See also:   Media release   Arabic translation

Open letter to WTO Director-General and all WTO Members

19 November 2021

Dear Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and all WTO Members,

We are writing with great urgency regarding the abrogation of process leading up to the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO (MC12), and to reinforce that the absence of a meaningful outcome on TRIPS Waiver means that the WTO has failed to mount the required response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to devastate countries socially and economically.

Intellectual property rules - enforced by the WTO’s Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement - are key barriers to containing the COVID-19 pandemic. They confer monopolies, hinder the freedom to operate, and the scaling up of production, directly contributing to inequitable access around the world but especially in developing and least developed countries.

The TRIPS Waiver proposal (IP/C/W/669/Rev.1) was submitted in October 2020 and since has been supported by the majority of WTO Members, international organizations (e.g. the WHO, UNAIDS, UNITAID, UNCTAD), world leaders, faith leaders, civil society, parliamentarians and trade unions. This proposal which calls for a waiver from certain provisions of the WTO-TRIPS Agreement (with respect to patents, protection of undisclosed information, copyright and industrial designs) is globally viewed as being central to any effective WTO response to COVID-19 and to achieving equitable access.

Despite the significance of the TRIPS Waiver proposal, and after more than one year of intense discussion there does not seem to be much progress towards a meaningful outcome. Instead, scandalously the General Council Chair Dacio Castillo unilaterally selected Ambassador Walker of New Zealand to chair discussions on a declaration titled “WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic”. Ambassador Walker also unilaterally tabled a proposed text which is clearly not designed to resolve the pandemic. Rather, the draft text

promotes the same liberalization demands made by developed countries in various fora and interventions that will further constrain regulatory space and policy tools available to WTO Members, while further entrenching corporate influence in the institution, drastically undermining the Member-driven character of WTO as mandated in the Marrakesh Agreement.

Walker’s text also calls on WTO Members to establish a “Work Plan on Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience” that will carry the work post MC12 on the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially other future crises. However, the main intent of this work-plan appears to be to push the liberalization and deregulatory interests of developed countries and undermine existing mandates including the Doha mandate of 2001, which has multiple issues of interest to developing countries that were never delivered. Notably, the Walker process specifically excludes discussion on the most important topic: the TRIPS waiver.

The reality is that the Walker process is a deplorable attempt by the WTO to cover up what should be a grave humiliation: its inability to agree to remove key obstacles to resolving the COVID-19 pandemic by waiving intellectual property barriers as per the TRIPS waiver proposal. Millions of people have died because of the WTO’s vaccine apartheid and inequitable access.

The WTO’s response to the pandemic, thus, must be understood as attempting to ensure that the global pandemic not interfere with corporate desires to maintain profits even at the expense of lives and livelihoods globally. Instead, we call on governments and the WTO to ensure that trade rules do not hinder the global effort to end the pandemic and achieve global public health.

Another process we are concerned about is the push for establishing a new working group on WTO reform. Developing countries and many civil society campaigns have long called for reform of the multilateral trading system in favor of developing countries and large vulnerable constituencies such as small farmers, producers, workers, patient groups and indigenous peoples. However, it is clear from their propositions that developed countries are attempting to undermine the core fundamentals of the WTO's mandate as a multilateral institution and alter decision-making procedures. Instead, they wish to normalize the “Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs)” launched at the Buenos Aires Ministerial and henceforward, which will undermine the multilateral nature of the organization and its ability to deliver anything useful for developing countries and LDCs. They also attack developing country self-designation, a key legal principle of the WTO, thus eventually limiting the availability of special and differential treatment to many developing countries and LDCs. The reform narrative is also being utilized by some developed countries to inject into the WTO agenda issues that will further constrain the policy tools available to developing countries and open up more space for big business to influence the WTO agenda.

We are gravely concerned with the further marginalization of existing multilateral mandates for negotiations, such as the overdue Doha Development mandate, in particular to strengthen special and differential treatment flexibilities and make them more precise, effective and operational; deliver an expedited solution on cotton; and public stockholding for food security purposes, amongst other mandated issues. These attempts seem to seek to further entrench the WTO as a power-based rather than rules-based organization.

