government revenue to the consumer. The study is unambiguous: the overall impact to the economy is ‘positive and large’.

“3.3. The study finds that the imposition of equivalent duties on electronic transmissions could negate those positive effects by increasing the price of the digital delivery, which shifts some of the consumer welfare back to the domestic producers and the government. Governments and producers would recover some of the revenue foregone but the amount recovered would depend on the elasticity of demand. The study also highlights that this would occur at the expense of consumer surplus. The positive welfare impact would decrease as the price of the digital product increases. Consequently, by introducing equivalent duties on electronic transmissions, governments would create a “deadweight loss” to the economy. The overall benefits associated with digitization
(i.e. lower trade costs) would be reduced and weaker economies would miss an opportunity to overcome their trade cost disadvantages.

“4 THE APPLICATION OF INTERNAL NON-DISCRIMINATORY TAXES AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO TARIFFS

“4.1. The study not only provides important elements regarding who bears the burden of tariffs, but also regarding the potential alternative sources of government revenue which would be better suited to the digital economy. The study notes that tariffs increase the price of a product to the domestic consumer. The extent to which the domestic price increases is dependent on the tariff pass-through, which ranges from full pass-through to none. If there is no pass-through, then the foreign company fully absorbs the tariff through reduced revenue. If there is full pass-through, then the domestic price increases in proportion to the tariff. Recent work quoted by the study notes that quasi complete-pass tends to be the most common – that is, foreign companies fully pass-on the price increase to domestic consumers. Moreover, recent work conveyed in the study has also demonstrated that tariff increases, in the medium-term, negatively affect domestic output and productivity, employment and lead to higher inequality and real exchange rate appreciation.

“4.2. The study highlights other means for governments to generate revenue. The use of consumption taxes, such as value added taxes (VAT) or goods and services taxes (GST) could represent a better alternative. Examples of VAT/GST applied to digital services and intangibles are provided and point out that internal non-discriminatory taxes provide a broader tax base, and thus more stable. According to the study, evidence indicates developing countries that adopt indirect taxes such as VAT experience 40 to 50% less tax revenue instability than countries that do not use indirect taxes. The OECD study suggests that consumption taxes are a feasible alternative to customs duties for generating revenue.

“4.3. In this respect, it should be noted that the OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines have been adopted by the G20 leaders and endorsed by more than 100 jurisdictions and organisations. Furthermore, the OECD has produced a report on best practices to implement international VAT/GST collection schemes.2

“2 Mechanisms for the Effective Collection of VAT/GST, OECD, 2017 http://www.oecd.org/tax/consumption/mechanisms-for-the-effective-collection-of-vat-gst.htm.”

A recent report by Prof. Simon J. Evenett

On November 12, 2021, Prof. Simon Evenett (founder of the St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity Through Trade) released a paper looking at the question, “Is the WTO Moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce depriving developing countries of much needed revenue?”. The abstract for the paper states –

Abstract  This note vitiates assertions by UNCTAD staff that developing countries have lost significant government revenues as products previously delivered physically are supplied digitally. Taking for the sake of argument UNCTAD’s revenue loss estimates, this note shows that they represent small shares of tax revenues from sources other than customs duties. Forgone revenues would have financed less than 5 days of government spending in the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan African nations. Moreover, domestic tax takes needed only to grow marginally faster to offset UNCTAD’s estimates of forgone customs duties. Low per-capita income status is not a barrier to successful national tax reform, calling in question the relevance of public finance objections to participation in multilateral trade initiatives to integrate economies.”

 The paper from Prof. Evenett is embedded below.

S.-Evenett_-WTO-Moratorium-12-Nov-2021_-finalised

Conclusion

There are obviously large differences in view on the costs and benefits of a moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce between India and South Africa on the one hand (and others supporting their view) and the group of WTO Members supporting the continuation of the moratorium.

A problem with the UNCTAD studies and papers is the definition of developing countries used. As is clear from the 2017 UNCTAD report, the largest cross border e-commerce sales for any country by far is China with 40% of such sales in 2015 (UNCTAD, Rising Product Digitalisation and Losing Trade Competitiveness, 2017 at 12) and largest customs revenue loss from the moratorium (id at 16). China should not be viewed as a developing country as reviewed in a recent post. See November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/. Moreover, China is not understood to be opposing the continuation of the moratorium.

The UNCTAD report also lists as developing countries a number which clearly aren’t classified as such or that shouldn’t be, including — Saudi Arabia, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Romania, Russian Federation, Iceland, Bulgaria, Mexico, Norway, Thailand, Turkey, Portugal (see id, Table 2, Net Exports of Developing Countries of ET Products, pages 13-14; November 15, 2021:  The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/15/the-folly-of-self-selection-as-a-developing-country-at-the-wto/).

While WTO Members should be concerned about the digital divide that exists for some Members, the answer to addressing the divide is not to erect barriers to e-commerce. Rather Members should focus on technical assistance and other actions to help least developed countries and some developing countries who are behind develop the infrastructure and technical skills to actively participate in e-commerce.

Extending the moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce is one more hurdle in front of WTO Members as they get ready for the 12th Ministerial Conference which starts in 12 days.

The role of plurilaterals in the WTO’s future

As the WTO is less than two weeks from the start of its 12th Ministerial Conference, an important question for the WTO Membership is whether or not the WTO will incorporate results from plurilaterals started at and after the 11th Ministerial (the so-called Joint Statement Initiatives) into the WTO or will rather limit the role of plurilaterals and effectively further reduce the relevance of the WTO going forward.

As reviewed in prior posts, India and South Africa have challenged the role of plurilaterals where WTO requirements are not followed to make it part of the WTO acquis. See, e.g., 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 paper from India and South Africa, THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, 19 February 2021, WT/GC/W/819 and one revision (WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1) was the subject of discussions at the March 1-2 and 4, 2021 General Council meeting and has been raised in subsequent General Council meetings as well. See GENERAL COUNCIL, MINUTES OF MEETING HELD IN VIRTUAL FORMAT ON 1-2 AND 4 MARCH 2021, WT/GC/M/190 (23 April 2021), pages 65-78; GENERAL COUNCIL, 7-8 October 2021 PROPOSED AGENDA, WT/GC/W/828 (5 October 2021), agenda item 11 (PAPER TITLED “THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES” BY INDIA, SOUTH AFRICA AND NAMIBIA (WT/GC/W/819/REV.1)). Neither India nor South Africa are participating in any of the Joint Statement Initiatives (“JSIs”) at the present time.

Below are some excerpts from the March 2021 General Council meeting which lays out the views of a few of the WTO Members on the topic. The excerpts start with the views of India and South Africa as the sponsors of the paper and then follows with the reaction of a number of Members who support the JSI process. Many more Members expressed views. The controversy basically revolves around whether WTO Members will pursue initiatives among those with an interest with all Members being able to monitor, participate and join when desired or be limited by a system which has proven largely unable to address new issues in a timely manner.

India (pages 65-67 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.2. The representative of India recalled that India and South Africa had submitted the paper in document WT/GC/W/819 dated 19 February 2021 on the “The Legal Status of ‘Joint Statement Initiatives’ and their Negotiated Outcomes”. As a co-sponsor, India was not questioning the right of Members to meet and discuss any issue. However, when such discussions turned into negotiations
and their outcomes were to be brought into the WTO, the fundamental rules of the WTO should be followed. The WTO had been established as a forum concerning multilateral trade relations in matters dealt with under the agreements in the Annexes to the Marrakesh Agreement and for further negotiations among its Members concerning their multilateral trade relations and to provide a framework for the implementation of results of such negotiations.

“10.3. The Marrakesh Agreement defined ‘Plurilateral Agreements’ as the agreements and associated legal instruments that were included in Annex 4 to the Agreement. The Ministerial Conference, upon the request of the Members party to a trade agreement, decided exclusively by consensus to add that agreement to the said Annex 4. Procedures for amending rules were enshrined in Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement. On the other hand, the GATT and GATS contained specific provisions for modifications of Schedules containing specific commitments of Members.

“10.4. Amendments or additions to the rules were governed by multilateral consensus based decision-making or voting – right from the outset when a new proposal for an amendment was made. On the other hand, negotiations on modifications or improvements to Schedules could arise either as the outcomes of consensual multilateral negotiations pursuant to Article XXVIII of GATT or Article XXI of GATS or be reached through a bilateral request and offer process or as a result of a dispute. In fact, even changes to Schedules could not be made unilaterally as other Members had the right to protect the existing balance of rights and obligations.

“10.5. The GATS read in concert with the Marrakesh Agreement provided for different rules and procedures for amendment of rules and modification of schedules. While the GATS rules were governed by the GATS Part II, “General Obligations and Disciplines”, Part III of the GATS contained provisions concerning Members individual “Specific Commitments” pertaining to distinctly identified services sectors which were inscribed in Members’ Schedules. In case of conflict in interpretation, Article XVI.3 of the Marrakesh Agreement provided that in the event of a conflict between a provision of the Marrakesh Agreement and a provision of any of the Multilateral Trade Agreements, the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement should prevail.

“10.6. Each of the JSIs was likely to pose different legal challenges to the existing WTO rules and mandates given the differences in the nature and scope of issues covered under each of those initiatives. However, any attempt to bring in the negotiated outcomes of the JSIs into the WTO by appending them to Members’ Schedules, even on MFN basis, following modification of Schedules
procedures, bypassing multilateral consensus would be contrary to the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement.”10.7. Any attempt to introduce new rules, resulting from JSI negotiations, into the WTO without fulfilling the requirements of Articles IX and X of the Marrakesh Agreement would be detrimental to the functioning of the rules-based multilateral trading system. Among others, it would erode the integrity of the rules-based multilateral trading system, create a precedent for any group of Members to bring any issue into the WTO without the required mandate. bypass the collective oversight of Members for bringing in any new rules or amendments to existing rules in the WTO, usurp limited WTO resources available for multilateral negotiations, result in Members disregarding existing multilateral mandates arrived at through consensus in favour of matters without multilateral mandates, lead to the marginalization or exclusion of issues which were difficult but which remained critical for the multilateral trading system such as agriculture and development thereby undermining balance in agenda setting, negotiating processes and outcomes and fragment the multilateral trading system and undermine the multilateral character of the WTO.

“10.8. The document listed various options to move ahead. As per the provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement, for bringing in their negotiated outcomes in the WTO, the JSI Members could seek consensus among the whole WTO Membership, followed by acceptance by the required proportion of Members according to Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement. Alternatively, they could get the new agreements included in Annex 4 following Article X.9 of the Marrakesh Agreement. They also had option to pursue agreements outside the WTO Framework, as had been envisaged in the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) or as had been done in multiple bilateral or plurilateral FTAs or RTAs. The proponents of a “flexible multilateral trading system” could even seek amendment to Article X of the Marrakesh Agreement following procedures enshrined therein to provide for such an approach.

“10.9. Through the paper WT/GC/W/819, India and South Africa reiterated that basic fundamental principles and rules of the rules-based multilateral trading system as enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement should be followed by all Members including the participants of various JSIs. Negating the decisions of past Ministerial Conferences by decisions taken by a group of Ministers on the sidelines of a Ministerial Conference or the side-lines of any other event would be detrimental to the existence of the rules-based multilateral trading system under the WTO.”

