The list of problems is long, the willingness to compromise is tenuous: starting Sunday, trade ministers from all over the world will be struggling in Geneva to find solutions to corona vaccines and fishing subsidies, among other things.

Starting Sunday in Geneva, the 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will negotiate controversial issues such as harmful fishing subsidies and a patent suspension for corona drugs. It was completely unclear whether the trade ministers would be able to agree on an agreement by the end of the conference on Wednesday.

In addition, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, with its devastating consequences for commodity and agricultural trade, overshadowed the meeting. The trade ministers should find solutions to the price increases for oil, gas and food, among other things. EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis is negotiating for the European Union.

Demand for the suspension of patents on corona agents

More than 100 WTO countries are demanding the suspension of patents on corona drugs so that they can start production. Rich countries had secured a large part of the vaccine production in 2021 and poorer countries could not initially be supplied. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is now enough corona vaccine available for the global supply. Pharmaceutical companies and the EU, for example, insist that innovations such as mRNA vaccines are only possible with patent protection.

Civil society groups have criticized a compromise proposal for patent watering because it covers only vaccines and not drugs, and because they see it as limiting rather than increasing the scope for developing countries. Under WTO law, governments can, under certain conditions, issue compulsory licenses for the production of medicines against the will of companies.

third of world stocks overexploited

In an agreement on fisheries subsidies, developing countries demand that industrialized countries have higher requirements. With their large fleets, they would have caused overfishing for decades. According to the UN agricultural organization FAO, a good third of the world’s stocks are overfished. Industrialized countries insist on the right to fisheries subsidies as long as fish stocks are monitored and their conservation regulated. However, developing countries have little monitoring capacity.

The USA in particular criticize the fact that China, with its huge deep-sea fleet, is a developing country in the WTO. In the WTO, the countries themselves decide on their status when they join. According to studies, China pays the most fisheries subsidies. As a reform, the US has proposed a set of criteria for developing country status. According to civil society groups, dozens of countries would then lose their status.

In the absence of agreement on these and other reforms, the US has paralyzed the WTO dispute settlement mechanism in protest. Reform negotiations have not yet started.