- Pointwise discuss the key takeaways.
In the recently concluded 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, member countries have agreed to a series of deals relating to the temporary waivers on Covid-19 vaccines, a moratorium on e-commerce trade, food security and setting limits on harmful fishing subsidies.
- The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference was held in Geneva from 12-17 June. It was supposed to end on 15 June, but with intensifying negotiations, the conference was extended by two days.
- Harmful Fishing Subsidies : It passed a multilateral agreement curbing ‘harmful’ subsidies on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the next four years, to better protect global fish stocks. Since 2001, member states have been negotiating to ban subsidies that promote overfishing. The current agreement (2nd multilateral agreement) establishes new trading rules to that effect. Environmental sustainability along with livelihood security of 260 million are the prime focus. Critics argue that this agreement would only restrict and not eradicate subsidies on illegal fishing.
- Global Food Security : Food purchased under the UN’s World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes are exempted from any export restrictions. Owing to the global food shortages and rising prices caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, it issued a declaration on the importance of trade in global food security and avoiding bans on food exports. But, countries can restrict food supplies to ensure domestic food security needs.
- e-Commerce transactions : India has pleaded to review the extension of the moratorium on custom duties on e-commerce transactions, which include digitally-traded goods and services. From 2017-2020, developing countries lost a potential tariff revenue of around $50 billion on imports from only 49 digital products. However, all members agreed to continue the long standing moratorium on custom duties on e-commerce transmissions until the next Ministerial Conference or until March 31, 2024.
- Covid-19 Vaccine production : WTO members agreed to temporarily waive intellectual property patents on Covid-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent holder for 5 years, for easy domestic manufacturing. India & South Africa had wanted broader intellectual property waivers on vaccines, treatments and tests. Rich pharmaceutical companies had resented this, arguing that IP’s do not restrict access to Covid vaccines and the removal of patent protections gives a negative message. The waiver was criticized by advocacy groups for being narrow in scope, as it did not cover all medical tools like diagnostics and treatments.