South Africa (pages 67-68 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.10. The representative of South Africa said that the WTO had been established as a forum concerning multilateral trade relations. South Africa’s interest in submitting the paper was to remind Members of the legal architecture that governed the functioning of the WTO which was critical to preserve its multilateral character. The pandemic was a sharp reminder of the importance of global cooperation in dealing with global challenges. The challenges facing humanity were not limited to
the pandemic but included rising inequality both within and between countries, poverty and food insecurity, among others. Those necessitated that Members avoided measures that undermined or fragmented the trading system.

“10.11. Any group of Members could discuss any issue informally. However, when discussions turned into negotiations, and their outcomes were sought to be formalized into the WTO framework, it could only be done in accordance with the rules of procedure for amendments as well as decision-making as set out in the Marrakesh Agreement. The plurilaterals were provided for in the Marrakesh Agreement and were included in Annex 4 to the Agreement – and there were specific rules to be followed to integrate those into the WTO framework. It was however important to note that the Ministerial Conference, upon the request of the Members party to a trade agreement, decided exclusively by consensus to add that agreement to the said Annex 4.

“10.12. The provisions in the Marrakesh Agreement had been carefully negotiated and were a result of the experience acquired in the GATT which had been characterized especially after the Tokyo Round by agreement on a number of plurilateral codes. There had been recognition that those plurilateral codes had created a fragmented system of rules. In respect of some Contracting Parties,
the GATT rules had been applicable, while in respect of the rest, both the GATT rules and the rules of plurilateral codes had been applicable. That created considerable complexity in determining what obligations had been applicable in respect of which Contracting Party.

“10.13. The Preamble to the Marrakesh Agreement clearly articulated Members’ vision for the WTO and it was to develop an integrated, more viable and durable multilateral trading system. Article II.1 stated that “The WTO shall provide the common institutional framework for the conduct of trade relations among its Members.” Article III.2 stated that “The WTO shall provide the forum for negotiations among its Members concerning their multilateral trade relations”. It provided for consensus-based decision-making as enshrined in Articles III.2, IX, X and also X.9 as well as procedures for the amendments of rules as articulated in Article X.

“10.14. The Marrakesh Agreement did not make provision for the so-called open plurilaterals and flexible multilateralism. Therefore, any suggestion that when offered on MFN basis, no consensus was required for bringing new rules into the WTO was legally inconsistent with the fundamental principles and procedures of the Marrakesh Agreement. Importantly, new rules could not be brought into the WTO through amendment of Members’ Schedules. It had also been suggested that the Telecommunications Reference Paper justified why the consensus principle could be bypassed. However, as part of the package of the Uruguay Round outcome, there had been a multilateral consensus and a formal mandate for the negotiations, including agreement on inscribing outcomes into Schedules without an amendment procedure.

“10.15. There were systemic and developmental implications inherent in plurilaterals especially if they attempted to subvert established rules and foundational principles of the Marrakesh Agreement. They risked eroding the integrity of the rules-based multilateral trading system, creating a precedent for any group of Members to bring any issue into the WTO without the required consensus, including disregard of existing multilateral mandates, marginalizing issues which were difficult but yet critical
for the multilateral trading system such as agriculture and development thereby undermining balance in agenda setting, negotiating processes and outcomes, fragmenting the system and undermining the multilateral character of the WTO which Members had sought to resolve by creating the WTO following the GATT experience.

“10.16. The legal framework of the WTO provided clear options for Members who were part of JSIs as outlined in the paper. South Africa was therefore calling on Members to respect the rules which continued to underpin the functioning of the WTO.

Australia (page 69 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.24. The representative of Australia noted Members’ commitment to improving the effectiveness of the WTO’s rulemaking function. Australia was a participant in all the current JSI negotiations under way and strongly supported that important work at the WTO. Plurilateral initiatives were neither novel nor revolutionary in the multilateral trading system. They had always been a part of the WTO architecture had constituted the predominant form of rulemaking in the multilateral trading system for decades. WTO-consistent plurilateral trade agreements with wide participation played an important role in complementing global liberalization efforts. The current JSIs had the potential to deliver vital outcomes that strengthened the WTO’s rulemaking function and its health more generally. More than 110 Members were participating in one or more of the current JSI negotiations – demonstrating the wide acknowledgement from across the Membership that that was a legitimate and useful form of rulemaking. They had and continued to be inclusive, open and transparent.

“10.25. Australia did not agree with the legal analysis in India and South Africa’s paper. For instance, the suggestion that Members could not improve their GATT or GATS Schedules without consensus agreement was not accurate. Members could always incorporate improvements to their Schedules whether unilaterally or as a group of Members. That was the legal architecture which participants had agreed to use in the services domestic regulation JSI. Australia had full confidence in the WTO consistency of that approach. In the case of the e-commerce JSI, its participants were still exploring the legal structure options they could best use to incorporate eventual outcomes into the WTO legal framework but were confident that those pathways could be found. Australia encouraged all Members to participate in or at least keep an open mind on those plurilateral discussions to pursue
outcomes that modernized and enhanced WTO rules for the whole Membership.”

Costa Rica (pages 69-70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.26. The representative of Costa Rica was focused on ensuring that the WTO operated within the legal framework agreed by the Members. Costa Rica would reject any attempt to force Members to abide by new obligations without their consent. Costa Rica was a participant in the Joint Statement Initiatives on Electronic Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development, MSMEs and Services Domestic Regulation. The reason for that was simple. Costa Rica was recognizing the need to adapt to the trade policy challenges of the 21st century. But that did not mean that any Member who chose to remain outside those discussions would be forced to adhere to any new obligations.

“10.27. Costa Rica focused its remarks that day on the negotiations on services domestic regulation as that was the initiative that it had the pleasure of coordinating. Those negotiations and the outcome they would produce were firmly within the rules of the WTO. 59 proponents of services domestic regulation had established the initiative at the end of 2017 after they had to accept with
great regret that no further progress had been possible in the Working Party on Domestic Regulation. Each and every proposal submitted had been rejected in its entirety by South Africa and other Members. Proponents of domestic regulation had no choice but to accept that position.

“10.28. Since that time, work on the subject had so far advanced in the Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation. To the extent that participants considered it to be a viable prospect for an outcome to be delivered that year, Costa Rica clarified that the outcome would consist of a set of disciplines on licensing, qualification and standards which would bind only participating
Members but would benefit services suppliers from all Members who traded with the participating Members which currently represented more than 70% of world services trade.

“10.29. The outcome that was envisaged would be incorporated into participating Members’ GATS schedules of specific commitments. In substance, it covered precisely those types of measures that were listed in the GATS as areas for additional commitments, namely, qualification standards and licensing matters That was important because the paper introduced by India and South Africa suggested that the disciplines developed by the initiative constituted some form of not further specified rules which did not fit under the architecture of services schedules. That was quite untrue. Rather, the disciplines constituted improvements of participating Members’ existing commitments.

“10.30. Participating Members would give legal effect to the outcome by inscribing the disciplines as additional commitments in the respective GATS schedules. That would not be done by seeking to add a new agreement to the WTO architecture but by applying well established multilateral WTO procedures to improve Members’ schedules of specific commitments. Concerns about the work of the JSI had been raised already at the end of 2019. At that time, India had argued that some of the disciplines could be of a GATS minus nature and the GATS Article VI.4 mandate could be affected by the work of the initiative. As the Coordinator of the initiative, Costa Rica had had the pleasure of discussing those concerns with India in more detail and to report back to the group. While participants in the initiative did not agree that the disciplines in question could be understood to undercut existing GATS obligations, they agreed wholeheartedly with India that the disciplines should not be understood to weaken any provision contained in the GATS.

“10.31. Indeed, participants had recently incorporated in the negotiating text language expressing clearly that the disciplines should not be constructed to diminish any obligations under the GATS. The GATS Article VI.4 mandate to develop any necessary domestic regulation disciplines was not, would not and could not be affected by the fact that Members participating in the JSI would undertake additional commitments on domestic regulation. Costa Rica was therefore disappointed to see that India currently appeared to question the right of any WTO Member to improve its services commitments. The JSI on Services Domestic Regulation remained open and transparent and all Members were welcome to join the meetings and to constructively engage ensuring that the outcome benefited service suppliers across the world and included as many Members as possible.”

Chinese Taipei (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.32. The representative of Chinese Taipei noted that the plurilateral approach had contributed to global trade in the past. The ITA was an example. Certain limited use of the plurilateral approach could support and supplement the multilateral trading system by facilitating international trade. The discussions under JSIs had given the WTO new momentum which was necessary and healthy for the multilateral system. It was an unavoidable trend that more and more trade issues were emerging that urgently needed Members to establish new disciplines for them. It was highly important to update WTO rules and to make the WTO a living organization and not be left behind by the world.

“10.33. Through Joint Statement Initiatives, Members had developed a creative way to address the trend so that the WTO’s legislative function could be improved for it to maintain its relevancy given new developments in the world – with Members still maintaining the flexibility not to opt in. Chinese Taipei called on Members to jointly think about how plurilateral agreements could be integrated into the multilateral trading system while considering Members’ needs for their respective development stages and maintaining the existing rights and obligations of non-participating Members.”

Colombia (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.34. The representative of Colombia believed that that was an important discussion for the future of the organization as those initiatives covered the interests of many Members to move forward on crucial issues in global trade relations. Colombia appreciated the interest the Director-General had expressed on JSIs. That was a necessary step for the strengthening of the WTO. Colombia was happy to see how the path that had begun with previous processes such as the ITA was currently joined by many Members who were involved in the JSIs – an important space to resolve pending priorities.

“10.35. Such perspective had led Colombia to actively and formally participate in the JSIs on ecommerce, investment facilitation for development, services domestic regulation, MSMEs and trade and gender. Colombia also expressed its interest in other nascent initiatives which would likewise have an important impact on the WTO’s future as a driver of development for Members. With regard to the document being reviewed that day, Colombia did not share the legal analysis that the paper had set out but remained ready to continue that discussion in the appropriate forum. Colombia reiterated its commitment to the JSIs and its support for any work that could be done in that area.”

Mexico (page 70 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.36. The representative of Mexico said that JSIs provided an excellent opportunity to furnish the WTO with tools that would allow it to face the current challenges in global trade. Members were in a situation where some of them believed that they were still not in a position to fully integrate themselves into the work under way. The JSI participants had never foreclosed the possibility for more Members to join those initiatives when they deemed it appropriate to do so nor did those initiatives diminish the rights and obligations of non-participating Members. Rather, the JSIs offered a possibility to move forward and help the WTO become more relevant by promoting trade as a vehicle for development. Mexico had been a strong proponent of the JSIs as the work had taken place openly, inclusively and transparently with voluntary participation at its core.”

Russian Federation (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.37. The representative of the Russian Federation found the paper by India and South Africa upsetting. There was no doubt that Members should respect the right of any of them to express its attitude towards current developments within the multilateral legal system and to point out issues which it could see as contradictory to the system’s rules. The paper was however not about that but
dealt with the issue of whether the WTO should move forward and regain its relevancy amid the changing global economic environment or should it be further bogged down by disagreements among Members and lack of consensus eventually turning into an archaic and useless institution.

“10.38. The multilateral outcomes at MC11 had clearly been quite poor. The decision to promote and accelerate fisheries subsidies negotiations – the only multilateral and negotiation-related result achieved in Buenos Aires – was evidently not enough to chart a way forward for the WTO. The JSIs in which Russia was proud to participate in had been considered globally as a signal of Members’ ability and readiness to explore possible formats to move ahead. The progress achieved in all JSIs since then demonstrated the effectiveness of that approach. For example, the JSI on Services Domestic Regulation was an attempt to deliver on a long standing commitment of all Members to develop the respective disciplines as set out in GATS Article VI.4.

