Ukraine war complicating WTO’s big conference

Ukraine war complicating WTO’s big conference

Ukraine war complicating WTO’s big conference

Ukraine war

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 The World Trade Organization’s chief said Tuesday that diplomatic tensions over the war in Ukraine were complicating negotiations ahead of the global trade body’s biggest gathering in more than four years.

The meeting of ministers from all 164 WTO members, including Russia and Ukraine, has been postponed several times due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the war has introduced tensions and made it a bit more difficult to work,” WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told reporters at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, where the conference will be held in mid-June.

“It’s a highly uncertain environment,” she said, with a “real risk” that the negotiations could deteriorate due to the war.

This is a major concern for an organization which can only strike deals if there is consensus between members.

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The WTO has therefore decided to conduct the build-up negotiations in small groups, to “respect everybody’s sensitivities”, with Moscow shunned by many capitals following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Okonjo-Iweala was cautious about the chances of striking agreements during the ministerial conference, notably on illegal fishing and subsidized over-fishing, and on the pandemic response at the WTO, which is thrashing out the idea of waiving patents on vaccines.

“Depending on what happens as we move along, we’ll have to see which ones of those we can actually deliver,” the WTO chief said.

The conference should also be a chance for countries to discuss reform of the WTO itself.

The WTO is in crisis with an appeals tribunal that no longer functions since the United   States neutralized it at the end of 2019 by blocking the appointment of new judges, calling for the overhaul of the body.

The US and the European Union, among others, are also calling for widespread reform at the WTO, where certain major economic powers, such as China, can still benefit from having developing country status.

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The conference is being seen as a test of Okonjo-Iweala’s ability to fulfil promises to turn the institution around.

The Nigerian former foreign minister, who in March last year became the first African and first woman to lead the WTO, has been widely hailed for her revitalization efforts

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