World trade ministers hold first meeting in 5 years in Geneva

Security is tight for 12th Ministerial Conference of trade ministers, postponed numerous times due to COVID-19

World trade ministers gathered Sunday for their first meeting in five years, with the World Trade Organization chief making a plea for them to show “that multilateralism works.”

COVID-19 forced several postponements of the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12),which was initially supposed to be held in Kazakhstan in June 2020.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a national of Nigeria and the United States, addressed more than 100 ministers gathered amid tight security in Geneva amid some protests by groups protesting globalization.

At a press conference preceding the opening of MC12, she said, “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll get to one or two deliverables,” after the last meeting in Buenos Aires failed to deliver any.

Okonjo-Iweala said she is the first woman, the first African, and the first American to lead the body that regulates international commerce.

The five main issues on the agenda include an intellectual property waiver for vaccines to facilitate all countries fighting pandemics, reform of the way the WTO functions, ever-tricky talks on agriculture, and extension of an international e-commerce moratorium and a fish subsidies agreement to help halt overfishing.

“Will the road to delivery at this MC12 be smooth? Absolutely not – expect a rocky, bumpy road with a few landmines along the way, but we shall overcome them,” said Okonjo-Iweala.

She said there is uncertainty in crises on multiple fronts, including the war in Ukraine, “the inherent international security crisis that comes with it, (and) the health, economic, environmental, and geopolitical crisis.”

More than 50 NGOs as proceedings began objected to the WTO restricting their access to the ministerial conference in Geneva, saying they had been informed at the last minute they could not access the organization’s building.


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