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WTO postpones 12th ministerial conference indefinitely

FE Online Report | Saturday, 27 November 2021


World Trade Organization (WTO) has postponed the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) for an indefinite period amidst the upsurge in Covid-19 cases.

No date has been set for the rescheduling of the highest decision-making level conference.

The General Council of the multilateral trade body agreed late Friday (26th November) to postpone the MC12, scheduled to be held from November 30 to December 3 in Geneva, after an outbreak of a particularly transmissible strain of the Covid-19 virus which led some governments to impose travel restrictions, said a press statement of the WTO.

The announcement of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland and many other European countries compel General Council Chair Dacio Castillo, Ambassador of  Honduras in WTO, to call an emergency meeting of all WTO members to inform them of the situation.

"Given these unfortunate developments and the uncertainty that they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene it as soon as possible when conditions allow," Ambassador Castillo told the General Council. "I trust that you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation."

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also said the travel constraints meant that many ministers and senior delegates could not have participated in face-to-face negotiations at the Conference. This would render participation on an equal basis impossible, she said.

She also pointed out that many delegations have long maintained that meeting virtually does not offer the kind of interaction necessary for holding complex negotiations on politically sensitive issues, added the press statement.

"This has not been an easy recommendation to make … But as Director-General, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants – ministers, delegates and civil society. It is better to err on the side of caution," she said, noting that the postponement would continue to keep the WTO in line with Swiss regulations.

This is the second time the pandemic has forced a postponement of the MC12. The conference was originally due to take place in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan.

The General Council later decided to shift the conference to Geneva with Kazakhstan to chair the event.

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