“10.39. As for the incorporation of new plurilateral initiatives into the WTO Agreements, Russia agreed with suggestion of India and South Africa that it should be done in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Marrakesh Agreement. However, the final goal of the JSIs was not to create a set of isolated rules among like-minded Members but rather to update the multilateral legal
system as a whole. That was why the JSIs remained open to all Members at any stage.

“10.40. The most disappointing fact about the submission was that while attacking JSIs, it did not provide any way forward essentially keeping the WTO to languish in the current limbo. No Member had taken the position to leave behind the core WTO mandated issues like agriculture or ‘horizontal’ S&DT. However, if the needs of the businesses and the people worldwide including in developing countries required Members to agree on adequate and up-to-date rules on other important issues, they had no right to keep those requests as hostages of their inability to reach progress on all fronts.”

Japan (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.41. The representative of Japan appreciated the Joint Statement Initiatives as an essential framework to allow the WTO to address in a flexible and realistic manner the changing global economic needs of the 21st century. The JSIs responded to calls from a broad range of stakeholders by discussing key economic issues and would contribute to updating the WTO rulebook and to
ensuring the relevance of the WTO in today’s world. Without the JSIs, the WTO risked becoming less relevant and even losing its raison d’être as a cornerstone of the multilateral trading system. The JSI meetings were organized in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.

“10.42. While taking into account the convenience of respective Members including the size of their delegations in organizing the process, the fact that many of them were participating in the JSIs and actively engaging in negotiations in a creative and innovative way clearly showed the JSI’s importance. A number of achievements made in the GATT and the WTO had initially been taken up
or discussed in plurilateral initiatives which were later merged in the system. Japan believed that the JSIs were consistent with the WTO and had high hopes that they would be a key part of the MC12 outcomes. Japan would continue to work with other Members to deliver substantial outcomes in the JSIs as a positive achievement of the WTO.”

Republic of Korea (page 71 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.43. The representative of the Republic of Korea, as a staunch supporter of the multilateral trading system, was disappointed to see the WTO in limbo in particular its failure to function as a forum for multilateral trade negotiations in response to the diverse needs and interests of Members. Upon such impasse and trade liberalization shifting weight to regional agreements outside the WTO, plurilateral negotiations could be a meaningful stepping-stone for multilateral agreement. It also served as a test pad for pioneering new trade rules as demonstrated by the GPA and the ITA. The JSIs which were held parallel with multilateral negotiations were essential to maintain the WTO’s relevance in the changing trade environment. Those negotiations were responsive to the demands of diverse stakeholders which would help rebuild trust in the multilateral trading system. Korea
therefore expressed its concern on the communication submitted by India and South Africa which raised questions on the concerted endeavours for revitalizing the WTO’s negotiating function.”

United States (pages 71-72 of WT/GC/M/190)

“10.44. The representative of the United States believed that plurilateral negotiations at the WTO could be a useful means to advance issues of interest to Members and to keep the WTO relevant. It did not view plurilateral negotiations and outcomes as undermining multilateral ones. In fact, plurilateral initiatives could foster new ideas and approaches and build momentum toward
multilateral outcomes. The various rigid positions expressed in the paper would seem to foreclose Members’ ability to pursue creative and flexible approaches at the WTO to the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Possible JSI outcomes at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

The WTO is hoping that the 12th Ministerial Conference will finally deliver a fisheries subsidies agreement after 20 years of negotiations. It would be a multilateral agreement and only the second such agreement (the other being Trade Facilitation) concluded since the creation of the WTO in 1995. There are hopes for collective action on trade and health and some other issues. But many of the likely deliverables will involve Joint Statement Initiatives. Hence the position of India and South Africa may muddy the outlook for whether such initiatives when concluded will be incorporated into the WTO acquis.

Press accounts of a recent Chatham House event noted the view of the European Union that the WTO needs to be able to bring these initiatives into the WTO. See Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, Weyand: WTO reform should include easier’ path for plurilateral deals, November 15, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/weyand-wto-reform-should-include-easier-path-plurilateral-deals (“World Trade Organization members need an ‘easier’ way to integrate plurilateral agreements into the organization’s rulebook, European Commission Director-General for Trade Sabine Weyand said on Friday, calling for the idea to be a part of broader WTO reform discussions.”). The EU, like most other WTO Members, has been an active participant in various JSIs.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, presented views in Singapore earlier this week on the subject of the role of plurilaterals in the WTO. See Peterson Institute for International Economics, Alan Wm. Wolff, Plurilateral Agreements and the Future of the WTO, November 16, 2021, Remarks delivered at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, https://www.piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/plurilateral-agreements-and-future-wto. His speech is worth reading in its entirety. A few excerpts are provided below and highlight the critical importance of plurilaterals going forward. Whether plurilaterals are within the WTO or outside will basically determine whether the WTO can maintain relevance in the future.

“Plurilateral agreements have become and will remain the primary path forward for improving the conditions for international trade.

“Insofar as the future health of the multilateral trading system is concerned, there are three alternatives:

“(1) coalitions of the like-minded will be able to conclude open plurilateral agreements within the WTO,

“(2) forward-leaning agreements are negotiated outside the WTO but become templates for the multilateral rules, or

“(3) the WTO becomes increasingly irrelevant to new global challenges and there is a consequent fragmentation of the world trading system.”

After reviewing the JSIs and other initiatives on climate change, trade and health and other matters, Amb. Wolff notes that

“Global problems need global solutions.

“The only practical way forward for the WTO is through open plurilateral agreements. Otherwise, Members who are looking for solutions will view the WTO as being increasingly irrelevant. The WTO to thrive needs to become more flexible.

“Notionally, various subjects can be negotiated on their own, in disparate venues, each unrelated to the other, without full transparency, without interested countries having a say. That is a recipe for global incoherence. It is the opposite of what is needed.

“Where trade is a vitally important aspect of meeting a global challenge – such as a pandemic or climate change, there is no clear alternative venue for addressing fully countries’ needs. The WTO must be pressed into service.

“It is time for the WTO’s Members to take the next step and embrace the open plurilateral agreements being negotiated now and those that are going to be launched to meet their needs for the 21st century.”

The 12th Ministerial Conference is the opportunity for WTO Members to embrace the future or commit the WTO to reduced relevancy. By early December, we should understand the likely direction of the WTO.

The folly of self-selection as a developing country at the WTO

In prior posts I have reviewed efforts by the United States and others to have the WTO membership modify who is entitled to special and differential treatment in light of the rapid changes in economic capabilities of a number of countries who have classified themselves as “developing” countries at the WTO under the self-designation approach that has characterized the GATT and now the WTO. See, e.g., December 14, 2020:  WTO December 14th Heads of Delegation meeting – parting comments of U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/14/wto-december-14th-heads-of-delegation-meeting-parting-comments-of-u-s-ambassador-dennis-shea/; August 13, 2020 [updated August 27]:  The race to become the next WTO Director-General – where candidates are on important issues:  eligibility for special and differential treatment/self selection as a developing country, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/08/13/the-race-to-become-the-next-wto-director-general-where-candidates-are-on-important-issues-eligibility-for-special-and-differential-treatment-self-selection-as-a-developing-country/; February 15, 2020: The U.S. Modifies the List of Developing and Least Developed Countries Under U.S. Countervailing Duty Law, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/02/15/the-u-s-modifies-the-list-of-developing-and-least-developed-countries-under-u-s-countervailing-duty-law/; December 28, 2019: WTO Reform – Will Limits on Who Enjoys Special and Differential Treatment Be Achieved?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2019/12/28/wto-reform-will-limits-on-who-enjoys-special-and-differential-treatment-be-achieved/.

The issue is one of importance because of the concern that many Members who have economically advanced to be fully internationally competitive or internationally competitive in significant areas of goods or services are not opening their markets to a level commensurate with their actual stage of development. A number of Members have indicated that they will not seek Special and Differential treatment in new agreements while maintaining rights under existing ones. The U.S., the EU and others have sought a more factual basis for any entitlement to differential treatment.

On November 10, 2021, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed the WTO Committee on Trade and Development (“CTD”) See WTO News Release, “Development issues should be at the heart of work at the WTO“— DG Okonjo-Iweala, 10 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/devel_10nov21_e.htm. The press release starts with an overview of the importance of development in the overall WTO mission,

“Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the key role that trade plays in economic development during a meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) on 10 November. She stressed that development is a priority for the WTO and that the CTD plays an important role in addressing the development dimension in the multilateral trading system.

“DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed that the work of the WTO is important for developing and least  developed countries (LDCs),  hence, it is critical for the WTO to deliver on issues of importance to them. Trade is a significant driver for economic growth and poverty reduction and ultimately for development, she added.”

The press release later has a statement that “The Secretariat presented the findings of its latest report concerning the participation of developing economies in global trade.” The latest report is PARTICIPATION OF DEVELOPING ECONOMIES IN THE GLOBAL TRADING SYSTEM, NOTE BY THE SECRETARIAT, 28 October 2021, WT/COMTD/W/262.

The problem with the note from the Secretariat and the functioning of the Committee on Trade and Development and other aspects of the WTO work is that developing countries in the note is treated as all Members so designating themselves and hence provides little useful information on the role of countries in actual need of assistance. Data in the note is skewed by information on developing Asia — an area that includes China, Singapore, the Republic of Korea and Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). On pages 8-9 of the Secretariat note, the major “developing” country traders are reviewed. The top 15 developing country exporters in 2020 were Chins (34.0%), Republic of Korea (6.7%), Mexico (5.5%), Singapore (4.8%), Chinese Taipei (4.6%), United Arab Emirates (4.2%), Viet Nam (3.7%), India (3.6%), Malaysia (3.1%), Thailand (3.0%), Brazil (2.8%), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2.3%), Turkey (2.2%), Indonesia (2.1%), South Africa (1.1%), other (16.4%). The top 15 importer developing countries included all of the top exporters with the exception of South Africa (Hong Kong, China was the 15th largest importer).

The World Bank provides Gross National Income per capita for most countries/territories (China blocks provision of data for Chinese Taipei). The latest data are for 2020 and include the following ranges for the four categories of World Bank countries:

Low income countries, less than $1,048/capita GNI

lower middle-income economies, $1,048-4,095/capita GNI

upper middle-income economies, $4,096-12,695/capita GNI

high income economies, $12,696 or more/capita GNI.

China in 2020 had a per capita GNI of $10,610; Singapore had a 2020 per capita GNI of $54,920; Republic of Korea had a 2020 per capita GNI of $32,860; Chinese Taipei had a per capita GDP in 2021 of $33,402; Mexico had a 2020 per capita GNI of 8,480; the United Arab Republic had a 2019 per capita GNI of $43,470; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $21,930; Hong Kong, China, had a 2020 per capita GNI of $48,630; Thailand had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,050; Malaysia had a 2020 per capita GNI of $11,230; Turkey had a 2020 per capita GNI of $9,030; Brazil had a 2020 per capita GNI of $7,850.

See New World Bank country classifications by income level: 2021-2022, July 1, 2021, https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/new-world-bank-country-classifications-income-level-2021-2022; World Bank Country and Lending Groups, ← Country Classification, https://datahelpdesk.worldbank.org/knowledgebase/articles/906519-world-bank-country-and-lending-groups; GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$) – China, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD?locations=CN (lists all countries); Wikipedia, Economy of Taiwan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Taiwan.

