Focus on the Global South organized an online press conference titled “WTO@27: End of the Road” to take stock of the negotiations at the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO)  and look at the way ahead for global trade policy. Speakers from the Philippines, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Australia shared their insights on the negotiating texts that were being tabled at the MC12, assessed the WTO’s record, especially its role during the pandemic, and articulated the way forward for a genuine democratic multilateralism that puts economic, social and environmental justice at the forefront.

These videos have been produced with support from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung- South Asia.

In the first video, Shalmali Guttal from Focus on the Global South pointed to the crisis of legitimacy that the WTO is facing in her opening remarks: “The WTO has failed to facilitate timely, appropriate responses to food and health crises—which are most stark during the COVID pandemic on the issue of IPRs on testing, treatment and vaccines. There has not been a single positive outcome for developing countries from the WTO. The last MC held in Buenos Aires had no outcome because of this. Now in Geneva, they want to avoid a repeat of that fiasco and so there is a strong push for compromises at the MC12.”


In the second video, Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South said that ‘WTO declarations with some nice language does not mean there is actual consensus on contentious issues. Using the current crisis of the WTO, developing countries must move from defensive to offensive positions and reclaim the policy space lost in the Uruguay Round.’. Meanwhile, Kate Lappin from Public Services International argued that as the world continues to face vaccine apartheid, we need to ensure that the WTO has no role whatsoever in global health policy including on access to vaccines and treatment. Lappin also noted that at the MC12, developed countries are pushing through very anti-democratic rules around domestic regulations in the services sector that will constrain legitimate sovereign policy making spaces of governments. 


In the third video, Farooq Tariq from Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee and La Via Campesina spoke on the impact of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) on rural farming communities in the global south. He said that the AoA’s free trade, pro corporate farming model has brought food riots, poverty, hunger and misery to millions of farmers in the global south. Also in this video, Pablo Rosales PANGISDA-Pilipinas pointed out how the Philippine government failed to improve the conditions of small-scale fisherfolk even as it promised to do so by joining the WTO in 1995. The fisherfolk remain as one of the poorest sections of society due to greater liberalisation and deregulation of fisheries.


In the fourth video, Sagari Ramdas from Kudali Learning Centre and Food Sovereignty Alliance spoke about how three decades of neoliberal pro corporate WTO policies in agriculture have enabled the reproduction of old patterns of colonial exploitation. She also highlighted the Indian Government’s duplicitous position on the WTO. “On the one hand at Geneva, they are defending farmers and the right to public stockholding. But back home in Delhi they are embracing neoliberal policies that cut subsidies and impoverish small farmers. India’s embrace of a pro corporate model of farming has decimated cooperatives and led to dispossession and displacement of millions of small-scale food producers – especially women from indigenous and marginalised backgrounds that represent a vast majority of India’s agricultural workforce,” said Ramdas.


In the fifth and final video, Lauren Paremour from People’s Health Movement said that the current TRIPS text negotiated in Geneva was not the waiver proposal submitted by South Africa and India, but a far more limited text drafted by the WTO Secretariat that makes it more cumbersome to apply flexibilities during COVID19 than otherwise. “The best option for developing countries on the current TRIPS text at the MC12 is to reject it and walk away. No outcome is better than a bad one.” This video also includes the discussion session with the participants. In the end, Walden Bello concluded that, instead of the WTO, developing countries should be looking at various UN fora and mechanisms, and multilateral agreements which are built on such as  the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to promote economic development, cooperation, sustainable development and well-being.