TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Oct20/16)
16 October 2020
Third World Network

Concerns voiced over attempts to convene fisheries talks virtually
Published in SUNS #9212 dated 16 October 2020

Washington DC, 15 Oct (D. Ravi Kanth) – Members of the World Trade Organization remain concerned over attempts to convene the fisheries subsidies negotiations virtually despite the difficulties involved in negotiating difficult issues on a virtual platform, said people familiar with the development.

As COVID-19 cases have suddenly spiked in Europe, including Switzerland, the Canton of Geneva issued new restrictions on 14 October curtailing public meetings with more than 100 participants.

Against this backdrop, the chair must not depend on the virtual platform for negotiating hard choices in the bracketed draft consolidated text in which members’ positions remain far apart, said several negotiators, who asked not to be identified.

The chair of the Doha Rules negotiating group, Ambassador Santiago Wills from Colombia, on 14 October postponed the scheduled meetings on the fisheries subsidies negotiations, citing “medical reasons”, after coming under pressure from members for convening the meeting, said trade envoys.

Several members protested the chair’s ad hoc decision on 12 October for convening the Doha Rules negotiating group meeting which clashed with an earlier scheduled meeting of the WTO’s TRIPS Council, said people familiar with the development (SUNS #9210 dated 4 October 2020).

In his latest email sent to members on 14 October, the chair said, “unfortunately, for medical reasons, I have to postpone this week’s informal meetings on the fisheries subsidies negotiations. While the reason seems to be a simple and mild common cold, in these times – and with particular consideration to everyone’s health – I think it better to err on the side of caution and would think it better if we were to continue our negotiations next week.”

He has now scheduled the meetings on 20 and 21 October and all day on 23 October.

However, convening limited physical meetings involving more than 100 members may not be possible with the Canton of Geneva announcing new Corona guidelines with effect from 14 October.

In a communication, the Geneva Canton said: “At its meeting today, the State Council of the Canton of Geneva has decided on new measures to protect the population against the spread of the coronavirus.”

It proposed the following protective measures with effect from 14 October: gatherings of more than 15 people in public areas (public squares, promenades and parks) are prohibited; wearing a face mask is mandatory in all establishments and installations accessible to the public; private events gathering more than 100 people are prohibited.

So, it remains to be seen what the chair of the Doha Rules negotiations will do in the face of the restrictions imposed by the Canton of Geneva, said a negotiator, who asked not to be quoted.