Trade Ministers from 28 countries, including India, the US, Australia, China, South Africa, Russia, and the UK, participated in an informal WTO Ministerial gathering virtually hosted by Switzerland to discuss ways to move the multilateral trade talks ahead amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, Trend reports citing Business Line.
The participants, which included Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, also discussed the importance of ending vaccine inequity and moving forward in areas where negotiations were at an advanced stage.
The areas where substantial talks have already taken place at the WTO include fisheries subsidies, agriculture, and finding appropriate responses to the pandemic that takes into account the proposal by India and South Africa to temporarily waive certain intellectual property norms for smooth supply of Covid-19 vaccines and medical products.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo Iweala pointed out that while the desire to hold an in-person WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) was widely shared, the changing epidemiological conditions made it difficult to set a date at this time. “This does not rule out reassessing and fixing a date at a more propitious time since there was clearly a desire on the part of members to schedule a physical ministerial at some point,” she said.
The WTO Secretariat was preparing for all possible scenarios for holding a meeting: short, medium, and long-term, the DG said. However, it was more important for Ministers to focus on delivering results that would benefit people around the world, she said. The MC12, scheduled late last year, had to be postponed because of the outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus.
Other members which participated in the meeting included Brazil, Chile, Cameroon (coordinator of the Africa group), Canada, the EU, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Jamaica (Coordinator of ACP Group), Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.
The Director-General pointed out the key sticking points on the WTO’s response to the pandemic, fisheries subsidies, and agriculture, and also made a case for moving ahead with WTO reform, including dispute settlement, per a statement by the WTO. The informal gathering of the Trade Ministers is traditionally hosted by the Swiss government in Davos but was held virtually this year in line with the World Economic Forum’s decision to cancel its in-person annual meeting.