The world’s top trade ministers honed in on a package of accords including the reduction of fishery subsidies and a loosening of vaccine-production limits after marathon talks in Geneva that a day ago looked for many delegates to be destined for failure.
If finalized, the package would break the World Trade Organization’s seven-year negotiating drought and avert a damaging impasse for an organization that’s struggled to gain its footing after four years of attacks under former President Donald Trump, a pandemic, strained supply chains and Russia’s war with Ukraine.
The possible outcome, described by an official involved in the latest talks, emerged after an all-night negotiating session at the WTO’s headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva and may provide a sufficient basis for the WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to claim negotiating success after just over a year on the job.
If approved by consensus before the closing ceremonies later Thursday, the pacts could put new momentum behind the WTO and its ability to govern the $28 trillion global trading system.
“On the march at the WTO for that final agreement at MC12… getting closer,” European Union Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis tweeted, referring to the WTO’s 12th ministerial meeting, which started Sunday and was extended a day to avoid an impasse.
Among the surprising turnarounds was India’s embrace of a unified approach, after several days of threatening to hold a hard line even if it meant the talks collapsed.
“There was a lot of understanding amongst each other. There was a lot of sensitivity to each other’s concerns and needs,” Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal told reporters Thursday. “In the true spirit that embodies world trade—in that spirit that the outcomes of the MC12 are being watched by the world as a signal that the multilateral order is not broken.”
Trade ministers will give their final consideration to a deal to water down the WTO’s intellectual-property protections for Covid-19 vaccines—a key agreement that Okonjo-Iweala said was necessary to end the “morally unacceptable” inequity of vaccine access in poorer nations. The WTO’s trade and health package also includes commitments to help ease the transportation and distribution of vaccines across borders.
WTO members are also poised to agree to a scaled-down agreement to curb harmful government fishing subsidies, fulfilling a key 2015 United Nations sustainability target aimed at slowing the rapid depletion of global fish stocks.
The package would also temporarily extend the WTO’s 24-year-old moratorium on e-commerce tariffs until March 31, 2023. There were fears that if the 1998 accord lapsed this week, it could it could open a new regulatory can of worms that could result in cross-border tariffs on Amazon.com purchases, Netflix movies, Apple music, and Sony PlayStation games.
Ministers are expected to give their final assessments of the package at a WTO heads of delegation meeting this evening. The package is not guaranteed and there may be further changes because the WTO’s consensus principle permits any member to reject any agreement for any reason.