Different preparatory processes towards MC12 are being convened in a way that excludes the vast majority of WTO Members, while over-privileging the participation of developed country members. Exclusionary “Green Room” processes should be anathema to WTO Members and must be eliminated.

In addition, for the first time at a Ministerial Conference, the WTO Secretariat is drastically restricting the very minimal access that is allowed to civil society organizations (CSOs) and has even gone so far as to abolish the very tiny provision of facilities at the NGO center.

We urgently call on WTO Members to engage in a course correction: to agree immediately to the TRIPS waiver as proposed; to halt the sham Walker process’ on further liberalization and imposition of regulatory constraints and instead focus on real solutions; to focus WTO reform efforts on removing barriers to development; to halt all “Green Room” processes; to ensure full access to participation by all WTO Members to all negotiations; and to restore at least the very minimum levels of participation of civil society to the Ministerial Conference.

Endorses as of November 19, 2021:

International and regional networks:

1 Africa Development Interchange Network (ADIN) ADIN is a non-profit NGO that specializes in development, poverty alleviation and people's rights in a safe environment. Accredited by the UN in the Financing for Development process (FfD), ADIN works in close collaboration with UNDP and the Commonwealth Foundation on Trade, FfD and the evaluation of SDGs progress in Africa. It also works toward enhancing the participation of people of the grassroots in democracy and governance processes as well as carrying their voice in global events.
2 Amnesty International Amnesty International is a movement of over 10 million people which mobilizes the humanity in everyone and campaigns for change so we can all enjoy our human rights. Amnesty International's vision is of a world where those in power keep their promises, respect international law and are held to account.
3 Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) ANND is a regional network consisting of 9 national networks and 23 NGOs operating in 12 Arab countries focusing on economic and social policy making and rights in the Arab region.
4 Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development APWLD is the leading network of feminist organizations and individual activists in Asia Pacific. APWLD’s 252 members represent groups of diverse women from 27 countries in Asia Pacific. Over the past 34 years, APWLD has actively worked towards advancing women’s human rights and Development Justice.
5 Candid Concepts Development Candid Concepts Development is a civil society organization focused on social capital and human development.
6 DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) DAWN is a feminist network based in the Global South working to promote gender equality and women's human rights within a just and sustainable economic, political, ecological and social system.
7 European Attac Network ATTAC is an international organization involved in the alter-globalization movement. ATTAC opposes neo-liberal globalization and works to develop social, ecological, and democratic alternatives so as to guarantee fundamental rights for all.
8 Focus on the Global South Focus on the Global South (Focus) is a non-governmental organisation with twenty staff working in Thailand, the Philippines and India. Focus combines policy research, advocacy, activism and grassroots capacity building in order to generate critical analysis and encourage debates on national and international policies related to corporate-led globalisation, neo-liberalism and militarisation.
9 Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research FIAR works on projects with a mission to develop an evidence-based approach to management of HIV, hepatitis C with a particular focus on under-studied interventions including micronutrients and botanical medicines. FIAR works on prevention issues and has been deeply involved in analyzing interventions for the management of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
10 Global Health Advocates An NGO advocating for health for all at the EU level and in France and fighting against health inequalities.
11 Health Action International-Asia Pacific (HAIAP) HAIAP is an informal network of non-governmental organisations and individuals in the Asia Pacific Region committed to resistance and persistence against all odds, striving for Health For All Now.
12 Health Poverty Action (HPA) HPA acts in solidarity with health workers, activists and communities worldwide to improve health and challenge the causes of poverty. HPA is based in London, United Kingdom, and has staff working across the word, including in Guatemala, Myanmar, and Ethiopia.
13 HIV Legal Network The HIV Legal Network, formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, promotes the human rights of people living with, at risk of or affected by HIV or AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education and community mobilization.
14 Latin American Network for Access to Medicine (RedLAM) RedLAM directs its objectives, strategies and actions to working towards eliminating the barriers to access to HIV medications caused by intellectual property rights and other exclusive rights.
15 Othernews Othernews is an international association that disseminates news and analysis on global issues little discussed in the mainstream to help build awareness and civic consciousness. We protect democracy by sharing correct and verified information.
16 Oxfam International Oxfam International has 21 member organisations and works in 90 countries fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice
17 Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) PANG is a regional network based out of Suva, Fiji whose aim is to support the rights of Pacific peoples to be self-determining - politically, economically and socially. PANG is a research institution that seeks to build the capacity of constituencies at the grassroots, national and regional level to understand how trade agreements implicate indigenous peoples rights to be self determining.
18 People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) PVA is a coalition of organisations including UNAIDS, health NGOs and global union federations such as International Trade Union Confederation, International Transport Workers’ Federation, Public Services International, UNI Global Union which represent more than 200 million workers in more than 163 countries.
19 Peoples Health Movement (PHM) PHM is a global network bringing together grassroots health activists, civil society organizations and academic institutions from around the world, particularly from low and middle income countries (L&MIC). PHM currently has a presence in around 70 countries.
20 Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) S2B is a European Network of civil society and social movement organisations working on trade and investment policies.
21 Society for International Development (SID) SID is an international network of individuals and organisations concerned with development that is participative, pluralistic and sustainable.
22 Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI)-Uganda SEATINI-Uganda is a Pan African Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) working on trade, fiscal and development related issues for the realisation of sustainable development and improved livelihoods in Uganda, East Africa and the African Region.
23 Third World Network (TWN) TWN is an independent non-profit international research and advocacy organisation involved in issues relating to development, developing countries and North-South affairs.
24 Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa) TWN-Africa works on issues of global economic order and how that affects Africa's economic transformation
25 Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights Urgent Action Fund partners with women’s movements worldwide to support women’s human rights defenders striving to create cultures of justice, equality and peace.

