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Omicron strain forces WTO to postpone ministerial meet

🔴 It is the first major trade casualty of the new Covid variant. No date has been set for reconvening the 12th ministerial conference, widely seen as a test of the WTO’s relevance amid criticism by key members on the multilateral trading system that it represents.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi |
November 28, 2021 3:05:09 am
Omicron strain forces WTO to postpone ministerial meetWTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said many could not have participated due to travel constraints. (Reuters file)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has postponed its crucial meet of trade ministers from various countries — scheduled to start from November 30 in Geneva — for a second time, after an outbreak of a new strain of the Covid-19 virus led several governments to impose travel curbs.

It is the first major trade casualty of the new Covid variant. No date has been set for reconvening the 12th ministerial conference, widely seen as a test of the WTO’s relevance amid criticism by key members on the multilateral trading system that it represents.

The Geneva meet was to run until December 3 and host talks on a broad range of issues, including the WTO’s response to containing Covid-19, curbs on fishery subsidies and a permanent solution to the public procurement programmes for food security.

The B.1.1.529 variant, known as the Omicron variant, detected in South Africa has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the WHO, which says it may spread more quickly than other variants.

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the travel constraints meant that many ministers and senior delegates could not have participated in face-to-face negotiations at the ministerial Conference. “This would render participation on an equal basis impossible,” she said. The meeting was originally due to take place in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. Although the General Council decided to move the meeting to Geneva, Kazakhstan was chosen to chair the meet. FE

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