Deal or no deal as global trade talks turn into a second all-nighter

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Besides fisheries subsidies, ministers discussed Covid vaccines and food safety at the WTO.

Geneva:

Marathon talks at the World Trade Organization aimed at assembling a tit-for-tat deal went on around the clock until Friday with a long-sought deal on fisheries subsidies still pending.

The talks were due to end on Wednesday but continued until Friday, the sixth day, as the WTO tries to prove it still has a role to play in tackling major global challenges.

Delegations were frantically negotiating plans to cut harmful subsidies that promote overfishing – the star issue being debated at the world trade body’s headquarters in Geneva after 21 years of trying.

Key representatives of the WTO’s 164 members were due to meet at 0300 (0100 GMT) to see if they could approve last-ditch talks after midnight.

Besides fisheries subsidies, ministers discussed the temporary waiver of patents on Covid-19 vaccines, food security, agriculture, e-commerce, the WTO’s response to pandemics and EU reform. organization itself.

As ministers scramble to strike deals on each topic separately, countries have made compromises which they hope could see several measures pass in one big deal.

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“We came to this ministerial meeting hoping that it would provide a launching pad to show that the WTO was back,” a Geneva-based diplomat told reporters on Thursday evening.

“I think that’s going to be insufficient in terms of ambition.”

– Optimistic India –

Some delegations have accused India of being intransigent on all matters under discussion at the WTO, where decisions can only be taken with the agreement of each member.

But Trade and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal was optimistic about the prospects for a deal.

“India is confident that this will be one of the most successful ministerial conferences the WTO has seen in a long time,” he told reporters.

“India is not a roadblock on anything…People are realizing that we were the ones who actually helped create the only consensus.”

WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who took office in March 2021, has focused her leadership on breathing new life into the ossified organization.

Nigeria’s former foreign and finance minister has portrayed herself as someone who can butt heads and get things done.

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She does not want a repeat of the last ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, which failed to conclude any significant agreements.

EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told UKTN last-minute talks in Geneva were tricky.

“We are in a complicated geopolitical situation and the views on the different workflows are quite divergent,” he said.

“But I would say that we are working towards positive results and hopefully we can achieve them.”

– The rotten fish market? –

Negotiations to ban subsidies that encourage overfishing and threaten the sustainability of the world’s fish stocks have been ongoing at the WTO for more than two decades.

Several sources familiar with the talks said the draft agreement on the conference’s flagship issue has been watered down heavily.

India had pushed for a 25-year exemption, but Goyal insisted New Delhi had compromised and accepted it would not get everything it wanted.

A coalition of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries included some of the last countries to resist, a trade official in Geneva said.

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A source familiar with the negotiations said: “It doesn’t seem particularly optimistic.”

The second major issue on the table is the proposed Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver.

Some countries that host big pharma, such as Britain and Switzerland, found some of the draft language problematic, while big pharma fears a deal will strangle innovation.

But Britain’s ambassador to Geneva, Simon Manley, told Okonjo-Iweala that after clarifications and improvements, London was “now ready to join the consensus”.

That left the United States and China as the biggest opposition to finalizing a deal, with the two heavyweights yet to agree whether China would be eligible to use the waiver.

The moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transactions, in place since 1998, should be extended.

The United States said the moratorium had supported the growth of digital trade, which had provided an “economic lifeline” during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a trade official in Geneva.

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