By Bimbola Oyesola
World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has called on members to deliver concrete results that promote the WTO’s founding objectives: using trade to improve the living standard of ordinary people, creating better jobs, and contributing to sustainable development. She was speaking at an informal General Council meeting on March 30.
The meeting was called by General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo (Honduras), to initiate a process of consultations on the nature of the prospective outcome document for the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), which will take place in Geneva the week of November 29.
He described the options in front of members, based on the documents that emerged from earlier Ministerial Conferences: a consensus Ministerial Declaration, a summary issued under the conference chair’s own responsibility, and a “hybrid” document containing elements of the two.
Members “may wish to start thinking about what type of outcome document we might realistically envisage for MC12, including its structure and elements,” the General Council chair added, announcing he would begin consultation on these issues with interested delegations. He cautioned that this process should not divert attention from ongoing substantive negotiations.
With only seven working months until MC12, DG Okonjo-Iweala called on members to “create a recipe for success upfront,” starting with “two or three or four concrete deliverables” in areas such as fisheries and agreeing on work programmes for other items where differences remain.
She noted that MC12 would come at the end of a series of international policy discussions aimed at “examining the lessons from this pandemic and trying to put the framework for tackling the next.” If trade ministers emerge at the end of the year “with no agreement, no contributions to the meaningful issues that are being faced by the world today, nothing to add in terms of a framework for tackling the next pandemic, it will not look good.”
“My wish is for all the ambassadors, ministers and leaders on trade to come out of MC12 looking good. Looking good means being seen by the world as having delivered for today’s problems,” she said.
Okonjo-Iweala also plans to convene an event in mid-April to discuss ramping up COVID-19 vaccine production and how the WTO can contribute to a more rapid and equitable distribution of vaccines.
The event, to be held under Chatham House rules, will include all regional member groups, representatives from vaccine manufacturers from developing and developed countries, civil society groups working on access to medicine, and other stakeholders.
“The idea is to move us along on our quest to solve this unacceptable inequitable access of poor countries to vaccines,” she said. “At the bottom of this is a very serious scarcity in supply. And how to solve it is to look at how we expand manufacturing in all its ways.”