In Geneva, the WTO won a battle, but not the war

On Wednesday, at the time of the WTO’s mid-term review, Guy Parmelin wanted to see “a half-full glass.” The Federal Councilor was far-sighted as the event did not turn into a first-class burial of free trade and multilateralism. The honor is safe: Thursday night through Friday she gave birth to an agreement deemed “unprecedented” by the organization led for the past fifteen months by Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Is he really? Let us borrow from our Minister of Economy the image so dear to his heart as a winegrower to comment on the fruit of six days of negotiations that are as breathtaking as they are exhausting. The concessions obtained can indeed fill the bucket at highly variable levels, depending on the points of view. The Swiss pharmaceutical industry was quick to step out of the woods to shout all the harm it thinks of the very late patent waiver obtained to deal with the covid pandemic. Knowing that she enjoys an interesting six-month respite from intellectual property related to diagnoses and treatments, right where she is most concerned.

Also read: The WTO is playing overtime

While some NGOs regret that the famous consensus found at 154 Lausanne Street does not rebalance the imperfections of world trade, others rejoice in the path taken to combat overfishing. Finally, the singers of globalization will note that no real progress has been made in further opening up international trade.

Quite the contrary. If the WTO, which was supposed to deliver results, saved its skin, the context has not changed. Against the backdrop of commodity shortages and rising nationalism, protectionist pressures will remain stifling: no later than this Friday, Australia decided to use coal export bans to deal with the severe energy crisis she suffers.

A stubborn director

In pain, then, it was first and foremost a stage victory that the organization achieved. A postponement until the next ministerial meeting, which is expected to take place in 18 months. In the meantime, the WTO will do its homework to reform its structure and operation. It will work mainly behind the scenes to try to move forward on issues such as tariffs on electronic transmissions whose moratorium has been extended.

Because during the week, the perseverance and perseverance of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, determined to get her organization back on track, did not escaped anyone. The new passionaria of international trade could not reasonably have hoped for much more than it had achieved. But this personal success will not be enough to regenerate a seriously halted trade liberalization.

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