WTO's Big Conference Postponed Due To New Covid Variant
Faizan Hashmi Published November 27, 2021 | 08:40 AM
Geneva, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 27th Nov, 2021 ) :Next week's World Trade Organization ministerial conference, the global trade body's biggest gathering in four years, was postponed at the last minute Friday due to the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The WTO hoped the four-day gathering in Geneva would breathe new life into the crippled organisation, which has been stuck for years trying to make progress on resolving issues like fishery subsidies.
New director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was also hoping, against the odds, to make progress towards a deal on lifting Covid vaccine patents, proving the WTO had a relevant role to play in combating the pandemic.
But the conference was postponed four days before it was due to start, hours after Omicron was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.
"This has not been an easy recommendation to make," Okonjo-Iweala said.
"But as director-general, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants -- ministers, delegates and civil society. It is better to err on the side of caution." WTO General Council chair Dacio Castillo called an emergency meeting of all 164 member states to tell them about the Omicron situation, including travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
The members unanimously supported the postponement call.
The beleaguered WTO's 12th ministerial conference (MC12) has already been postponed once before due to the pandemic.
The WTO intends to reconvene "as soon as possible when conditions allow", said Castillo.
- IP waiver must wait - The conference normally takes place every two years.
It was expected to draw more than 100 ministers to Geneva, where the organisation is based, including heads of state, plus 4,000 or so delegates.
The gathering was being seen as a test of Okonjo-Iweala's ability to fulfil promises to turn around the crisis-hit institution.
She has helped kick-start blocked trade negotiations, and made reaching a long-elusive deal to end harmful fishery subsidies a top priority for the conference.
She also stressed the urgency of agreeing on how to remove trade barriers blocking access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Ministers were also due to discuss calls for a temporary waiver on intellectual property protections for vaccines and other medical tools needed to fight the pandemic.
But Covid caught up with the conference before Okonjo-Iweala could even start banging heads together on the subject.
"This new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with," she said.
EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said the WTO had made a "difficult but wise decision" to postpone.
"Rest assured: we will continue to work towards a successful outcome of the postponed ministerial in the meantime," he said.