The Minister of the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that it had approved Friday, June 17 in Geneva “historic” agreements on fishing, the lifting of anti-Covid patents and food insecurity.
It is “an unprecedented set of results. It has been a long time since the WTO has achieved so many multilateral results. The results demonstrate that the WTO is capable of responding to the urgent needs of our time,” said WTO director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, before the heads of delegation of the organisation’s 164 member countries.
The conference aimed not only to tackle the food insecurity created by Russia, but it also wanted to remove subsidies that facilitate overfishing and empty the oceans, temporarily lift the patents that protect anti-Covid vaccines or even reform the WTO itself. After several days of intense negotiations, marked by many uncertainties and India’s intransigence on several texts, the negotiators finally agreed on all these subjects, announced the President of the Ministerial Conference Timur Suleimenov, head of Deputy Cabinet of the President of Kazakhstan.
However, the WTO did not immediately publish the final texts. The ministerial lasted almost 36 hours longer than expected. It was finally around 03:00 GMT that the Director General knocked down the hammer which marks the formal adoption of the texts.
Until almost the last minute, the agreement on fishing remained uncertain, and even if the text is watered down compared to the initial ambitions, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala nevertheless claimed success. This was one of the key topics of this ministerial. Negotiations on the subject were launched more than 20 years ago and are part of the UN’s sustainable development goals. In particular, it is a question of prohibiting certain forms of subsidies which may encourage illegal taking. To help developing countries, the WTO wants to set up a fund to provide technical assistance and build their capacity so that these countries can implement the agreement and help their fishermen switch to more sustainable fishing.
WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said in her closing speech:
“The agreement prohibits support for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. It bans support for fishing in overfished stocks. And it takes a first but significant step forward to curb subsidies for overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies for fishing on the unregulated high seas. As important as the prohibitions is the transparency that will finally shed light on the actual level of subsidies going to fishing. And you have committed to further negotiations to build on these disciplines.”