Is the ‘Walker Process’ at the WTO undermining the TRIPS Waiver?

In crafting a WTO response to the pandemic, not all members favor referring to a potential decision on the TRIPS Waiver. This, among other issues, threatens consensus around a broader declaration on what is being referred as the WTO response to the pandemic that builds on the trade and health initiative suggested by the Ottawa Group. (The group is a coalition of countries that first proposed a trade and health initiative in November 2020)

At stake is not only what members want as text in this declaration, but also the process of negotiating this text in the run up to the 12th  WTO Ministerial Conference in less than two weeks from now. Fundamental questions are reportedly being raised by some developing countries and many quarters of the civil society on whether these deliberations seek to undermine not just the TRIPS waiver, but also whether the WTO is being definitively transformed from a rules-based institution, to one dictated by powerful interests.

At the heart of what appears to be a somewhat festering discord, is the Walker process – an initiative led by New Zealand Ambassador David Walker in order to have a coherent approach to address challenges in the wake of COVID-19. There is a perception that the Walker process has been non-transparent and deliberately vague. Much of the discussion has been limited to small group meetings where developing countries and least developed countries have been excluded from these processes, sources said.

“It is understood that the Ambassador Walker has been threatening that if there is no agreement on the text, he will just go ahead and submit a clean text to the General Council on Monday, removing what he thinks will not fly”, one source familiar with the process said. The WTO General Council meets next week 22-23 November.

A letter signed by more than 75 civil society organizations, sent this morning to the WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and all WTO members, said:

“We are writing with great urgency regarding the abrogation of process leading up to the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO (MC12), and to reinforce that the absence of a meaningful outcome on TRIPS Waiver means that the WTO has failed to mount the required response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to devastate countries socially and economically….”

Photo by Alexander Ant from Pexels

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