US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that United States would continue to push for World Trade Organisation members to agree on an intellectual property framework for Covid-19 vaccines after a major WTO ministerial meeting set for next week was postponed on Friday.

The delay of the in-person meeting in Geneva over travel restrictions and concerns about the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant complicates Tai’s plans to push her vision for WTO reform and rekindling the spirit of dynamism and compromise that led to the trade body’s creation in 1995.

In a pair of tweets, Tai said the postponement “is a reminder that we still have much work to do to end the pandemic.”

“The United States will continue working with WTO members to achieve a multifaceted outcome on trade and health, including an international IP framework, that supports the global pandemic response and puts the WTO in a stronger position to meet the needs of regular people,” Tai said. The WTO’s director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said she wanted negotiations to continue despite no in-person travel, while Geneva-based country delegations should be empowered to reach deals, especially on vaccines.

“This new variant reminds us once again of the urgency of the work we are charged with,” she said in a statement.

No matter the venue, Tai’s main problem in reforming the WTO is getting past entrenched positions and competing national interests including those of the United States.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2021.

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