There is obviously no justification in high income economies receiving special and differential treatment as though they are developing countries in fact. Thus, data for Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, UAE, Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be in the developing country data base. Similarly, China and Malaysia with per capita GNIs above $10,000 and purchasing power parity gross national income per capita (2019) above the minimum high income economy threshold ($16,790 for China; $28,830 for Malaysia) shouldn’t be eligible for special and differential treatment as a general rule. Brazil, Thailand, Turkey and Mexico while below $10,000 per capita GNI in 2020 have 2019 per capita purchasing power parity GNI higher than the high income economy threshold ($14,890 for Brazil; $26,840 for Mexico; $18,570 for Thailand; $27,660). There is no apparent logic in having these countries have automatic rights to special and differential treatment.

The Secretariat, of course, cannot change the classification of Members. But the lack of a rational standard for determining appropriateness of receiving special and differential treatment undermines the functioning of the WTO and permits countries who have succeeded at rapid economic development from assuming full obligations of WTO membership. The problem also results in statistical reports that are largely meaningless.

In a consensus based system like the WTO, the road to rationality will be long at best with many WTO Members who should have accepted full obligations by now continuing to hide behind the self-selection process to claim lesser obligations.

The APEC 2021 Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement — portion relevant to WTO 12th Ministerial Meeting

The APEC 2021 Ministerial meeting was held remotely on November 8-9 and resulted in a joint statement which included ambitions of APECs 21 members for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference which starts in Geneva at the end of November (November 30-December 3). New Zealand has chaired APEC in 2021. Because the APEC countries include members accounting for 38% of the world’s population, 62% of the world’s GDP and 48% of global trade in 2020 and includes both the United States and China among the 21 territories, what APEC members support for the upcoming WTO ministerial may offer a glimpse of what may be possible in Geneva in the coming weeks. The APEC Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement and a publication on APEC in Numbers can be found here. See 2021 APEC Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement, Wellington, New Zealand, 09 November 2021, https://www.apec.org/meeting-papers/annual-ministerial-meetings/2021/2021-apec-ministerial-meeting; APEC in Charts 2021, https://www.apec.org/docs/default-source/publications/2021/11/apec-in-charts-2021/221_psu_apec-in-charts-2021.pdf?sfvrsn=50537c36_2. APEC members include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, and Viet Nam.

While the Declaration contains coverage of a number of issues, it has a separate section on the World Trade Organization (pages 4-5, paras. 17-22). The six paragraphs from the Joint Statement are copied below.

“World Trade Organization

“17. APEC takes pride in its long history of active support for the rules-based multilateral trading system (MTS), with the WTO at its core. The MTS has been a catalyst for our region’s extraordinary growth and we will work together to improve it. We seek a responsive, relevant, and revitalised WTO. We must support the WTO and its membership to modernise trade rules for the twenty-first century. Together, we will engage constructively and cooperate to ensure the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) is a success and delivers concrete results.

“18. As a priority for MC12, we see an opportunity for the WTO to demonstrate that the MTS can continue to help address the human catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate recovery. We call for pragmatic and effective ministerial outcomes that makes it easier to respond swiftly and effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate the recovery. Our priorities include supporting the facilitation of manufacturing, distribution, and supply chains of essential medical goods, including vaccines. We will work proactively and urgently in Geneva to support text-based discussions, including on a temporary waiver of certain intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.

“19. We reiterate our determination to negotiate effective disciplines on harmful fisheries subsidies in line with SDG 14.6, and call for agreement to a comprehensive and meaningful outcome by MC12 in a few weeks’ time.

“20. Despite its importance for ensuring global food security and sustainable economic development, agriculture is one of the most protected sectors in global trade. We recognise the need for a meaningful outcome on agriculture at MC12, reflecting our collective interests and sensitivities, with a view towards achieving substantial progressive reductions in support and protection, as envisaged in the continuation of the reform process provided in Article 20 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture and existing mandates.

“21. We recognise the positive role that existing plurilateral negotiations and discussions are playing in progressing outcomes. APEC member participants in the relevant Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs) call for conclusion of negotiations on services domestic regulation by MC12; and substantial progress by MC12 in the JSIs on e-commerce; micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; and investment facilitation for development. We take note of the efforts by the APEC economies who endorsed the Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment to deliver an ambitious outcome at MC12 that supports the advancement of trade and gender equality.

“22, We continued our frank and constructive discussions regarding improvement to the WTO’s monitoring, negotiating and dispute settlement functions. We continue to support the ongoing and necessary reform work to improve the WTO’s functioning, including the importance of making progress on enhancing transparency to support its monitoring and negotiating functions. We will work together at the WTO and with the wider WTO membership to advance the proper functioning of the WTO’s negotiation and dispute settlement functions, which require addressing longstanding issues. We urge WTO members to seek a shared understanding of the types of reform needed.”

The Joint Statement has some specific items where outcomes are pursued — conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, some outcomes in the Joint Statement Initiatives (services domestic regulation should be completed; micro, small and medium-sized enterprises is completed; progress on others). As reviewed in yesterday’s post, WTO Members still have a challenging road to achieve a completed fisheries subsidies agreement at the 12th Ministerial. See November 9, 2021:  WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations — a second revised text from November 8 holds out hope for a deal by MC12; how realistic is the hope?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/09/wto-fisheries-subsidies-negotiations-a-second-revised-text-from-november-8-holds-out-hope-for-a-deal-by-mc12-how-realistic-is-the-hope/. Moreover, India, South Africa and others are raising objections to having any plurilaterals being negotiated included in the WTO which will complicate what comes out of the 12th Ministerial Conference (as opposed to encouraging Members to pursue plurilaterals outside of the WTO). 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/; September 18, 2021: The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Late November – early December 2021 — the struggle for relevance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/18/the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference-in-late-november-early-december-2021-the-struggle-for-relevance/.

The Joint Statement also seeks “pragmatic and effective” outcomes in the health and trade space to address responding to the COVID pandemic. Specifics are lacking although there is support to expanding production and access to vaccines and other medical goods. While supporting text based negotiations in the area, including on a possible temporary waiver of some TRIPS provisions on COVID vaccines, the lack of greater specificity reflects differences in positions of APEC members.

Similarly, while supporting WTO reform in all three areas of WTO activity (monitoring, negotiating and dispute settlement), APEC members have significantly different views on what is needed in these areas. Hence only general language is included in the Joint Statement.

In a prior post, I have opined that recent actions by the U.S. and EU to find ways around the civil aircaraft and steel and aluminum frictions suggests that the U.S. may agree to the start of a process to review the dispute settlement system issues raised by it as part of the 12th Ministerial (a high EU priority) and that the U.S. and EU could coalesce around an outcome acceptable to both in the TRIPS waiver dispute. See November 2, 2021:  What does the U.S.-EU Agreement on steel and aluminum imply for the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/02/what-does-the-u-s-eu-agreement-on-steel-and-aluminum-imply-for-the-upcoming-12th-wto-ministerial-conference/.

China has opposed greater transparency obligations and has tied reform of industrial subsidies to looking at agricultural subsidies as well. A recent post of mine reviews the need for better information on subsidies. See October 30, 2021:  WTO reform — distortions to market access and the need for better information, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/30/wto-reform-distortions-to-market-access-and-the-need-for-better-information/. Despite differences of view on some issues among major Members, it is not out of the question that a reform program will cover an examination of all three functions going forward.

On agriculture, there is a shared view for a need for results at the WTO 12th Ministerial and reflects on the fact that Article 20 of the WTO Agreement on Agriculture calls for periodic rounds of liberalization. However, the language of the Joint Statement doesn’t specify the areas where agreement is possible by the 12th Ministerial, reflecting different views among APEC members.

Nothing in the APEC Joint Statement addressed what, if anything should be agreed at the 12th WTO Ministerial on the climate crisis and what role trade can play in addressing the crisis. This omission is unfortunate but likely reflects large differences in views within APEC members on the topic. As I reviewed in a recent post, much more is needed but unlikely to come from the WTO and its members. See November 4, 2021:  The WTO and the environment — will the 2020s be different in terms of trade policies that are environmentally supportive?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/11/04/the-wto-and-the-environment-will-the-2020s-be-different-in-terms-of-trade-policies-that-are-environmentally-supportive/.

Conclusion

The APEC 2021 Ministerial Meeting Joint Statement, being released three weeks before the start of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference is a positive statement of support for the multilateral trading system. Coming from a group of WTO Members accounting for nearly 50% of global trade, it is a useful guide for topics these countries and territories will be pursuing in Geneva. Other group statements have been released as well as individual country or group objectives. But even within the APEC group of countries, large differences exist on outcomes of interest. With the exception of a possible conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations and conclusions on several Joint Statement Initiatives, there may be only limited positive outcomes. There may be some limited agreement on the broad topic of health and trade and some agreement on topics for future negotiation. There may also be at least some provisions in a declaration dealing with the climate crisis and the important role trade can play in addressing the crisis.

Such a limited set of outcomes will likely be viewed as a success for an organization hamstrung by Members with no common vision for the role of the organization, with large differences in development levels, a cumbersome governance system and growing divergence on whether the organization can support global trade where market rules are not the required framework. More is needed for a truly relevant WTO and for a sustainable global trading system. The world is unlikely to achieve meaningful reform at the WTO in the coming decade. Progress, if any, will likely be slow and piecemeal.

The WTO and the environment — will the 2020s be different in terms of trade policies that are environmentally supportive?

With the world rapidly approaching the point of no return on rising temperatures, can an organization like the WTO characterized by negotiating paralysis play a meaningful role in seeing that trade rules support sustainable growth and a livable planet in a timely manner?. Recent history would suggest the answer is no or at least not in a timely manner.

Fisheries subsidies negotiations have dragged on for more than two decades, suggesting that even if a robust trade and environment work program is agreed to at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, the chances of meaningful progress in the current decade are modest at best.

The negotiations for an environmental goods agreement amongst 17 countries and groups accounting for 90% of trade in environmental goods which began in 2014 was essentially discontinued in 2016 despite the obvious global benefit from tariff reductions on the trade in goods that can improve the environment. While many have urged the restart of the talks, it is unclear whether talks will restart and how quickly they could conclude.

There are no ongoing negotiations to address the need to reduce the carbon footprint of industry and agriculture despite some 69 countries having adopted some form of carbon price and the impending start of carbon border adjustment measures (“CBAMs”) by some WTO Members. A global agreement on a carbon price is aspirational at this point without negotiations agreed to or started. Countries working to reduce carbon emissions are concerned about “leakage” of production and jobs to countries with low standards ensuring that there will be CBAMs imposed by some. Some WTO Members are threatening retaliation if such measures are adopted. So the 2020s will likely be a period of conflict among WTO Members on the topic instead of being a period of time in which the WTO and its Members are able to make a critical contribution to controlling the global warming crisis.

Efforts at plurilateral agreements (so-called Joint Statement Initiatives or JSIs) which include some in the environmental area (e.g., marine plastics pollution) are not certain to become part of the WTO, facing opposition from India and South Africa and others.

So recent history does not shout out that the WTO will play an important role in addressing the existential threat flowing from global warming.

This is not to say that the WTO Director-General isn’t advocating for trade to play its role in addressing the problems. Moreover, the Secretariat is attempting to generate information on the role trade can play in addressing global warming through a series of information notes. See, e.g., WTO news, DG Okonjo-Iweala highlights trade’s role in ambitious and just climate action at COP26, 2 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_02nov21_e.htm; WTO news, WTO issues information briefs on trade, climate, related issues with COP26 talks underway, 3 November 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21_e.htm. The press release reviewing DG Ngozi’s statement is copied below.

