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Twelfth Ministerial Conference of the WTO reaches compromise on food security, SPS measures, patent waver for Covid-19 vaccines and fisheries

17 June 2022

Major success of the current WTO leadership and its Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and related geopolitical tensions.

In the early hours of the morning on Friday 17 June WTO members managed to adopt a package of declarations, agreements and decisions (Geneva Package) reflecting compromises on several topics, including food security,  Covid-19 vaccines and fisheries. This became possible after months of thorough preparation of draft texts before the Ministerial conference, and a days-and-nights marathon of tough negotiations in Geneva for almost a full week. This is a major success of the current WTO leadership and its Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and related geopolitical tensions.

The Geneva Package includes:

  • The 12th Ministerial Conference outcome document, confirming WTO members' alignment on WTO's agenda priorities, a multilateral rules-based system, climate and sustainable development among other;
  • Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity;
  • Ministerial Decision on World Food Programme (WFP) Food Purchases Exemptions from Export Prohibitions or Restrictions;
  • Ministerial Declaration on the WTO Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Preparedness for Future Pandemics;  
  • Ministerial Decision on the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights; 
  • Decision on the E-commerce Moratorium and Work Programme; 
  • Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies;
  • Decision on the Work Programme on Small Economies;
  • Decision on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints; 
  • Sanitary and Phytosanitary Declaration for the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference: Responding to Modern SPS Challenges; 
  • Process for addressing longstanding calls for reform of the WTO;
  • Ministerial Declaration committing members to a process which will consider decisions on WTO reform for submission to the 13th Ministerial Conference.

The final draft texts, presented to ministers of WTO member countries, are available here:

The Declaration on Food Insecurity was agreed last minute but sources indicate it was a priority due to geopolitics. India was a major stumbling block, but after final trade-offs it had conceded, including abandoning its insistence on public stockholdings. As a result, the declaration obtained consensus but was significantly reduced and generalised compared to preparatory drafts. Compromise required to accept amendments requested by least-developed countries. The food insecurity declaration failed to include proposals requiring members to abstain from export restrictions. The purchases of food via the World Food Programme have been exempted from export restrictions, after Tanzania and India lifted objections, but members retained the right to adopt emergency measures.

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Declaration recognises that the situation has evolved since 1995 when the SPS Agreement was adopted, and commits members to further rules on SPS.

Nonetheless, the ministerial negotiations failed to reach agreement on the roadmap (programme) for future agricultural negotiations, which should have included further disciplines on trade-distorting subsidies, reportedly due to disagreement from developing countries, including several major Asian and African countries.

The WTO also agreed a partial waiver of IP rights over vaccines in order to allow developing countries to produce and export generic Covid-19 prevention. Other deals include a temporary moratorium on customs duties for e-commerce (until the next ministerial or by 31 March 2024 at the latest), an agreement on subsidies for fisheries, and a roadmap for negotiations on WTO institutional reform.

While disappointed on the prepared issues which failed to reach consensus, observers agree that the WTO has regained credibility and momentum after years of significant setbacks.

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