See also:   PDF of the letter in English / Arabic translation

Release: November 19, 2021
Contact: Deborah James,
Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) network

Civil Society Groups Expose Fake “Walker Process” on “Trade in Health” as Fig Leaf that Cannot Cover Up WTO’s Failure to Remove Barriers to Resolving the COVID Pandemic

The Walker process is designed to save the WTO’s tattered reputation; the TRIPS waiver is designed to save lives and end the COVID pandemic.

Major international civil society organisations exposed the sham of the so-called “Walker process” as a cynical scheme to distract from the failure of the WTO to resolve the COVID pandemic by agreeing to waive intellectual property (IP) barriers to Covid treatments, tests, and vaccines, through a letter sent today to Members of the WTO.

Having refused for over a year to take the steps identified by the global health community and supported by over 100 WTO members to resolve the pandemic, trade negotiators from the EU, Switzerland, Canada, the UK, and a few other countries - representing the interests of Big Pharma over their own citizens and global public health - have invented a diversionary tactic called the “Walker Process.” Allegedly on “Trade and Health,” this process is designed to try to save the WTO from its increasing irrelevance and illegitimacy, by drawing attention away from the WTO’s failure to remove the barriers of its Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPS) agreement to resolving the pandemic.

The letter notes that “Ambassador Walker 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…”

Walker’s text also calls on WTO Members to establish a “Work Plan on Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience.” 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” within the WTO which are 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 letter calls on WTO members to immediately agree to the TRIPS waiver as proposed.

The letter thus notes that 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 letter was endorsed by major global health, development, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Global Health Advocates, Health Poverty Action (HPA), the Latin American Network for Access to Medicine (RedLAM), Oxfam International, the Peoples Health Movement (PHM), and the People's Vaccine Alliance, which itself 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, as well as multiple national and international groups.

The letter also condemns the efforts by developed countries 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 letter also points out that the WTO is aware of the negative public perception of putting pharma profits over solving the pandemic, and thus has made every effort to shut out civil society, drastically reducing the space for CSO participation at MC12.

CSOs thus urge members 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.

BACKGROUND: despite the agreement of the global public health community on the importance of the TRIPS Waiver proposal, after more than one year since it was proposed, there does not seem to be much progress towards a meaningful outcome. The proposal to waive certain provisions of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) in the WTO to resolve COVID-19 has the support of well over 100 countries, numerous former heads of state and Nobel laureates, academics, researchers, EU parliamentarians, Members of the US Congress, as well as civil society organizations (CSOs), and multiple trade union federations (ITUC, PSI, and ITF) representing millions of members around the world.

Below are multiple quotes from civil society organizations about the Walker process and the TRIPS waiver.

Professor Jane Kelsey, University of Auckland New Zealand: “New Zealand’s Ambassador David Walker is facilitating a broader Covid-19 recovery plan that has become skewed towards the interests of richer countries, especially the “Ottawa Group” that includes New Zealand. Reports from Geneva show the so-called “Walker process” has become a Trojan Horse to introduce a raft of new obligations through the back door. Least-developed and developing countries, and their priorities, have effectively been excluded.”


Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network: "Without a meaningful TRIPS waiver there cannot be a meaningful WTO response to the pandemic. This is recognized and reiterated by a broad base of WTO developing and least developed Members but their calls have been repeatedly ignored. Instead, Ambassador Walker set up a process that keeps the majority of WTO Members outside the negotiation room and is using multiple pressure tactics to push through his agenda and that of countries that want to use the pandemic to repackage old liberalization and deregulatory wishes. Their attempts to set up a future work plan and new body on the WTO response to the pandemic, based on the same premises, is only promising more of these tactics to continue post the 12th Ministerial Conference and could in effect bring an end to any remaining hopes that the WTO could deliver to developing countries and LDCs on any developmental elements, such as in agriculture and special and differential treatment, promised back in 2001 (i.e. WTO Doha Development Agenda)."


