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WTO emerged from inaction but has plenty of unfinished business

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) congratulated himself on having overcome his paralysis with the adoption on June 17 of several agreements “historical” on fishing and patents anti-COVID vaccines. But much remains to be done to keep the institution afloat.

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“We did it and we are determined to continue”affirmed the general director of the organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iwealaat the end of the marathon negotiations that ended on June 17 in Geneva.

Okonjo-Iweala, a former Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs of Nigeria who took the reins of the WTO in March 2021, defended the relevance of the organization.


“When I started this job, expectations about the WTO were not very high. There was talk of dysfunctions, but today we show that the WTO can obtain results”said.

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The five days of intense negotiations ended against all odds with a success “without precedents” with an agreement on the prohibition of subsidies that encourage illegal fishing and a temporary lifting of patents on COVID vaccines.


Time will tell whether this deal was beginner’s luck or, more likely, the fruit of an effective Okonjo-Iweala-led negotiating strategy.

But the French foreign trade minister, Frank Riesterstressed that “There is much to do”.

In this regard, the European Trade Commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskisindicated that the ministerial meeting illustrated “the deep divergences” within the WTO and the “Urgent reform”.

“Everyone says that a reform is necessary, but everyone has a different conception of what a reform is”indicated Mary Paganrepresentative of the United States to the WTO.


Decisions in the WTO are made by consensus. Although this right to veto has advantages with respect to the sovereignty of nations, regardless of its importance, this system is often criticized.

During the ministerial meeting, several close sources accused India of blocking the discussions.

In the reform debate, the idea of ​​creating an executive body in which each member represents a group of countries or creating a weighted voting system, depending on the relative position that countries occupy in the world economy, is often mentioned.

But the most likely path seems to be a strengthening of multilateral negotiating formats.

One of the main problems of the WTO is the lack of transparency regarding notifications on subsidies, which is nevertheless mandatory.

On this issue, Western countries often point to China.

Subsidies and China

Several rich countries want China to no longer be considered a developing country. However, in the organization it is the country itself that decides if it wants to benefit from special treatment.

“The core of the problem lies in the adaptation of the organization to a context of large emerging countries with a much greater weight than they had 30 years ago, particularly China”explained Sebastian Jeanindustrial economics expert French National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts.

Another key issue is the reform of the WHO appeal body, which has not been operational since December 2019.

The United States blocks the appointment of judges, since it considers that this instance does not respect the rules of procedure and exceeds the sovereignty of the States.

At the meeting, the countries decided that the WTO court must be fully operational “by 2024″.

Source: Gestion

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