The Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) joins over 130 global, regional and national civil society organisations in calling for the postponement of next week’s World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference in Geneva.
They claim the Director General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took the decision to meet in person despite significant number of ministers and their lead officials not being able to travel safely to Geneva.
“Some may be unable to travel at all because on-going COVID related travel disruptions means that there are no commercial flights in and out of their countries or accessible transit points, said the group of NGOs in their joint letter to WTO members.
“Many are from countries that are basically unvaccinated. The vaccines utilised in these countries are not recognised for internal meetings in Switzerland.
They argue requirements set by transit countries and the costs and inconvenience of quarantine when returning home will be a financial burden for ministers and officials.
“The obvious inequities will favour those with Swiss-recognised vaccinations, ease of travel proximity and Geneva based delegations – that is rich countries from the global north, said the letter.
The only Pacific NGO in the group, the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) based in Fiji agrees the Pacific’s six members – Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu – won’t be adequately represented at the global ministerial meeting.
“The WTO is so hell-bent on securing any outcome that it is holding an in-person Ministerial despite there being multiple Ministers who aren’t able to attend due to current flight circumstances, said PANG’s Trade Justice Campaigner, Adam Wolfenden.
He said; “This is disrespectful to those members who are unable to send their Ministers to make important decisions with their peers and means that any outcome can’t be said to have been agreed to by consensus.”
“Key issues are being discussed at the upcoming Ministerial including fisheries subsidies and the TRIPS Waiver, both critically important to Pacific Island Countries and yet a number of those Members won’t be able to make decisions on issues that impact their ability to fish their own resources, their development aspirations and the health and safety of their communities, said Wolfenden.
PACNEWS understands that arrangements are being made for at least four ministers from the six Pacific WTO members to be present in Geneva for the ministerial session. The rest will be represented by their Geneva and Brussels-based diplomats due to Ministers and lead negotiators not being able to travel.
The alternative of a hybrid or virtual ministerial conference are equally untenable.
“Ministers and their senior officials who are unable to attend will be at an inherent disadvantage. If they cannot be in the room, they cannot participate as equals in deliberations on matters of fundamental importance to them such as fisheries, agriculture or the TRIPS waiver.
Another disadvantage is connectivity issue and the variable time zones – leaving ministers to simply present their plenary statements from their countries.
To proceed under these circumstances will further erode the WTO’s legitimacy and undermine the credibility of the new Director General at a time when the organisation’s credibility is already at an all-time low, said the NGOs.
Non-governmental organisations that provide essential support for delegations have been denied space in the main venue, putting them out of reach of many delegations.