“Trade can and must make a contribution to a comprehensive climate action agenda, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared in her engagements with world leaders and stakeholders at the United Nations COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, highlighting the need for ambitious yet fair commitments that ensure a green transition that is just and inclusive to all economies.

“The Director-General highlighted trade and the WTO’s role in a wide breadth of approaches to climate action in her panels and bilateral meetings, covering carbon emission reductions, the conservation of forests as critical carbon sinks, climate adaptation, and finance.

“On carbon reduction and pricing, she championed a coordinated approach at the high-level event organized by Canada and the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, saying: ‘Let’s move towards a global carbon price. We have a great deal of fragmentation and we are hearing increasingly from businesses that they are finding regulations difficult to navigate and sometimes it results in higher prices for consumers and others. We also have members who are afraid this measure is somehow disguised protectionism which will prevent them from selling products abroad. Their issues need to be respected as we develop these systems.’

“’The WTO provides a forum where we can initiate this dialogue and involve developing and least-developed countries in the conversation. Leaders should task the International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, World Bank and the WTO to work together and come up with a global approach,’ she said.

“Halting deforestation and establishing sustainable markets for agriculture must also be part of the comprehensive trade and climate agenda, she said at a session of the World Leaders Summit on Forests and Land Use, organized by the United Kingdom, host of COP26, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. WTO members have already notified an increasing number of policies relating to forestry management (514 measures from 2009 to 2019) as well as sustainable agriculture management (over 1,200 measures). However, more action is needed, such as reforming subsidies that create perverse incentives for market actors to deplete natural resources, the Director-General said.

“At the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Summit, moreover, the Director-General said: ‘Adaptation for Africa must be a priority for the international community. This region contributes the least to emissions but suffers the most. Climate finance for Africa to meet adaptation costs must be ramped up.’

“’We also need to put in place trade policies to cushion against and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. Trade is part of the solution,’ she said, noting the need for trade to ensure food security in the face of climate threats, provide access to adaptation technologies, and create synergies in Aid for Trade and climate finance.

“The Director-General will also underline the importance of support for developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) at the 3 November event organized by the United Kingdom on mobilizing climate finance.”

The five information papers released from the Secretariat on November 3, 2021 are:

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°1, MAPPING PAPER: TRADE POLICIES ADOPTED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-1_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°2, CLIMATE CHANGE IN REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-2_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°3, TRADE RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF A RISING BURDEN OF NATURAL DISASTERS, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-3_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°4, CARBON CONTENT OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-4_e.pdf.

TRADE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, INFORMATION BRIEF N°5, AFRICA UNDER A CHANGING CLIMATE: THE ROLE OF TRADE IN BUILDING RESILIENT ADAPTATION IN AGRICULTURE, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/clim_03nov21-5_e.pdf.

A former Deputy Director-General of the WTO, Alan Wolff, in comments to the Harvard JFK School last week, identified a third required outcome of the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (besides a statement on trade and health and the conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations) to be —

“3. A clear pledge to deal with trade and climate, and other environmental issues (marine plastics pollution, fossil fuels, etc. – this last, probably unspecified).

“• The effort is likely to take the form of an open plurilateral negotiation, a joint statement initiative. This is now a path more often chosen, as agreement among 164 disparate sovereigns is becoming close to impossible to achieve.”

See Defining Success for MC12, Notes for remarks of Alan Wm. Wolff, Peterson Institute for International Economics, Harvard JFK School, 29 October 2021, https://www.piie.com/sites/default/files/documents/wolff-2021-10-29.pdf (page 3).

While the start of a JSI on trade and climate is the most that can be hoped for at the Ministerial, even if achieved, the question will be can progress be made quickly enough to affect global warming. The fact that the scope of any such negotiations is uncertain strongly supports the view that efforts at the WTO on a plurilateral or multilateral basis will be too limited and too late to make a difference.

This will likely mean any meaningful movement will be implemented by individual Members or potentially small groups and probably occur outside of the WTO. In the absence of global or plurilateral agreements, actions by individual Members will be needed but almost certainly not enough.

Let’s hope that the above analysis proves too pessimistic. For our children and grandchildren, a lot depends on a global robust response to global warming in many policy areas, including trade.

What role China could play in WTO reform — possibilities are real but chances of a positive role are not

On October 14, 2021, Amb. Alan Wolff (former Deputy Director General of the WTO, former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and now Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economic Policy) spoke to the PIIE-CF40 Young Economist Forum on the topic “China in the World Trade System, The Role of China in WTO Reform”. Amb. Wolff’s paper provides an interesting overview of the many areas where China could provide positive leadership at the WTO to achieve meaningful reform. The paper also identifies what China has identified as its priorities for reform, most of which cut against positive leadership. His paper can be found here. Ala Wm. Wolff, China in the World Trading System, The Role of China in WTO Reform, October 14, 2021, https://www.piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/china-world-trading-system.

Amb. Wolff, when he was Deputy Director General at the WTO made points on the need for reform, key values of the WTO, some of which to be continued would require China to make some important adjustments to its economic system. See November 10, 2020:  The values of the WTO – do Members and the final Director-General candidates endorse all of them?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/11/10/the-values-of-the-wto-do-members-and-the-final-director-general-candidates-endorse-all-of-them/. As DDG, Amb. Wolff spoke often on the future of the WTO, reforms needed, and more. He has continued that since leaving the WTO. See, e.g., May 1, 2021:  Alan Wolff’s vision for saving the WTO — aspirational but is it achievable?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/01/alan-wolffs-vision-for-saving-the-wto-aspirational-but-is-it-achievable/.

Among the values of the WTO identified by Amb. Wolff while serving as DDG were two that remain critical in the continued relevance of the WTO:

The primacy of market forces — Commercial considerations are to determine competitive outcomes.

Convergence —The WTO is not simply about coexistence; differences among members affecting trade which deviate from the principles governing the WTO, its core values, are to be progressively overcome.”

These two issues are among the areas where Amb. Wolff identifies the opportunity for China to take an active role in ensuring WTO relevance and WTO reform. But there are many areas where China could be active in a positive maner.

Many of the suggested areas for Chinese action are straight forward. For example, China is not a member of the Pharmaceutical Agreement but is now a very important producer and trader of pharmaceutical products. Joining would be an important step. Similarly, Amb. Wolff urges China to participate in updating the Information Technology Agreement to include medical equipment and eliminate duties on such equipment.

On the negotiating function, Amb. Wolff states,

“There are a number of important opportunities for Chinese leadership in negotiations.

“A positive substantive outcome is necessary in the fisheries subsidies negotiations, which it is hoped will be concluded shortly. China has by far the world’s largest long distance fishing fleet. China’s full and active participation is essential to attaining this objective.

“Another marine issue in which China is prominent is its co-sponsoring with Fiji of an environmental initiative targeting the problem of plastic waste in the oceans. This is a praiseworthy endeavor in which all should join.

“China should also take a lead in re-starting and concluding an Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA).” (pages 10-11).

On the Joint Statement Initiatives, China has the ability to determine the level of ambition in the e-commerce negotiations on issues like privacy, cross border data flow and forced localization of servers. It also is involved in JSIs on Investment Facilitation for Development and on Domestic Regulation of Service. Amb. Wolff notes that China will need to take a position on whether JSIs become part of the WTO acquis or not –

“Any results from the JSIs will add to the world trade rule book and constitute reform. It remains to be seen how valuable these agreements will be, and it is not yet clear how they will be incorporated into the WTO acquis. Either the WTO will be a venue for the negotiation of these crucial open plurilaterals or it will not, and China will have to make a choice as to its position on
the subject. Open plurilateral agreements are essential to the future health of the international trading system.” (page 12)

On WTO reform, both in terms of new rules and restoring the dispute settlement system, Amb. Wolff notes that the two areas will be intertwined and will require addressing “industrial subsidies, state intervention in the economy and technology transfer.” China views these issues defensively which will not help restore the system.

“As a major economy and important stakeholder in the multilateral trading system, China has a pivotal role to play which it should approach positively and constructively – rather than defensively, engaging actively in deliberations on reform. There is a choice between seeing areas of emerging rules as targeting or threatening China’s practices or, more fruitfully, seeing how they can serve the trading system more broadly. Either the WTO will be the venue for setting the rules of engagement or it will be done regionally, bilaterally or unilaterally. It should be in China’s interest to seek resolutions where it has a seat at the table.” (page 13)

On transparency, China will play an important role in whether the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference requires greater transparency and whether Members requires the Secretariat to “independently and aggressively report on all measures affecting trade flow, those that impede trade and those that facilitate it.” (page 14)

Amb. Wolff then addresses several sensitive issues: self-designation of developing country, “market-oriented policies” (what the U.S. would term China’s non-market economy). Amb. Wolff views the self-designation issue as less important for China since China “states that it will accept obligations commensurate with its capacity.” (page 14)

On the question of “market oriented policies,” Amb. Wolff has a long section.

“More serious than the rhetorical issue of whether China is or is not a developing country is the heated discussion over ‘market-oriented policies’. The Riyadh Initiative for the Future of the WTO reached a highly interesting outcome in its November 2020 G20 meeting. The Saudi chair reported that all members agreed to the following list as part of the principles of the WTO under the heading of ‘Rule of Law’:

“o Transparency

“o Non-discrimination

“o Inclusiveness

“o Fair competition

“o Market openness

“o Resistance to protectionism

“o Reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements, acknowledging that agreements provide for differential and more favorable treatment for developing economies, including special attention to the particular situation of least developed countries

“The Saudi chair reported that Members could not reach agreement that ‘market-oriented policies’ is a principle of the WTO.

“China defends the role of the state in its economy. However, whether it should be as sensitive as it is to the adoption of this principle is questionable. China already committed in the Working Party Report accompanying its Protocol of Accession that its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) would behave in effect in a market-oriented manner:

“‘44. In light of the role that state-owned and state-invested enterprises played in China’s economy, some members of the Working Party expressed concerns about the continuing governmental influence and guidance of the decisions and activities of such enterprises relating to the purchase and sale of goods and services. Such purchases and sales should be based solely on commercial considerations, without any governmental influence or application of discriminatory measures. . . …

“‘46. The representative of China further confirmed that China would ensure that all state-owned and state-invested enterprises would make purchases and sales based solely on commercial considerations, e.g., price, quality, marketability and availability, and that the enterprises of other WTO Members would have an adequate opportunity to compete for sales to and purchases from these enterprises on non-discriminatory terms and conditions. In addition, the Government of China would not influence, directly or indirectly, commercial decisions on the part of state-owned or state-invested enterprises, including on the quantity, value or country of origin of any goods purchased or sold, except in a manner consistent with the WTO Agreement. The Working Party took note of these commitments.

“This commitment already applies to government influence over private or quasi-private enterprises as well, foreign or domestic, where the role of the state is even less overt, because any government intervention that favors national goods, services, or IP, or treats one foreign supplier less favorably than another, violates fundamental and binding WTO non-discrimination rules: National Treatment and the Most-Favored Nation Principle. The hurdle is often not the legal principle involved but adducing proof of the influence.

“China’s Accession Protocol itself, providing other Members with additional flexibilities to restrict imports from China, indicates a belief of the negotiators for China’s entry into the WTO that there would be continuing progress toward China allowing market forces to determine competitive outcomes in its market, to determine investment, and to avoid artificially supporting
its exports.

