With Covid suspending the WTO ministerial meeting, some peaceful relief
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For an institution whose members are accustomed to making decisions at the speed of elderly sloths with chronic sciatica, the speed of the World Trade Organization put off Its large ministerial meeting is indeed extraordinary.
On Friday, the day after the news of the Omicron variant spread, just a few hours after the delegations of South Africa and the European Union would be explicitly barred from visiting Switzerland, the governments of the 164 member states of the WTO unanimously decided to postpone the meeting.
Frankly speaking: yes Chance is small In any case, even a planned face-to-face meeting will create many breakthroughs. Strict restrictions on delegation size and social distancing rules mean that the ministerial meeting will not feature the classic all-night pressure cooker negotiation meeting, yelling, tears, no one will leave this room unless we all agree, the whole dramatic thing, Sometimes movement occurs. Today’s main article focuses on who might feel some relief in secret (we think most big players) and who might not.
Concession waters It’s also a topic about Omicron.
What you really need to feel is the staff of the WTO and its Director-General Ngozio Concho Iveira. This is a small organization without a lot of power of its own. The convening is mainly its function. During the Covid pandemic, it has been working hard to have an impact on the world trading system, and now the ministerial meeting scheduled for June 2020 is once again postponed indefinitely.
We are not very convinced of the grief displayed by the large member states. We suspect that some people have breathed a sigh of relief, because it means that their hypocrisy and hypocrisy will no longer be exposed. For one or two governments that we think will be disappointed, this may not be for very principled reasons.
These two are South Africa, especially India.As we often Point outOn one issue after another, the two of them formed an awkward team in the WTO, which usually prevented the formation of consensus.
On the two biggest issues, Fisheries subsidy with Intellectual Property Exemption With regard to Covid treatment, India has always insisted on a strong stance, and the possibility of reaching a consensus is zero. With regard to fisheries subsidies, Delhi requires an impossible “special and differential treatment” (SDT) exception for developing countries, which may create a big loophole in the new rule book. In terms of Covid treatment, its joint exemption proposal with South Africa will remove the protection of intellectual property rights for a large number of medical products. Although South Africans occasionally make mild voices, the two have shown no real signs of compromise.
So why does India want the ministerial meeting to continue? So it can kill it, obviously. In India, signing trade agreements is politically harmful—the last substantive agreement was the agreement that created the WTO in 1994—and it is very welcome to cut these agreements in public. Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath did more than anyone at the failed ministerial meeting of the Doha Round in 2008. He once said that killing Doha would make him so popular among voters. He could Win your hometown without bothering to campaign.
To be fair, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is said to be pursuing liberalization, has deregulated customs procedures and other things, but even he will not sign substantive formal trade agreements. The regional comprehensive economic partnership in the Asia-Pacific region is an obvious starting point-it does not require much liberalization, India could have opposed China. But he pulled it out.
Some people still seem to think that India’s unrealistic demands are meant to gain bargaining chips. For a long time, we have believed that no, India just wants to kill the deal. One of Modi’s former advisers became a WTO ambassador last year, and in all respects, he is uncompromising and combative. (The Indian mission in Geneva declined multiple requests for interviews.)
A very unfortunate consequence of Delhi’s opposition is to allow other countries to hide their weaknesses and failures. As a large and fast-growing middle-income economy, China should truly agree to give up its (self-defined) special and differentiated status, just like Brazil and other more advanced emerging markets. But India is so vocal about maintaining SDT that China can lag behind India without having to argue on its own.
In terms of fisheries, India’s request for an incredible large-scale spin-off has taken attention away from the EU’s persuading some of its member states, particularly France and Spain, to remove fuel subsidies for its long-distance fishing fleet.
To be fair, the EU has made a lot of efforts to maintain the WTO system and will not be full of joy because of the postponement of the ministerial meeting. It is true that the EU does not expect to be beaten by health activists within a week on the issue of intellectual property exemptions, accusing them of not supporting the extremist India-South Africa proposal. It is the United States that really hides in the shadows on this issue.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s verbal pledge of vaccine exemption made in May has never been tested by the political realities submitted by India and South Africa. If it agrees to a large exemption, the United States will face a severe test from its pharmaceutical industry. It will just sit there and hold a meeting to tell other countries to reach an agreement.
This is something cynical. The Biden administration has done a lot for its domestic health activists. They fully believe that the United States is fully supporting the full exemption, and those unbearable Europeans, especially the terrible Germans, are in the way. One particularly interesting factor is that activists believe that Emmanuel Macron is keen on exemptions, but Germany is preventing him. If you believe, we have a fleet of nuclear submarines that can be sold to you: French officials assured us that they fully support the EU’s negotiating position.
So here we are. The cancellation of this decision is obviously correct, but even if the minister is unlikely to agree, it would be a shame for the large members of the WTO to try to evade scrutiny. No matter what date the ministerial meeting is rescheduled, we bet we will come back with the same questions and the same country will say the same things. We will pay close attention to progress and make sure you get updates, but we don’t think this happens often.
In the past few days, it has been difficult to escape news about new Omicron variants. Since the discovery of a batch of cases in South Africa, this new strain has been dominating the headlines and has led to strict bans on travel from Southern Africa in many countries. Some European countries detected cases closer to home during the weekend, including the United Kingdom and Germany.
Although the exact source of the variant is not yet known, it is worth pointing out that-by reducing transmission-vaccinating more people in developing countries may slow the rate of virus mutation. The chart below is from September, but we doubt how much has changed during this period.
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