WTO Members discuss way forward in dedicated meeting on WTO pandemic response

WTO Members discuss way forward in dedicated meeting on WTO pandemic response
27 January 2022
WTO members met on 27 January to discuss the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The informal meeting convened by the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, looked at issues related to cross-border trade flows and the proposal to waive certain intellectual property protections related to COVID-19 countermeasures. Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on members to move swiftly to try and reach a comprehensive outcome by the end of February.
The General Council Chair called the meeting following weeks of consultations with delegations on the way forward. In those conversations, members were of the view that only a holistic, comprehensive and balanced outcome on the WTO pandemic response would be credible. Delegations expressed willingness and eagerness to continue working on this crucial topic, with the objective of achieving results, and to do so without delay, he said…
The General Council Chair acknowledged the differences between WTO members not only on substance but also on how to carry the discussions forward. Several delegations expressed interest in squaring the circle urgently, while others were more cautious and hesitant to immediately re-engage at this point in time. “But I believe that a path forward can still be found and that these divergences should not stop us from progressing,” he said…
DG Okonjo-Iweala thanked members for a “very constructive” discussion in which all delegations recognized the importance, for the credibility of the WTO, of agreeing on a meaningful pandemic response. She also noted “the acknowledgement that this demands a holistic approach, both on the side of intellectual property but also on the side of the other trade-related aspects for very sensible reasons, and this is that one cannot move without the other.”…
Regarding the small-group discussions on the IP-related aspects of the pandemic response, she asked for members’ patience. “This is a very difficult issue. If it were easy, it would have been resolved in the almost two years that this discussion has been going on (in the TRIPS Council). This small group process … is going on but it is very tough. I have to say there is no easy road.”
In conclusion, DG Okonjo-Iweala said: “We should strive to get this result out by the end of February. It will be really sad if this organization keeps talking and debating on this pandemic, and that by the time we come up with a response people will not think it relevant…”