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12th WTO Ministerial Conference

12th WTO Ministerial Conference:

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded.

  • The key areas of discussions were WTO’s response to the pandemic, Fisheries subsidies negotiations, Agriculture issues including Public Stockholding for Food security, WTO Reforms and Moratorium on Custom Duties on Electronic Transmission.
  • The 164-member World Trade Organization held its first ministerial conference in nearly five years, following Covid-19 postponements.

12th Ministerial Conference:

  • Members reaffirmed the foundational principles of the WTO and committed to an open and inclusive process to reform all its functions, from deliberation to negotiation to monitoring.
  • Notably, they committed to work towards having a well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024.
  • It would curb ‘harmful’ subsidies on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the next four years, to better protect global fish stocks.
  • Since 2001, member states have been negotiating the banning of subsidies that promote overfishing.
  • India and other developing countries were able to win some concessions in this agreement.
  • They successfully lobbied to remove a section of the proposal that would threaten some subsidies which would assist small-scale artisanal fishing Artisanal and traditional farmers would not face any restrictions under this agreement.
  • Members agreed to a binding decision to exempt food purchased by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian purposes, from any export restrictions.
  • In light of the global food shortages and rising prices caused by the war between Ukraine and Russia, the group’s members issued a declaration on the importance of trade in global food security and that they would avoid bans on food exports.
  • However, countries would be allowed to restrict food supplies to ensure domestic food security needs.
  • From 2017-2020, developing countries lost a potential tariff revenue of around USD 50 billion on imports from only 49 digital products.
  • WTO members had first agreed to not impose custom duties on electronic transmissions in 1998, when the internet was still relatively new. The moratorium has been periodically extended since then.
  • However, all members agreed to continue the long standing moratorium on custom duties on e-commerce transmissions until the subsequent Ministerial Conference or until 31st March 2024, depending on whichever comes first.
  • WTO members agreed to temporarily waive intellectual property patents on Covid-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent holder for 5 years, so that they can more easily manufacture them domestically.
  • This “will contribute to ongoing efforts to concentrate and diversify vaccine manufacturing capacity so that a crisis in one region does not leave others cut off.”
  • The current agreement is a watered down version of the original proposal made by India and South Africa in 2020.
  • They had wanted broader intellectual property waivers on vaccines, treatments and tests.
  • Rich pharmaceutical companies had strongly opposed this, arguing that IP’s do not restrict access to Covid vaccines and that the removal of patent protections gives researchers that quickly produced life saving vaccines, a negative message.
  • The waiver agreed by the WTO was criticized by advocacy groups for being narrow in scope, as it did not cover all medical tools like diagnostics and treatments.
  • “This agreement fails overall to offer an effective and meaningful solution to help increase people’s access to needed medical tools during the pandemic as it does not adequately waive IP on all essential Covid-19 medical tools and it does not apply to all countries.

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