The golden rule of the multilateral trading system is that competitive outcomes should be determined by market forces and not state intervention. Without this rule, the system cannot function as intended. As the world’s largest exporting country, China should recognize that this fundamental principle is in its commercial interest. Its enterprises require access to markets around the world. That market forces are to determine competitive outcomes is the basis for the WTO and the GATT before it. Were this precept not accepted and applied, there would no effective alternative but to adopt additional interface mechanisms, far beyond the transitional antidumping and safeguard flexibilities applied to China in the first 12-15 years of its WTO membership under the terms of its accession.” (pages 15-16)(Emphasis added)

Amb. Wolff flags climate change and how WTO Members chose to deal with it as a possible third major area of disagreement, focusing on carbon border adjustment measures.

Amb. Wolff then looks at what the WTO would look like if China’s proposals for reform were adopted. See page 17-19. While some of the proposals are noncontroversial, China argues for self-designation of developing country status, right to have as much state involvement in the economy without WTO scrutiny as a Member wishes, selective reductions in agricultural subsides (US and EU but not China or India), no disciplines on industrial subsidies among others which clearly are contrary to what Amb. Wolff has identified as the necessary course for maintaining WTO relevance.

The paper identifies a series of statements on “What can and should be anticipated going forward with respect to WTO reform, including China’s role in it?” (page 21; nine statements). The list identifies both what needs to be done and what is likely if such actions are not achieved.

“1) Despite the valuable everyday work of the WTO — from standards notifications, assisting developing countries with a wide variety of challenges posed by trade, to trade policy reviews that are among the most civilized interactions of sovereign nations in accepting scrutiny of their policies — absent negotiation of new agreements the WTO will continue to lose credibility. In particular the WTO Members must act to allow their organization to rise to the trade challenges of pandemics and climate change and conclude the fisheries subsidies negotiations. China is central to making the WTO responsive to current challenges.

“2) China is active in JSIs. It should press for open plurilaterals to become a regular and accepted feature of the WTO system.

“3) There will be no restoration of an appellate function for dispute settlement without dealing with issues surrounding China’s trade practices. This will of necessity include addressing substantive rules, and not just how the appellate and panel functions are managed. It will be a difficult negotiation.

“4) The WTO must adopt and implement an explicit rule that market-forces will determine competitive outcomes. China is already pledged to this. This prospective fight can be avoided because it is unnecessary and because it cannot be won by China.7 But then China would have to have its economy be consistent with any resulting new rules that might be constructed. China is not the only economy with state involvement, although it is more pervasive and has more global systemic relevance than is true for any other country. For the sake of the future of the WTO, for the multilateral trading system, this challenge, however daunting, must be met for the WTO to survive as an effective system of rules for global trade.

“5) China, the U.S. and the EU each need to recognize the essential value of the WTO and invest in it accordingly. (This goes for India, South Africa, and others as well.)


“6) De-globalization, were it more than a correction for overly lean and extended supply lines, is not in the interests of any of the WTO Members, least of all, China. It is, avoidable. Re-balancing too far inward, over-emphasizing near-shoring, will hurt all
economies, disproportionately for the largest trading WTO Members. Some shortening of supply lines as a hedge against disruptions can be expected but will be limited by the need to avoid unnecessary costs.

“7) International agreements function on trust. It is up to the Members with the largest trade to increase the level of trust in the system. Trust is not created by stipulating it; it must be earned by experience. To say that there is a trust deficit between the two
largest trading nations would be a gross understatement. Within the WTO, it is time to consider how they can engage in putting into place confidence-building measures.

“8) If the WTO is not able to function, regional agreements will be where serious trade negotiations take place. This will be against the interests of all, including the big three.

“9) China needs to become an effective champion in the cause of preserving and enlarging the scope and effectiveness of the WTO. A major objective of China’s national interest must remain integration into, not retreat from, the world economy.
This can only be achieved through investing in the multilateral trading system. “

“7 Two distinguished academics, Mavroidis and Sapir, have written that the WTO Members must reinforce the
WTO’s fundamentals, which means market-based trade. They say that China must evolve its system to be
compatible. There is little belief in academia that this will occur. It does not seem to be the direction of change in
China at present.” (pages 21-23)(Emphasis added)

Amb. Wolff adds “A cautionary note” several paragraphs of which are copied below

“The life span of any trade agreement, including the WTO acquis, depends on the underlying evolution of the commerce of the parties toward greater openness. If there is stasis, or retreat from openness, then the duration of the agreement will be short.

The WTO is about convergence not coexistence. That is why transition periods exist to deal with differences rather than permanent exclusions. The rules emerging from a process of ‘WTO reform’ will either trend toward reinforcing convergence or increasing the use of interface mechanisms, the safeguards against governmental measures that distort the market. There is no middle ground if the WTO is to be effective. What we do not know is how long the multilateral trading system can endure if convergence is not going to take place.” (page 24)(Emphasis added)

Comments and Conclusion

Trade and the WTO have obviously been highly beneficial to China and to many other Members. Nonetheless, China has been working hard not to have its economic system evolve to a market-based one. It has generally not pursued liberalization that benefits all versus favoring China. It insists on coexistence vs. convergence. It uses the consensus system to prevent evaluation of its practices which distort trade It has limited transparency of its actions and has engaged in actions against individual Members that are retaliatory and coercive. As the world’s largest exporter, China has a critical role in global trade. But the dangers Amb. Wolff has outlined in his speech where market principles and convergence are not the core values are manifesting themselves in the world marketplace as countries look for alternative approaches to deal with China’s trade distortions.

Amb. Wolff’s speech outlines a number of ways that China can improve the functioning of the WTO and exhibit leadership in WTO reform. His speech is an important one which hopefully has had a receptive audience in China. Unfortunately, while there are some identified actions that China may take, it is unlikely that China will do anything to address the critical differences that its economic system poses to the survival of the global trading system.

G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement of October 12 and Amb. Tai’s comments on the WTO from October 14 — the ongoing divide among major Members makes a meaningful WTO MC12 less likely

In prior posts, I have reviewed the challenges facing the WTO as it approaches the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva at the end of November, beginning of December. See, e.g., October 8, 2021: The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/10/08/the-gap-between-wto-activity-and-the-needs-of-businesses-and-workers-for-the-international-trading-system/; September 18, 2021: The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in Late November – early December 2021 — the struggle for relevance, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/09/18/the-wtos-12th-ministerial-conference-in-late-november-early-december-2021-the-struggle-for-relevance/; May 10, 2021:  World Trade Organization — possible deliverables for the 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva November 30-December 3, 2021, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/05/10/world-trade-organization-possible-deliverables-for-the-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-november-30-december-3-2021/.

The G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement of October 12, 2021

WTO Reform

While the vast majority of WTO Members profess an interest in a successful MC12 beginning in late November, the reality is that success means very different things to different Members. The G20 countries have repeatedly called for a successful MC12, but this week’s meeting in Sorento Italy and resulting Ministerial statement on trade and investment shows limited actual convergence on what should be achieved at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference. See G20 TRADE AND INVESTMENT MINISTERIAL MEETING – OCTOBER 12, 2021, G20 MINISTERIAL STATEMENT ON TRADE AND INVESTMENT, https://www.g20.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/G20-TIMM-statement-PDF.pdf.

Paragraph 6 of the G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial statement reiterates support for a successful MC12.

“We commit to a successful and productive WTO 12th Ministerial Conference as an important opportunity to advance WTO reform to revitalise the organisation. We commit to active engagement in this work to provide the political momentum necessary for progress.”

Yet the statement is short on specific areas of reform other than improving rule making and dispute settlement — areas where there has been no meaningful forward movement ahead of MC 12 and where there are major divisions among G20 countries.

Trade and Health

On the topic of “trade and health” there is support among G20 countries for equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and personal protective equipment, and G20 countries are making belated contributions to increased supplies to the most vulnerable. However, with the exception of export restraints where there is language recognizing the right of countries to take actions in limited circumstances, the divisions amongst the G20 make specifics on WTO issues merely aspirational.

“10. We will work actively and constructively with all WTO members in the lead up to the 12th Ministerial Conference and beyond to enhance the capacity of the multilateral trading system to increase our pandemic and disaster preparedness and resilience by adopting a multifaceted response. Trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, contributions to international efforts to expand production and delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and essential medical goods, diversifying manufacturing
locations and fostering equitable distribution, trade facilitation measures, export restrictions, encouraging regulatory compatibility, are among the areas where our constructive engagement in the WTO, notably in the TRIPS Council, the Council for
Trade in Goods, the Council for Trade in Services, and other relevant bodies and processes, can enhance global public health efforts.”

While there may be language in an MC12 declaration and a work program for the future, there will not likely be any meaningful results announced at MC12.

Services and Investments


Embarrassingly for the WTO, Members, efforts to develop multilateral rules for digital trade and e-commerce continue to be far from concluded. This has led to the Joint Statement Initiative (“JSI”) on E-Commerce and other JSIs being launched at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in 2017 amongst a subset of WTO Members but open to all. Two of the other JSIs are Investment Facilitation for Development and Services Domestic Regulation. The JSI on Services Domestic Regulation has reportedly reached an agreement that will be presented at MC12. However, within the G20, there are some countries who oppose bringing JSIs into the WTO — most notably, India and South Africa. See WTO News, Participants in domestic regulation talks conclude text negotiations, on track for MC12 deal, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/serv_27sep21_e.htm; THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, submission from India, Namibia and South Africa, 30 April 2021, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1. This difference of views is reflected in the G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement.

“14. G20 participants in the Joint Statement Initiatives on E-Commerce, Investment Facilitation for Development and Services Domestic Regulation encourage and support the active participation of all WTO members in the initiatives and look
forward to meaningful progress in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial conference. Concerns have been expressed on rule-making by some G20 members that are not part of the JSIs.”

Government Support and Level Playing Field

The section of the Ministerial Statement looking at government support and level playing field issues recognizes that there are “structural problems in some sectors, such as excess capacities” which cause problems and note that “Many G20 members affirm the need to strengthen international rules on industrial subsidies and welcome ongoing international efforts to improve trade rules affecting agriculture.” As is clear “many of us” means a number of G20 countries don’t agree. Industrial subsidy rule improvement is intended to address the distortions caused by China’s programs (and of others). Agriculture market access and agricultural subsidies and transparency are also issues where there is a significant division among G20 countries.

Trade and Environmental Sustainability

The challenges to the world from a warming climate are existential. The Ministerial Statement contains useful language of a general nature in terms of the importance of addressing environmental issues and that “trade and environmental policies should be mutually supportive”. The G20 support reaching a conclusion to the fisheries subsidies negotiations even though there have been recent actions by some G20 countries — again, India and South Africa — to weaken disciplines on “developing” countries which threaten the achievement of a meaningful agreement 20 years after negotiations commenced.

MSMEs

Micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises are a critical part of most countries economies and make up a larger share of business in lower income countries. While the Ministerial Statement addresses MSMEs importance and need for additional assistance, there is no mention of the Joint Statement Initiative on MSMEs among some WTO Members and the fact that an agreement is ready for presentation at MC12 with the agreement being open to all. See WTO News, Working group on small business finalises MC12 draft declaration, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/msmes_28sep21_e.htm. India and South Africa and others have raised the same objection to the MSME JSI as they have to the others.

Conclusion on G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement

The deep divisions within the WTO membership are reflected as well among the G20 countries with China, India, South Africa and others having much different priorities that the historic leadership of the GATT/WTO including the U.S., EU, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and others. It is the lack of a common purpose and agreement on basic principles that has largely paralyzed the negotiating function at the WTO. The disappointing G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement reflects that same lack of common purpose and agreement on basic principles.

