Overfishing, vaccines, food security: the WTO led by Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala adopts important texts for Africa

The 164 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have managed to agree on a package of measures ranging from the elimination of subsidies for overfishing which drains the oceans, to the temporary lifting of patents on anti- Covid, through a consensus to alleviate food insecurity, a result snatched after intense negotiations during the 12th Ministerial Conference of the organization which ended on June 17, 2022 in Geneva.

Preserve the oceans

Key subject of this agreement: the removal of subsidies that facilitate illegal fishing and the disappearance of overexploited species. After more than 20 years of negotiations, the 164 countries have finally reached this agreement for the sustainability of fishing, despite strong Indian reluctance. According to a study regularly cited by experts, global fisheries subsidies amounted to $35.4 billion in 2018 – more than 80% of which went to the industrial fishing sector and are considered responsible for increasing the capacity of fishing fleets.

Developing countries benefit from a two-year derogation in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The WTO also wants to set up a fund to help fishermen in these countries switch to more sustainable fishing.

The text makes “a first but important step forward to reduce subsidies to overcapacity and overfishing by ending subsidies to unregulated fishing on the high seas”, underlined the Director General of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,

“For the first time, and this is very important in its history, the WTO has entered seriously into environmental issues. The real breakthrough in the fisheries agreement is the establishment of a notification and monitoring system.

Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the WTO

at AFP

Despite “the limits of the agreement”, the NGO Bloom sees to it “a historic first step for the ocean” and “a giant step for transparency”.

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Lift intellectual property on vaccines

Another major subject discussed: the lifting for five years of patents that protect anti-Covid vaccines. This subject has been the subject of bitter battles between the pharmaceutical lobby, developing countries and numerous NGOs. After two and a half years of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, Member States have managed to agree more globally on the facilitation of trade in medical goods necessary for the fight against pandemics.

“It was a long fight but it’s done.”

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the WTO

at a press conference

Fight against food insecurity

The WTO conference also aimed to tackle the food insecurity created by the war in Ukraine. The “ministerial statement” of the organization has requested that any emergency measures introduced to address food security concerns, such as an export freeze, “be temporary, targeted and transparent” and are notified to the WTO. Here again, India had expressed its reluctance, before finally joining the consensus.

A second text protects food purchases by the World Food Program and the restrictions that may be imposed by certain countries. The Russian-led war in Ukraine is starving the world of grain and fertilizer, driving up prices and threatening millions of people around the world with starvation.

A WTO meeting that makes decisions – even limited ones , we had not seen that for twenty years. A success for the former Nigerian Minister of Economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the head of the organization for 15 months.

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