National organizations:

26 Positive Group Effect Foundation (FGEP) Argentina
27 Free Path Foundation Argentina
28 World of Work Institute (IMT-UNTREF) Argentina
29 Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network Australia
30 Attac Austria Austria
31 KOTHOWAIN (Vulnerable Peoples Development Organization) Bangladesh
32 11.11.11 Belgium
33 Brazilian Interdisciplinary Aids Association (ABIA) Brazil
34 Gestures - Seropositivity, Communication and Gender Brazil
35 Brazilian Interdisciplinary Aids Association (ABIA) Brazil
36 Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Canada
37 IFARMA Foundation Colombia
38 UDAPT (Union of the Affected by Texaco) Ecuador
39 Friends of the Earth-France France
40 PowerShift e.V. Germany
41 Naturefriends Greece Greece
42 Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences India
43 Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Development India
44 Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) India
45 Madhyam India
46 IT For Change India
47 Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ) Indonesia
48 Women's Solidarity for Human Rights Indonesia
49 Attac-Ireland Ireland
50 Fairwatch Italy
51 Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC) Japan
52 Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) Malaysia
53 Consumers' Association of Penang Malaysia
54 PeSAWAH Malaysia
55 Gender Equality: Citizenship, Work, and Family Mexico
56 National Campaign for Sustainable Development Nepal
57 Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) Netherlands
58 Both ENDS Netherlands
59 Handel Anders! Netherlands
60 New Zealand Council of Trade Unions New Zealand
61 New Zealand Alternative New Zealand
62 FIRST Union New Zealand
63 It's Our Future New Zealand
64 New Zealand Council of Trade Unions New Zealand
65 The Karibu Foundation Norway
66 Handelskampanjen (The Trade Campaign) Norway
67 Attac Norway Norway
68 Noor Pakistan Pakistan
69 International Health Action-Peru (AIS-Peru) Peru
70 Trade Justice Pilipinas Philippines
71 Center for United and Progressive Workers (SENTRO) Philippines
72 WomanHealth Philippines Philippines
73 Health Justice Initiative (HJI) South Africa
74 People's Health Movement-South Africa South Africa
75 SECTION27 South Africa
76 People's Health Movement-Korea South Korea
77 People's Health Institute South Korea
78 Korean Pharmacists for Democratic Society South Korea
79 Center for Health and Social Change South Korea
80 Ecologists in Action Spain
81 Alliance Sud Switzerland
82 Public Eye Switzerland
83 Association for Proper Internet Governance Switzerland
84 Child Way Uganda Uganda
85 Global Justice Now United Kingdom
86 War on Want United Kingdom