Stop all trade and investment treaty negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak

300 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 live.

(Geneva) On April 17, 300 civil society organizations – including global union federations, development advocates, women’s groups, consumer and small business organizations, and environmental groups – from more than 150 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.” WTO Members meet today on whether to continue negotiations amid the pandemic. The letter was coordinated by the Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network. 

Despite the overwhelming need for governments around the world to focus their full efforts on saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic, some governments are still pushing forward negotiations in the WTO as well as in bilateral and other trade negotiations. 

“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. 

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.”

Endorsers include large international networks such as: Action Aid International; Friends of the Earth International; Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ); Greenpeace; Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign; Oxfam International; Social Watch; the Society for International Development (SID); and the Third World Network (TWN); as well as large regional economic justice networks including the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND); the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD); the Confederación Sindical de trabajadores/as de las Américas (CSA); the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG); and the Third World Network-Africa, among others. 

It was also supported by global union federations Education International; 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; 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. 

You can access the Open Letter to Trade Ministries and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in:

English | Spanish | French | Italian

Outcomes of WTO meeting - Expansion of call for endorsements

According to several delegation, the letter had an impact during the WTO meeting held the the 17th. The positions among them were contrasted, while many of them argued against holding talks on binding rules at this time, some others argued in favor of continuing with business as usual. The Director General stated that he would continue consultations - seemingly intending to pressure delegations to pursue trade negotiations. The possible date of another discussion on the subject has not yet been announced, so civil society organizations are taking advantage of this time to solidify opposition among as many delegations as possible. Based on this outcome, they are expanding their outreach to invite more organizations to oppose negotiations in the WTO during the pandemic.

Register your organizational endorsement here BY 6am CEST on Wednesday April 29th, if you have not already: 

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