WTO Closes in on COVID-19 Vaccines Waiver Agreement
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday said an international agreement on waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines was within reach.
Ahead of the global trade body meeting, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters that the keenly debated waiver plan was “within shouting distance.”
She also said an agreement could be reached on fishing subsidies in time for the meeting when 120 trade ministers from around the world gather at the body’s Geneva headquarters.
“If we get one or two deliverables, that will be good. I think we are within shouting distance of that,” she told the news platform.
Days before the meeting starts, none of the agreements in the three major negotiating areas of agriculture, fish subsidies or intellectual property rights for vaccines have been finalised for ministers to rubber-stamp, according to the news agency.
Instead, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala described a “hectic” atmosphere in Geneva, the headquarters of the body, where negotiators had been working late nights and weekends in order to try to resolve outstanding differences.
Since she was appointed more than a year ago, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former minister of finance and chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance board, has prioritised a long-sought deal on a waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 shots.
“There are some difficult areas we are dealing with but there’s movement,” she said on those talks, without elaborating.
The WTO’s biennial meeting was twice delayed by COVID-19 and was taking place after a nearly five-year gap against the backdrop of high geopolitical tensions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Some Western members have refused to negotiate directly with Russia, but Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said she was confident negotiations could continue through a combination of different meeting sizes.
“You cannot minimise the Russia-Ukraine tensions and crisis. We find methodologies that work and we will use the same approaches for MC12,” she said, referring to next week’s meeting.