For Immediate Release

400 Civil Society Groups Call on World Trade Organization (WTO) Members to: Stop All Trade and Investment Treaty Negotiations During the COVID-19 Outbreak and Refocus on Access to Medical Supplies and Saving Lives

WASHINGTON - Today, 400 civil society organizations – including global union federations, development advocates, women’s groups, consumer and small business organizations, and environmental groups – representing millions of people from more than 163 countries delivered a letter to members of the WTO. In it, they urge Members of the WTO to: “Stop all trade and investment treaty negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak and refocus on access to medical supplies and saving lives.” The letter was coordinated by the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network, and is available in English, Spanish, and French here.

The overwhelming majority of WTO Members oppose continuing negotiations amid the pandemic, as voiced by the Africa Group; the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group; and many developing country delegations at an April 17 meeting of WTO Members convened to discuss the issue. However, a powerful minority – including the European Union, Australia, Canada, and several other developed countries – pushed to continue negotiations on binding rules on a pre-Covid 19 agenda. The Director General of the WTO, Roberto Azevêdo, appears to be advocating for continued negotiations, by stating that there would have to be “additional consultations” rather than just acknowledging that consensus cannot be obtained when the majority of members are not willing to negotiate binding rules under the circumstances. (An earlier version of the letter was sent to delegates just prior to that meeting.)

This is despite the overwhelming need for governments around the world to focus their full efforts on saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown has made it very difficult for Geneva-based negotiators to coordinate with stakeholders, even within the government. The changing dynamics may impact negotiating positions. And it is be impossible to ensure transparent and inclusive negotiations given interpretation and resource constraints to “negotiating” online.

“The first and only priority for trade negotiators at this time should be to remove all obstacles, including intellectual property rules, in existing agreements that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies, such as lifesaving medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines, and the ability of governments to take whatever steps are necessary to address this crisis,” notes the letter.

Endorsers include large international networks such as: Action Aid International; Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN); Friends of the Earth International; Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ); Greenpeace; Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign; Oxfam International; the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS); the Peoples Health Movement; Social Watch; the Society for International Development (SID); and the Third World Network (TWN).

It also includes regional economic justice networks including the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD); FEMNET - African Women's Development and Communication Network; the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG); the Pan African Association of NGOs (PANGOC); the Seattle to Brussels Network; and the Third World Network-Africa, among others.

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The letter was also supported by global union federations Education International; IndustriALL; the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF); the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF); Public Services International (PSI); and UNI Global Union; regional federations such as the Central Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Trabajadores del Estado (CLATE) and the Confederación Sindical de trabajadores/as de las Américas (CSA); as well as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Many major national networks also endorsed, such as the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET); the Citizens Trade Campaign in the United States; the Council of Canadians/Conseil des Canadiens; the Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises (FISME); Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ); the Kenya Human Rights Commission; the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions; the Norwegian Trade Campaign; the Rede Brasileira Pela Integração dos Povos (REBRIP) of Brazil; and the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute SEATINI-Uganda; among many others.

The groups also demand that “Unilateral sanctions that prevent countries from obtaining essential medical supplies must end.” Unilateral sanctions are increasing deaths from Covid-19.

The letter also calls on “WTO Members to ensure that all countries have the flexibilities to set aside trade rules that constrain their ability to resolve the pandemic crisis, without fear of repercussions, and to cease other negotiations and activities that divert their energy and resources from that goal.”

Finally, the letter notes that the WTO should not return to “business as usual” after the crisis, as governments must recognize “that the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates a fundamental re-think of the types of rules that are negotiated in trade agreements, including those that can encourage monopolies and reduce affordable access to all forms of medical supplies, and put at risk the lives of people in every country of the world.”

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The “Our World is not for Sale” (OWINFS) network is a loose grouping of organizations, activists and social movements worldwide fighting the current model of corporate globalization embodied in global trading system. OWINFS is committed to a sustainable, socially just, democratic and accountable multilateral trading system.

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