USTR Katherine Tai’s October 14, 2021 Prepared Remarks on the WTO

The U.S. Trade Representative traveled to Geneva after the G20 Trade and Investment Ministers meeting in Italy and spoke on the WTO at an event hosted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies’ Geneva Trade Platform on October 14. Ambassador Tai’s prepared statement is available on the USTR webpage and is reproduced below. See USTR,Ambassador Katherine Tai’s Remarks As Prepared for Delivery on the World Trade Organization, October 14, 2021, https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/speeches-and-remarks/2021/october/ambassador-katherine-tais-remarks-prepared-delivery-world-trade-organization.

” Good afternoon.  Thank you to Dmitry and Richard, the Geneva Trade Platform, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies for hosting me today and putting together this event.

“It is a pleasure to be back in Geneva.  I have looked forward to making this trip since becoming the United States Trade Representative in March, and I am grateful to be here with all of you today.  

“I spent a lot of time in this city earlier in my career representing the United States Government with pride before the World Trade Organization.  

“I appreciate the importance of the institution.  And I respect the dedicated professionals representing the 164 members, as well as the WTO’s institutional staff working on behalf of the membership.  I also want to thank Director-General Dr. Ngozi for leading this organization through a difficult and challenging year. 

“Let me begin by affirming the United States’ continued commitment to the WTO.  

“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade – and the WTO – can be a force for good that encourages a race to the top and addresses global challenges as they arise.  

“The Marrakesh Declaration and Agreement, on which the WTO is founded, begins with the recognition that trade should raise living standards, ensure full employment, pursue sustainable development, and protect and preserve the environment. 

“We believe that refocusing on these goals can help bring shared prosperity to all.

“For some time, there has been a growing sense that the conversations in places like Geneva are not grounded in the lived experiences of working people.  For years, we have seen protests outside WTO ministerial conferences about issues like workers’ rights, job loss, environmental degradation, and climate change as tensions around globalization have increased. 

“We all know that trade is essential to a functioning global economy.  But we must ask ourselves: how do we improve trade rules to protect our planet and address widening inequality and increasing economic insecurity?

“Today, I want to discuss the United States’ vision for how we can work together to make the WTO relevant to the needs of regular people.

“We have an opportunity at the upcoming 12th ministerial conference – or MC12 – to demonstrate exactly that.

“Throughout the pandemic, the WTO rules have kept global trade flowing and fostered transparency on measures taken by countries to respond to the crisis.  But many time-sensitive issues still require our attention.  We can use the upcoming ministerial to deliver results on achievable outcomes.

“The pandemic has placed tremendous strain on peoples’ health and livelihoods around the world.  The WTO can show that it is capable of effectively addressing a global challenge like COVID-19, and helping the world build back better. 
  
“There are several trade and health proposals that should be able to achieve consensus in the next month and a half.  

“I announced in May that the United States supports text-based discussions on a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.  The TRIPS Council discussions have not been easy, and Members are still divided on this issue.  The discussions make certain governments and stakeholders uncomfortable.  But we must confront our discomfort if we are going to prove that, during a pandemic, it is not business as usual in Geneva.  

“The United States is also working on a draft ministerial decision aimed at strengthening resiliency and preparedness through trade facilitation.  Our proposal would improve the sharing of information, experiences, and lessons learned from COVID-19 responses to help border agencies respond in future crises.  

“It is important that our work on trade and health does not end at MC12.  This pandemic will not be over in December, and it will not be the last public health crisis we encounter.  In the next six weeks, we also have an opportunity to conclude the two-decades-long fisheries subsidies negotiations and show that the WTO can promote sustainable development.  

“We want to continue working with Members to bridge existing gaps in the negotiations.  

“To this end, the United States is sharing options to respond to developing countries’ request for flexibilities.  We believe that any agreement must establish effective disciplines that promote sustainability.  

“It must also address the prevalence of forced labor on fishing vessels.  We call on all Members to support these goals.

“I recognize that discussing these complex issues during a pandemic is hard.  Despite this challenge, we can reach meaningful outcomes and set ourselves up for candid and productive long-term conversations on reforming the WTO.

“As I mentioned earlier, the reality of the institution today does not match the ambition of its goals.  Every trade minister I’ve heard from has expressed the view that the WTO needs reform.  

“The Organization has rightfully been accused of existing in a ‘bubble,’ insulated from reality and slow to recognize global developments.  That must change.

“We are used to talking to each other, a lot.  We need to start actually listening to each other.

“We also must include new voices, find new approaches to problems, and move past the old paradigms we have been using for the last 25 years.  

“We need to look beyond simple dichotomies like liberalization vs. protectionism or developed vs. developing.  Let’s create shared solutions that increase economic security.

“By working together and engaging differently, the WTO can be an organization that empowers workers, protects the environment, and promotes equitable development. 

“Our reform efforts can start with the monitoring function.  In committees, Members deliberate issues and monitor compliance with the agreements.  This important work is a unique and underappreciated asset of the WTO. 

“Increasingly, however, Members are not responding meaningfully to concerns with their trade measures.  The root of this problem is a lack of political will.  But committee procedures can be updated to improve monitoring work.  

“At MC12, Ministers can direct each committee to review and improve its rules. 

“It is also essential to bring vitality back to the WTO’s negotiating function.  We have not concluded a fully multilateral trade agreement since 2013.

“A key stumbling block is doubt that negotiations lead to rules that benefit or apply to everyone. But we know that negotiations only succeed when there is real give and take.

“We can successfully reform the negotiating pillar if we create a more flexible WTO, change the way we approach problems collectively, improve transparency and inclusiveness, and restore the deliberative function of the organization.

“Over the past quarter century, WTO members have discovered that they can get around the hard part of diplomacy and negotiation by securing new rules through litigation.    

“Dispute settlement was never intended to supplant negotiations.  The reform of these two core WTO functions is intimately linked.  

“The objective of the dispute settlement system is to facilitate mutually agreed solutions between Members.  Over time, ‘dispute settlement’ has become synonymous with litigation – litigation that is prolonged, expensive, and contentious.  

“Consider the history of this system.  

“It started as a quasi-diplomatic, quasi-legal proceeding for presenting arguments over differing interpretations of WTO rules.  A typical panel or Appellate Body report in the early days was 20 or 30 pages.  Twenty years later, reports for some of the largest cases have exceeded 1,000 pages.  They symbolize what the system has become: unwieldy and bureaucratic. 

“The United States is familiar with large and bitterly fought WTO cases.  Earlier this year, we negotiated frameworks with the European Union and the United Kingdom to settle the Large Civil Aircraft cases that started in 2004.  

“We invoked and exhausted every procedure available.  And along the way, we created strains and pressures that distorted the development of the dispute settlement system.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we can now ask: is a system that requires 16 years to find a solution ‘fully functioning?’

“This process is so complicated and expensive that it is out of reach for many – perhaps the majority – of Members. 

“Reforming dispute settlement is not about restoring the Appellate Body for its own sake, or going back to the way it used to be.  

“It is about revitalizing the agency of Members to secure acceptable resolutions.

“A functioning dispute settlement system, however structured, would provide confidence that the system is fair.  Members would be more motivated to negotiate new rules.

“Let’s not prejudge what a reformed system would look like. While we have already started working with some members, I want to hear from others about how we can move forward.

“Reforming the three pillars of the WTO requires a commitment to transparency.  Strengthening transparency will improve our ability to monitor compliance, to negotiate rules, and to resolve our disputes. 

“I began these remarks with an affirmation of commitment.  I’d like to conclude with an affirmation of optimism.

“I am optimistic that we can and will take advantage of this moment of reflection.

“In reading over the Marrakesh Agreement’s opening lines, I was struck by the founding Members’ resolve to develop ‘a more viable and durable multilateral trading system.’  

“These words are just as relevant today as they were then. We still need to work together to achieve a more viable and durable multilateral trading system.

“It is easy to get distracted by the areas where we may not see eye to eye.  But in conversations with my counterparts, I hear many more areas of agreement than disagreement.  

“We all recognize the importance of the WTO, and we all want it to succeed. 

“We understand the value of a forum where we can propose ideas to improve multilateral trade rules.  We should harness these efforts to promote a fairer, more inclusive global economy.  

“WTO Members are capable of forging consensus on difficult, complicated issues. It’s never been easy, but we’ve done it before.  And we can do it again.  

“Thank you.”

Comments on USTR Tai’s statement on the WTO

The Biden Administration has been supportive of multilateral institutions, and that support is relfected in Amb. Tai’s comments. At the same time, the U.S. has believed that a small package of deliverables is achievable for MC12 with hopefully a work program for the serious reform that is needed also being agreed to at MC12. Amb. Tai’s comments reflect both optimism and a limited set of deliverables being sought.

The Fisheries Subsidies negotiations has made limited progress on a range of important issues. The U.S. is attempting to find answers to problems raised by others while still achieving a meaningful outcome. With the limited time remaining, this suggests either a less robust agreement or movement by others to a higher level of ambition or to no agreement being finalized. Addressing forced labor in fishing and more broadly should be important to all WTO Members, was raised by the U.S. (and is important to Democratic leadership in the Congress) but is opposed by some, including China. If the U.S. continues to pursue the addition of this issue to the fisheries subsidies text,

On greater transparency, Members agreeing to have Committees review their procedures to improve the monitoring function are important steps that could be taken to improve Member confidence in actions of trading partners and affect negotiations and dispute settlement as well. Even such seemingly simple steps, however, may not move forward as at least one major country — China — has as one of its negotiating priorities not changing transparency obligations.

Revitalizing the negotiating function and restoring a dispute settlement system are longer term efforts, with the U.S. vision on dispute settlement (focus on what dispute settlement is doing vs. ensuring a two stage process) far apart from that of the EU and many other Members.

And, of course, the U.S. is supportive of some form of outcome on addressing the pandemic and trade and health moving forward. Whether there will be outcomes in this area are dependent more on flexibility by others as the U.S. has been looking for solutions that will meet the pandemic needs and prepare for the future.

Conclusion

With very limited time until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference begins at the end of November, it is hard to see an ambitious outcome emerging from the efforts of WTO Members. The G20 Trade and Investment Ministerial Statement from October 12 reflects the divisions amongst the major WTO Members. Amb. Tai’s statement yesterday in Geneva while positive on the WTO and its important role tees up a relatively limited outcome as likely for MC 12. Even Amb. Tai’s more realistic set of expectations are likely to be challenging to achieve.

The gap between WTO activity and the needs of businesses and workers for the international trading system

On October 7, the WTO General Council held the first of two days of its fall meeting at the WTO (combination in person/virtual) with a typical agenda including many elements of what has been under negotiation for possible outcomes at the 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva starting November 29. See WTO General Council 7-8 October 2021, Proposed Agenda (5 October 2021), WT/GC/W/828. The WTO press release from yesterday, is entitled “General Council chair briefs members on work towards MC12 outcome document”. https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/gc_07oct21_e.htm. Obviously further discussion of the agenda items before the General Council will occur today.

However, with the exception of progress on several Joint Statement Initiatives separately reported (e.g., MSMEs and Services Domestic Regulation), the WTO Members are struggling to find results in a host of areas, including concluding fisheries subsidy negotiations that have dragged on for 20 years, agriculture negotiations, response to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce, WTO reform and more. See, e.g., WTO News, Working group on small business finalises MC12 draft declaration, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/msmes_28sep21_e.htm; WTO News, Participants in domestic regulation talks conclude text negotiations, on track for MC12 deal, 27 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/serv_27sep21_e.htm; JOINT INITIATIVE ON SERVICES DOMESTIC REGULATION, REFERENCE PAPER ON SERVICES DOMESTIC REGULATION, NOTE BY THE CHAIRPERSON, 27 September 2021, INF/SDR/1; Financial Times, WTO clambers towards an unambitious summit,30 September 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/50109953-45e8-4e01-8d2a-d543aa821a6e; Bloomberg, Okonjo-Iweala Grows Frustrated With WTO Inertia, Floats Quitting, September 30, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-30/okonjo-iweala-grows-frustrated-with-wto-inertia-floats-quitting.

