health, MC12

‘Trade and health’ work resumes at WTO as new MC12 date remains elusive

World Trade Organization delegations have decided that it is “premature” at present to set a revised date for the institution’s 12th ministerial conference, which had been due to take place towards the end of last year.

At a meeting of the WTO’s ruling General Council in Geneva on Tuesday (25 January), there was consensus on one matter: that more clarity was needed on the evolution of the global COVID-19 situation before a decision could be taken on the rescheduling of MC12, a Geneva trade official said.

While a number of delegations reportedly suggested that targeting a ‘window’ of June or July 2022 to hold MC12 would be helpful, this approach was not formally endorsed by the Council.

Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, who chairs the General Council, said the need to further postpone MC12 had become clear following consultations with delegations over the past week.

Work on draft declarations to continue

Some delegations had suggested holding a ‘slimmed-down’ ministerial meeting in Geneva with restricted delegation sizes in response to the pandemic, while others had suggested holding a virtual ministerial, Castillo said. But there was no consensus on these or any other proposed courses of action.

Delegations have at least agreed that the various proposals and draft declarations which were tabled in the run-up to the aborted late-November meeting will remain on the table for ongoing discussion.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala reportedly told the Council that there was “no need to wait for the ministerial conference”, and that delegations in Geneva should continue to engage on the key dossiers on trade and health, fisheries, agriculture and e-commerce.

‘Dedicated, open-ended’ meeting on trade and health on Thursday

With that objective in mind, a ‘dedicated, open-ended’ meeting has been convened for this Thursday (27 January)  for WTO members to continue discussions on a response to the pandemic.

This is a topic on which members remain divided between those backing a waiver of TRIPS intellectual property rules as regards COVID vaccines, and those supporting alternative actions for speeding up the distribution of vaccines in the developing world.

MC12 had been scheduled to take place in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December last year, but the onset of the Omicron COVID variant, and the resulting introduction of travel restrictions by the Swiss authorities, had caused the meeting to be postponed just days before its planned start date.

It has however been confirmed that MC12, when it does happen, will indeed take place in Geneva – rather than in Kazakhstan, which had originally been due to host the event back in the summer of 2020.

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