Okonjo-Iweala seeks end to harmful fisheries subsidies

Ngozi Okonjo-iweala

Victor Uzoho

The Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has urged heads of governments to redouble their efforts to curb harmful fisheries subsidies by February 2022.

The call followed the decision by members to postpone the 12th Ministerial Conference, scheduled to hold in Geneva, Scotland,

According to her, members should conclude agreements on the WTO system’s response to pandemics as well as on curbing harmful fisheries subsidies early next year, to pave the way for approval by ministers.

She noted that over 260 million people are waiting for the WTO on fisheries subsidies, saying that she had spoken to several ministers in recent days, and they all wanted negotiations in Geneva to continue and to deliver results.

In a statement made available to Sustainable Economy, Okonjo-Iweala said in addition to the potential health risks from the Omicron variant, travel restrictions introduced in response to its emergence had made it impossible for all ministers to participate on an equitable basis at the conference.

She added that the postponement of the ministerial meeting did not mean that negotiations had stopped, as a joint letter by the officers of MC12 – Conference had been sent to ministers from all WTO members.

The ministers were urged to empower the Geneva representatives to resolve outstanding differences to enable them to reconvene in March, to adopt agreements.

The letter called for prioritising outcomes on the pandemic response, including a “sensible solution” on the proposed intellectual property waiver, given the global health situation, as well as on fisheries subsidies, where recent convergence had put a deal in the long-running negotiations within reach.

Seven billion people are waiting for us on TRIPS and pandemic response. And 260 million people are waiting for us on fisheries subsidies.

Okonjo-Iweala said: “If we were ready to make progress this week, we can finish pandemic response and fisheries subsidies by the end of February, and know where we are on agriculture.

“The pandemic is raging – people are dying globally in numbers similar to April 2020. The public expects a response from WTO members.

“The new Omicron variant has reminded us once again of the urgency of achieving equitable access to vaccines in every country in the world.

“It underscores how important it is for us to converge on the WTO’s contribution to achieving this goal, including the TRIPS dimension. I strongly believe that a comprehensive response to the pandemic must include intellectual property.”

While urging all sides to come together to find a compromise, she noted that it is not clear whether the epidemiological situation would permit ministers to gather in March.

As a result, she charged the Geneva representatives to prepare clean texts, or at most texts with one outstanding issue to be resolved, for ministers.

“Let us aim to finish pandemic response and fisheries by the end of February. And let us agree that ministers should be able to finalise them without physical presence. Seven billion people are waiting for us on TRIPS and pandemic response. And 260 million people are waiting for us on fisheries subsidies,” Okonjo-Iweala added.

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