WTO chief seeks fishing, pandemic accords by year end

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The World Trade Organization needs results by the end of the year and must focus its efforts on securing a deal on fishing subsidies and finding a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its director-general said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala arrives for a WTO ministerial meeting to discuss a draft agreement on curbing subisidies for the fisheries industry at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said it was unclear whether the WTO’s Nov 30-Dec 3 ministerial conference, normally held every two years but delayed from 2020, would be held in a physical or virtual format given COVID restrictions.

“Really, it’s the conversations in the corridors, the little meetings you have at the side, the late night sessions where you come to agreement. If this is not a physical meeting it will become very difficult to say the things to be achieved,” she told a session of Brussels think-tank Bruegel’s annual meetings.

The WTO, she said, needed to restore a sense of purpose and not simply languish in negotiations that lasted decades.

“The organization must have some successes. To do that, one has to focus very intently on a few areas, not on a Christmas tree approach to what we can get,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala, who has headed the WTO for six months, said WTO members needed to conclude negotiations to curb subsidies for fishing, given about a third of fish stocks were overfished.

Ideally, members would get very close to a deal before the ministerial conference, so that ministers could approve it or have very little to go over, she said.

“This is a tall order, but there is a kind of momentum,” she said.

The WTO chief said she also wanted to see a “strong declaration” on global trade’s role in addressing the pandemic, in areas such as limiting export restrictions, improving supply chains and enabling transfer of technology to expand vaccine production.

Finally, Okonjo-Iweala said the meeting should book progress in agricultural negotiations, which are seeking to find accord in fields such as support, market access and export curbs.

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