Ann Harrison, Senior Advocate, Amnesty International “It is deeply disturbing that the proposed text unilaterally tabled by Ambassador Walker of New Zealand on WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic does not address the proposed temporary TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa and supported by over 100 WTO members. No credible WTO response to ending the pandemic can exclude the immediate agreement to the proposed waiver. Had the waiver been agreed when it was first introduced over a year ago, additional manufacturing capacity for critical Covid-19 tools would now be in place. WTO members should not allow themselves to be distracted by the ‘Walker Process’, which will not fulfil states’ human rights obligations in relation to ensuring human rights through international cooperation and assistance, including the rights to life, health, and non-discrimination.  Instead, we call for those states blocking the TRIPS waiver – notably the European Commission, the UK, Norway and Switzerland – to drop their opposition and to allow the waiver to be agreed.  As has been demonstrated in a recent legal opinion endorsed by our Secretary General, states that are party to the ICESCR must not oppose the waiver in order to comply with their human rights obligations.”


Baone Twala, Legal Researcher, SECTION27, South Africa: “The Walker Process undermines developing countries’ right to access Covid-19 vaccines. Conversely, the TRIPS Waiver seeks to realise this right.”


Jaume Vidal, Senior policy advisor European Projects Team,  Health Action International:

“The so-called Walker process is but another attempt by a few countries to push their own agendas, needs and goals under guise of consensus.  It is difficult to comprehend how a multilateral response to the current pandemic does not include  a reference to the need to curb the excesses of IP enforcement, especially on health goods. The support around a TRIPS waiver clearly demonstrates what is the opinion of WTO members on the issue.”


Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: “In the rich history of cynical WTO efforts to evade accountability for the damage WTO rules have wrought, this effort by the few countries that oppose a WTO waiver to issue a “Trade and Health” Declaration is especially disgusting given this would not improve access to the medicines needed to end the pandemic, and instead is about trying to cover up the grim reality that WTO rules are prolonging death and economic devastation. Time has long passed for WTO declarations about trade and health, the cynical misdirect of the so-called “Walker Process,” or any other attempted PR stunts aimed at protecting the WTO’s reputation rather than saving lives and ending the pandemic.”

Max Lawson co-Chair of the People's Vaccine Alliance, an international coalition working to end the pandemic: The Walker process is a sham: one that shows the WTO is allowing itself to be held hostage by Germany and EU. It is unconscionable that even after 17 million people have died from Covid-19, the WTO is still beholden to big pharma monopolies - instead of driving home the delivery of the comprehensive TRIPS waiver that the majority of its members' demand.


Arthur Stamoulis, the executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, a U.S.-based coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, faith and consumer organizations:  

"The world desperately needs the WTO to waive intellectual property rules that continue standing in the way of increased production of the COVID vaccines, test kits and treatments needed to save lives and end the pandemic.  After more than a year of debate, any WTO response to COVID that fails to deliver a comprehensive waiver agreement would call into question not only the point of holding a ministerial in the middle of a public health emergency, but also the credibility of the entire institution.”


George M. Carter, Director, the Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research: “COVID is not over. We want it to be in order to freely and safely open up economies, schools and make work safe. But typically, the WTO and their fake Walker Resolution seems only to be to open up more profits for those who do not deserve them. A few companies and their executives hold “their” intellectual property to profiteer at the expense of millions of lives around the world. While President Biden has made a tepid call for the TRIPS waiver that would indeed free the vaccines complete recipes, allow for more manufacturing and help to END the pandemic, he has done nothing to press this issue. The WTO, the “Walker” process, the EU and the failure of the United States to actually manage this one small demand, for publicly funded vaccines, places us all in dire jeopardy. We need publicly available treatments, testing and vaccines.  Why is the greed of pharma’s executives held sacrosanct while the lives of millions always of no value?”


Contacts:   [contact information redacted in the website version]

Professor Jane Kelsey, University of Auckland New Zealand

Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network

Amnesty International. Press office

Melanie Foley, Public Citizen

Baone Twala, Section 27

Jaume Vidal, Health Action International

Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign

George Carter




The Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network of NGOs and social movements works for a sustainable, socially just, and democratic multilateral trading system.