The October 7 WTO news on the General Council’s Chairman’s report doesn’t show significant progress on the few items addressed in the news release.

“The chair of the General Council, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, briefed WTO members on 7 October regarding his consultations on a possible outcome document for trade ministers to adopt at the WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12). He encouraged delegations to continue to work towards producing a draft document by the end of October.

“‘Work towards a possible MC12 outcome document is a member-led process,’ the chair declared. ‘As always, it is the members that decide what goes into any agreed outcome document.’

“Ambassador Castillo has been assisting WTO members in his capacity as General Council chair with work on the first part of the outcome document, which would cover: (i) the context in which MC12 takes place; (ii) broader political messages; and (iii) guidance from ministers on additional elements members may agree on.

“Work has taken place in a small group format broadly representative of the membership and comprising all group coordinators and several other delegations, he noted. Transparency is being ensured through group coordinators who keep their members up to date on the ongoing discussions and feed their views and suggestions back into the process, as well as through the chair’s regular reports at informal General Council meetings.

“The chair said that, based on the preliminary exchanges in the small group, members believe the first part of the outcome document should take into account both the external and internal environments in which MC12 is taking place, namely the pandemic, the changed trading landscape, and the systemic/internal challenges that the WTO is facing. 

“Members have also expressed views that ‘political messages’ should note the need for greater solidarity and collaboration amongst members, the role of international trade and the WTO in global economic recovery, a reaffirmation of the principles enshrined in the Marrakesh Agreement, and the needs and interests of developing country members, in particular the least developed members.

“The chair has followed members’ guidance in drafting possible language for an outcome document, focusing on the broader messages where possible convergence could be detected. The small group had a useful and constructive first exchange on the draft language earlier this week and work will continue in the coming days and weeks, he noted.

“* * *

“Ambassador Castillo also briefed on his consultations with members regarding the WTO’s Work Programme on Electronic Commerce as well as the possible continuation of the e-commerce moratorium. Since 1998, WTO members have periodically renewed the moratorium at each Ministerial Conference and have continued addressing e-commerce related issues in the Goods Council, the Services Council, the TRIPS Council and the Committee on Trade and Development as part of the e-commerce work programme.

“The chair said he highlighted in the consultations the need to intensify work towards a possible draft decision for the consideration of ministers at MC12. He noted that, despite the well-known differences in members’ positions, many continue to attach importance to e-commerce and that the pandemic had highlighted e-commerce opportunities as well as its challenges, both of which should continue to be discussed within the WTO.

“Delegations generally reiterated their views with respect to the moratorium and the Work Programme in the consultations, he said. On the moratorium, proponents considered its extension a priority for MC12 and reiterated its role in providing a stable and predictable trading environment. On the other hand, some delegations said that it would be difficult for them to agree to an extension of the moratorium without clarifying its scope and implications. 

“On the Work Programme, Ambassador Castillo said, no delegation opposed its continuation, although some indicated that they could not accept a decision to continue its work without at least an extension of the moratorium.

“Following the chair’s intervention, Ambassador David Walker of New Zealand provided his report on his consultations within the Facilitator-led Multilateral Process on the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Ambassador Walker said a large number of delegations in the consultations he undertook as facilitator attached high priority to a meaningful outcome at MC12 on the use of export restrictions and prohibitions in the context of the pandemic, with discussions underscoring the importance of keeping markets open.

“He also said many delegations believe an outcome on trade and health at MC12 should address both the WTO’s response to the current pandemic as well as future crises. To this end, a framework to guide the WTO’s work post-MC12 on how to make the multilateral trading system more resilient and better prepared for such crises was proposed. Such a framework could build on lessons learned from the current pandemic and set out guidelines and best practices for more coordinated responses in the future.

“Ambassador Walker said he will be continuing his consultations in the coming weeks and will continue to report on this process through open-ended and formal meetings as well as formally to the General Council.”

Separately Chairman Castillo’s report on Agenda Item 2 (implementation of the Bali, Nairobi and Buenos Aires Outcomes) was released and can be found at JOB/GC/272 (8 October 2021) but shows little progress on the items covered therein. The report of Amb. David Walker (summarized in the news release) was not released publicly although is identified in “recent documents” on the WTO webpage. See General Council – Agenda item 5.C : WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic – Report by the Facilitator, H.E. Dr. David Walker (New Zealand) – 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/273. The same is true of other reports from Chairman Castillo and the Director General. See General Council – Agenda item 5.A : Preparations for the Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference – MC12 outcome document – Report by the chair – Thursday, 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/274; General Council – Agenda item 5b : Work programme on electronic commerce – Report by the Chair – Thursday, 7 October 2021, JOB/GC/275; General Council – Agenda item 1 : Report by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee and report by the Director-General – Friday, 8 October 2021, JOB/GC/276.

The challenges at the WTO flow from some historical challenges (the preference of India to see no agreements imposing obligations on them, now supported by South Africa and others), from the growing divergence in views as to the purpose of the WTO, from the increased importance of non-market economies in the global trading system and the current failure of existing rules to address their distortions to global trade flows and competition, and the inability of a consensus system with 164 Members to move forward in a timely manner, if at all.

The challenges posed by India and South Africa can be seen in the fisheries subsidy negotiations where they are seeking a huge hole in the agreement’s obligations for developing countries with a duration of 25 years, by their opposition to Members moving forward within the WTO on a plurilateral basis (the Joint Statement Initiatives) where any agreements are open to others to join, from their pursuit of an overly broad waiver request from TRIPs obligations for some undetermined period to address the pandemic, and their recent request for the WTO to examine vaccine passports required by countries to permit the resumption of travel. See, e.g., Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online, India, others propose new exceptions in fisheries talks, September 24, 2021, https://insidetrade.com/daily-news/india-others-propose-new-exceptions-fisheries-talks; THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND
THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES (submission of India, Namibia and South Africa), 30 April 2021, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1; WAIVER FROM CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR THE PREVENTION, CONTAINMENT AND TREATMENT OF COVID-19, 25 May 2021, IP/C/W/669/Rev.1; The Economic Times, Covid passport, vaccine discrimination new trade barriers: India to WTO, October 7, 2021, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/covid-passport-vaccine-discrimination-new-trade-barriers-india-to-wto/articleshow/86849838.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.; Financial Times, WTO clambers towards an unambitious summit, 30 September 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/50109953-45e8-4e01-8d2a-d543aa821a6e (“Okonjo-Iweala convened an ad hoc virtual ministerial in July to try for progress on fisheries subsidies, a move she herself admitted was unusual. It was a gamble that did not really come off. India (often with South Africa in a supporting role) has now established a role in the WTO objecting to more or less everything. In the fisheries subsidy talks it has demanded massive loopholes that are politically a total non-starter. There’s talk around the WTO of Okonjo-Iweala going to India to make a direct appeal to Narendra Modi. But the Indian prime minister has resisted all entreaties and openings to do serious trade liberalisation so far, including passing up the chance to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Asian mega-deal.”).

WTO reform, which is recognized as important to achieve by most Members, is not an agreed set of measures with the U.S., EU, Japan and others seeking reforms to industrial subsidies and to state-owned and state-invested enterprises to address problems faced from China and others. China to date does not agree. Many countries also seek greater transparency and completeness in notifications, particularly on subsidies. There has been only limited progress to date, and those not providing complete notifications presumably oppose the proposal (e.g., China). The U.S., EU and others also want to make objective criteria determinative of which Members are entitled to special and differential treatment, something opposed by some “developing countries” who have self-selected the designation. Many countries want a return of a two-tier dispute settlement system, something that won’t happen against U.S. opposition absent serious reform and restrictions on the second tier, as such restrictions which currently exist in the Dispute Settlement Understanding have been ignored by the Appellate Body and not addressed by Members.

Thus, the WTO is struggling to demonstrate continued relevance. The WTO rules that exist were negotiated during 1986-1993 with limited updates despite the extraordinary changes to trade, technology and make-up of important trading nations.

How far away the WTO Members are from embracing an agenda that meets the needs of business, labor and civil society can be seen from the views put forward by the business community and reviewed at the recent public forum. The International Chamber of Commerce and B20 Italy presented views on what the business community needs from the WTO moving forward. See WTO News, Business groups highlight need for WTO reform, MC12 outcomes, 29 September 2021, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/bus_30sep21_e.htm; ICC, Global Business Priorities for the WTO, September 2021, https://iccwbo.org/content/uploads/sites/3/2021/09/icc-document-wto-policy-paper.pdf. While the paper on the Global Business Priorities doesn’t reflect priorities of labor or civil society, it is an interesting list in terms of what is needed at least by much of the business community for the WTO to reclaim relevancy and address needs of 21st century business. The 27 specific recommendations are listed below grouped under the broad topics shown:

“WTO Reform

“1. Agree on a coherent holistic vision for WTO reform

“2. Put market access back on the agenda

“3. Agree on a path forward to improving the negotiation function

“4. Adopt a new evidence-based approach to Special and Differential Treatment

“5. Agree on a path forward for reforming the dispute settlement system

“6. Promote full compliance with and improvements to the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and
Countervailing Measures (SCM)

“7. Improve the Secretariat’s capacity to monitor trade policy developments

“8. Create a crisis management protocol for future crises

“9. Create a business advisory council and a civil society council

“Trade and Health

“10. Ensure trade policies facilitate vaccine manufacturing and distribution

“11. Creation of a Health Market Information System

“12. Adopt cooperative ways to speed up vaccine production

“13. Adopt and go beyond the Trade and Health Initiative

“Trade and environmental sustainability

“14. Finalise the fisheries subsidies negotiations

“15. Agree to a formal roadmap to address specific issues on trade and environmental
sustainability

“16. Develop a package of recommendations on trade and the circular economy

“17. Deal with carbon leakage in a multilateral way

“Trade and the digital economy

“18. Accelerate the e-commerce negotiations

“19. Develop market access provisions for the digital economy

“20. Make permanent the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions

“21. Create an enabling legal environment for paperless trade

“22. Finalise negotiations for the JSI on Services Domestic Regulation

“Trade and inclusivity

“23. Identify new areas for rulemaking based on best practice from bilateral and regional trade
agreements

“24. Adopt the full package of recommendations of the MSME group

“25. Commit not to impose export restrictions on humanitarian aid

“26. Adopt a declaration with concrete and measurable proposals to advance trade and
women’s economic empowerment

“27. Launch discussions on the negative impact of illicit trade.”

Many of the recommendations made by the ICC and B20 Italy have been identified by one or more Members in the past, many are the subject of proposals, and a few are the subject of active negotiations. Some recommendations may be inconsistent with objectives of civil society (e.g., addressing vaccine equity through waving TRIPs obligations), and few deal with concerns of labor. Some are actively opposed by particular Members. However, the priorities reflect the hope and needs of the business community that Member governments find a path back for the WTO to regain relevancy and permit a more flexible structure to address changing needs on a more timely basis.

The next two months will reveal whether WTO Members can start the process of forward movement and improved relevancy. It seems unlikely that meaningful progress will be made on many fronts, but there is still time if there is a collective will.

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).

229

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.