WTO’s failure to drop vaccine patents contributed to 2 million death toll says groups
“This global regime on trade stole our right to health, livelihood and now, if left unopposed, next for the looting is our future,” says Filipina activist Liza Maza in a global event on the agreements enforced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In an online gathering, civil society and grassroots organisations together with doctors and health workers from around the world denounced the WTO for it’s culpability in the death of millions due to the pandemic.
“Its failure to waive the intellectual property barriers for the vaccine speaks volumes on how much the WTO cares more about profit of Big Pharma than human lives,” says Edelina de la Paz, MD, of the Coalition for People’s Right to Health.
Last October 2020, more than 100 countries proposed the waiver of the Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the vaccine and COVID-19 prevention, containment and treatment technologies to the WTO. More than a year later, a waiver is nowhere in sight.
The stalled negotiations on the monopoly deferrals earned not just the ire of health professionals but of workers and people’s movements.
“[The WTO] has failed to enable the production of COVID-19 vaccines as a global public good and this has contributed to the deaths of at least 2 million people so far,” says Workers International Struggles Initiatives (WORKINS) spokesperson Peter Murphy in the online event.
The intergovernmental trade regime has yet to respond to the urgent waiver as Big Pharmaceuticals have expressed strong opposition to it. It announced that member states will just continue to discuss the waiver up until the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference this November 30 in Geneva, Switzerland.
“People are dying everyday as the WTO continues to avoid the issue of the TRIPS waiver. Our lives and health is not up for debate. Blocking it prolongs this pandemic and denies vaccines, treatments, and the right to health of millions of people,” says Maza who is also the General Secretary of the International League of Peoples Struggle, one of the co-organisers of the webinar.
Speaking live in the online event, Antonio Tujan from the Institute of Political Economy, proposed a solution which is to do away with the WTO TRIPS altogether. According to him, it only “strengthens corporate protection” and instead, agreements on patents should “support public access to knowledge, promote local entrepreneurship secondary to public investment, economic development and production.”
FTAs: An ignored tragedy
This tragic reality in this pandemic, according to Murphy, is just the tip of the iceberg. He continued that “all the neoliberal agreements in the WTO since 1995 have killed people, just not so dramatically, more slowly and more easily ignored.”
The statement was referring to the 26 years of free trade agreements (FTA) which has been met with condemnation worldwide. Agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) and Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) which forced poor and developing countries to open their economies to foreign goods and capital.
The decades of imposed tariff cuts and removal of trade barriers resulted in the loss of livelihoods for millions of farmers, workers and other productive forces.
“The farmers and rural people across the globe and Asia region are facing the deteriorating impact of WTO policies,” says Wali Haider of the Asian Peasant Coalition. Haider underscored that the Agreement on Agriculture, Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and TRIPS are forcing countries to amend their laws at the expense of the rural poor.
WTO has been negotiating the fisheries subsidies for more than 20 years and is expected to be tabled once again in the 12th Ministerial Conference. However, fisherfolk groups and environmentalists have been asserting that it will do more harm than good.
“We are very worried about this [fisheries] subsidy. It should go directly to support our small fishers and not predatory fleets that continue to deplete our fish stocks and violate our right to livelihood,” says Zoila Bustamante of People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty-Latin America and the Caribbean (PCFS-LAC). In effect, it has become a cover up for continued plunder of marine resources by ocean grabbers and giants in the fishing industry.
“Despite WTO’s apparent policy of allocating the majority of subsidies to corporate fishing, it has hypocritically claimed to advocate for ocean conservation and equal opportunity,” says Pamalakaya Pilipinas chairperson, Fernando Hicap.
More than 80% of subsidies today go to large export-oriented fleets which left millions of small-scale fisherfolk and fishworkers wanting, poor and neglected.
Contrary to the current text-based negotiations, the fisherfolk group told WTO that “if they are really sincere, we should be talking about fisheries subsidies on the basis of social justice, right to food, right to work and equal remuneration, right to adequate standard of living, and towards food sovereignty, environmental protection, and genuine development for the people.”
Building a future without WTO
Presented in the online forum is a petition statement from groups all over the world which heavily criticised WTO’s “recovery” process from the pandemic. It mentions the trade recovery plan and slammed it “for promoting further liberalization and deregulation of trade and commerce, which are the very tenets of neoliberalism that brought us to this crisis to begin with.”
“Livelihoods were destroyed. Our basic rights were violated. The damage to our planet is feared to be irreversible. WTO and its unsustainable and exploitative trade agenda already failed the peoples of the world. It has no integrity, whatsoever, to tell us how to recover and rebuild our future.” Maza reiterates.
Raising the conversation to alternatives, Tujan said that it is high time for ‘[a] new trade treaty to establish a new international economic order in trade and development under the UN.” This new trade pact, according to him, should be premised on the benefit of the people and should promote genuine development adding that “it should restore the responsibility of governments to ensure the equitable role of foreign trade and regulate foreign corporations.”
“We have to strengthen dispute settlements based on principles of sovereignty, equality, solidarity with poor countries and mutual benefit and cooperation,” Tujan asserts.
Speaking on behalf of Filipino workers, ILPS – Philippines chairperson and veteran labor activist Elmer ‘Bong’ Labog announced that Filipinos will be marching in the global day of action against WTO on November 30. “We are strongly demanding for liveable wages and respect for the respect of worker’s from governments and not succumbed to pressures of WTO,” says Labog.
“It has plundered economies and brought suffering to the peoples of the world. Now, we not just condemn WTO but we demand for its dissolution. We need and will fight for a new pro-people trade regime,” Labog ends. #