WTO postpones major meetings after new variants emerge


Geneva — The World Trade Organization (WTO) became the first major diplomatic victim of the new coronavirus variant on Friday, when it postponed its first ministerial meeting in four years due to poor health.

Ministers of WTO member states were scheduled to meet next week for a conference that is widely seen as a test of WTO relevance.

The WTO said its members agreed to postpone the ministerial meeting late Friday after the outbreak of a new variant led to travel restrictions that would prevent many ministers from arriving in Geneva.

No new date has been set for the rescheduled meeting.

The World Health Organization has classified the B.1.1.529 mutant detected in South Africa as a “concerned mutant” and states that it may spread more rapidly than other forms of the virus. Scientists are also trying to find out if it is vaccine resistant.

Switzerland, home of the WTO, banned direct flights from South Africa and its surrounding areas on Friday, imposing inspection and quarantine requirements on travel from other countries such as Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

Geneva-based trade associations planned direct meetings, but new restrictions have made large player delegations, such as the European Commission based in South Africa and Brussels, largely hypothetical. It was limited.

Even before the postponement, the outlook was not bright.

The WTO has managed only one global rule update in nearly 27 years of history, is a bureaucratic formalistic trade facilitation agreement, with 164 members of fishery subsidy curtailment and COVID. The most active talks on dissemination seemed far from the agreement. Wider 19 vaccines.

India, South Africa, and other developing countries are calling for a waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights to vaccines and other COVID-19 treatments. President Joe Biden said he supported the vaccine exemption on Friday.

WTO Secretary-General Ngozi Okonjoi Wara said the postponement does not mean that negotiations should be stopped.

“On the contrary, the Geneva delegation should be fully empowered to fill as many gaps as possible. This new variant reminds us of the urgency of the work we are in charge of.” She said in a statement.

Colombia’s WTO ambassador to Santiago Wills, who chairs the fisheries subsidy negotiations, said the news was “shrinking, to say the least,” but towards an agreement to save global fish resources. I promised to continue my efforts.