February 3, 2023

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WTO seeks fish, vaccine deals as war ignites trade tensions

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GENEVA/BRUSSELS — The World Trade Organization will host ministers from across the globe this month with the aim of striking deals on fish and vaccines, testing the world’s ability to set trade rules at a time of mounting tensions.

Global trade discord, COVID-19 and the crippling of its dispute settlement mechanism had already weakened the Geneva-based body, which was twice forced to cancel the ministerial conference due to the pandemic.

The normally biennial meeting, last held over four years ago, will now take place after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered commodity price hikes and food export bans and China’s zero-COVID policy exacerbates worldwide supply chain difficulties.

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Global trade is meanwhile set to slow this year, with the Ukraine war adding to uncertainty.

Against that backdrop, the ministers will seek to conclude 20 years of negotiations to reduce fishing subsidies, forge a deal on fairer sharing of COVID-19 vaccines, push agricultural trade reform and set a path for reform of the WTO.

Dmitry Grozoubinski, director of the Geneva Trade Platform, said there was a sense that the meeting, dubbed MC12, was “a little bit cursed.”

“This was always going to be a ministerial with modest outcomes at best. The invasion has made things harder, but things were hardly easy beforehand,” he said.

Several members have said they will not negotiate with Russia, while Moscow would be expected to block any attempt by Ukraine’s allies to formulate a ministerial statement on the crisis, such as its impact on food.

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2022-06-03 02:01:47

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