Upcoming WTO Ministerial: A Failure for the World in the Making

November 24, 2021

Telephone Press Conference with International Trade Experts on Next Steps and the Need for a New Agenda

Most reports on the upcoming 12th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC12) focus on the WTO’s efforts to save its legitimacy amidst its self-imposed crisis of increased irrelevance. WTO proponents are attempting to achieve this mirage by ramming through - under conditions of vaccine apartheid which the institution’s rules enforce - a three-pronged strategy:

  • the sham so-called “Walker process” as the WTO’s response to COVID-19, which will NOT end the pandemic but is just more business-as-usual trade liberalization and represents an attempt to cover up the WTO’s failure to agree to a TRIPS waiver which would allow countries to end the pandemic;
  • new Fisheries Subsidies disciplines that contradict the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to include special and differential treatment (SDT) at the core of the new disciplines;
  • and by abrogating the WTO’s fundamental mandate, which is of a multilateral organization, by paving the way for the legitimization of WTO-illegal “Joint Statement Initiative” plurilaterals, and by imposing a new process of WTO “reform” which would open the path for to abolish development flexibilities in the WTO, without which developing countries never would have agreed to the WTO’s founding in the first place.

Instead, the world needs the WTO to turn around its agenda, and to focus instead on:

  • removing WTO barriers to ending the pandemic, by agreeing to the waiver on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) on COVID-19 related treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines;
  • preserving and expanding SDT in the Fisheries Subsidies negotiations, as well as throughout the WTO, as mandated by the 2001 mandate;
  • removing WTO barriers to food security by finding a permanent solution to public stockholding, as agreed in the mandate from 2013;
  • and many other changes to existing WTO rules.

WHAT: Zoom press conference with trade experts from New Zealand, India, Fiji, Lebanon, and the UK, on the issues in the WTO’s upcoming MC12 that have not been widely covered in the media

WHEN: 9:30am EST (Washington DC) / 3:30pm CET (Geneva), Wednesday November 24, 2021

WHO: Jane Kelsey, Professor of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand (see Why the Joint Statement Initiatives Lack Legal Legitimacy in the WTO) (22 June 2021) and (Investment Facilitation Joint Statement Initiative: No home in the WTO) (September 2021)

Kinda Mohamadieh, Senior Researcher, Third World Network, Lebanon (see WHAT’S COOKING FOR MC12? Two processes that could reshape the WTO in the interest of the most powerful) (14 November 2021)

Adam Wolfenden, Pacific Network on Globalization, Fiji (see PANG assessment of November Fisheries Chairs Text (276/Rev2). (18 November 2021)

Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network, India (see Agricultural negotiations for MC12: A factsheet for developing countries) (13 November 2021)

Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network, UK (see Open letter to WTO Director General and all WTO Members Against the Sham "Walker Process" and in Favor of the TRIPS Waiver) (19 November 2021)


Professor Jane Kelsey, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand:
“In summary on the three main purilateral “Joint Statement Initiatives”, even champions of “Investment Facilitation” admit there’s no way to get an agreed text into WTO. There are major disagreements on e-commerce, where they can only harvest the low hanging fruit. Services domestic regulation is the stalking horse being used to get JSIs on the agenda and create some chimera of legitimacy. In the process, these “rules-driven” Members are abandoning the WTO’s own fundamentals of multilateralism, consensus-decision making, and special and differential treatment. All this exposes the power politics of WTO as morally, ethically, ideologically bankrupt.

“The plurilateral “Joint Statement Initiatives” are a political strategy by the old rule-makers to remake WTO to restore their control. The decision of self-appointed subgroups of WTO Members to launchplurilateral negotiations on their favoured new issues, while sabotaging the Doha round, and adopt new rules through schedules that bypass requirements to amend WTO agreements by consensus, lack any legal legitimacy. The determination to ignore these illegalities is ironic coming from champions of the  “global rules-based system”. If this strategy is allowed to succeed, the WTO will become even more  of a haven for rich and powerful countries to make rules on behalf of their transnational corporations andexclude the priorities and voices of less powerful countries and peoples from its agenda.”

Adam Wolfenden, Pacific Network on Globalization, Fiji:

“The fisheries subsidies text is a win for those who have already used their advantage to build their fleets, develop the capacity to meet the WTO's notifications requirements, and have historically overfished all around the globe. This fails the SDG mandate, sustainability and development."

“The imbalance in the latest text can be seen between the disproportionate burdens falling on developing countries and those with aspirations for domestic fishing fleets. This is evident through the lack of common-but-differentiated responsibility in the text as there is no acknowledgement of those with the historical responsibility for the state of global fish stocks and subsequent need for them to undertake the greatest burden of commitments.”

Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network, India:

“The agriculture Chair’s text has elbowed out all mandated and critical issues of interest to developing countries at MC12, but is pushing for additional obligations on market access and export restrictions, limiting developing countries’ policy space to ensure food security and rural livelihoods, even during such a critical time as this.”

Deborah James, facilitator of Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network:

“The contours of the battle are clear. The best outcome for humanity would be: a full TRIPS waiver, an expansion of development flexibilities, including in fisheries subsidies, and a pro-food security outcome in agriculture.

“But this outcome is not favored by pro-corporate governments. A more likely scenario could be that rich governments offer a partial waiver that is too complicated to use, in exchange for steep, binding and permanent concessions on so-called WTO reform, the legitimization of plurilaterals, fisheries subsidies that harm artisanal fisherfolk, and nothing on food security. But India, South Africa and other countries have been clear: they want a strong waiver to save lives, not a weak waiver to “save” the WTO.

“In this scenario, the EU, U.S. and other countries will rev up the Blame Game, trying to ensuring that media portray India and South Africa as “blocking progress” towards consensus and that it is the EU that is trying to save lives and the WTO (through the “Walker process” and other such fig leaves.)

“Then, it will be up to civil society to ensure that the world knows the truth, and to live to fight for the waiver - a strong waiver that will help end the pandemic - and the transformation of our global trade system - another day.”

Kinda Mohamadieh, Senior Researcher, Third World Network, Lebanon:

“Developing countries have long called for reforming the multilateral trading system in favour of large vulnerable constituencies such as small farmers and producers and workers, they have called to review and rebalance existing WTO rules in order to address implementation challenges that they have been facing and to strengthen and operationalise special and differential treatment. In contrast what developed countries, like the EU and US have been pushing for is advocating to undermine special and differential treatment, they have been advocating to inject into the WTO agenda issues which would constrain policy tools available and undermine inclusivity in the negotiations process. So basically altering the decision making procedures, pushing for normalising plurilateral approaches and basically undermining the multilateral nature of the organisation, and pushing for opening more space for big business under the notion of stakeholderism, big business influence on both the agenda setting and the overall processes of the WTO.

“If MC12 continues like this, it will be the door to reinventing the WTO as a power based rather than a rules based organisation. WE will see more grabbing of space in this organisation, away from developing countries and their development issues to corporations, for more corporate power grab basically of the WTO. This will significantly undermine any possibility of correcting the trade rules and will undermine any possibility that this organisation will deliver for its smaller members, developing countries and LDCs.”

Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network Malaysia:

“Every day there is a delay of access to vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, more people are dying and developing countries and LDCs are disproportionately impacted by this inequitable access. It is also estimated that unless we do something very urgent and concrete more than 200 million additional cases are expected until Dec 2022 and many many millions more are hospitalized and continue to die every day. What we need is urgent action to address supply constraints and equitable access – timely availability and affordability of vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and other COVID 19 products. We need to scale up and diversify production. We need to leverage global production capacity.

“Instead what has happened in the WTO in the last few months, Ambassador Walker from New Zealand was asked to facilitate a process on WTO’s response to COVID 19. He came up with a text. The text made no mention of TRIPS waiver proposal that is actually being discussed as they said that this is being discussed in another council of the WTO. How can WTO’s response be credible in the absence of TRIPS waiver proposal?”