New Zealand Ambassador David Walker, the person designated by the Chair of World Trade Organization (WTO)’s General Council to facilitate the drafting of ‘WTO Response to Covid-19 pandemic’ declaration, may propose the formation of a new body to coordinate and oversee the implementation of the pandemic action plan approved by WTO members.

The proposal for a separate ad hoc body to coordinate and monitor the ‘pandemic response, preparedness and resilience’ has been suggested by Walker in the draft text circulated among the informal negotiation groups on November 22, according to expert observers tracking the development. Once finalised, the draft text may find its way to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the WTO, scheduled to take place from November 30 to December 3, 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Trade experts say the suggestion for a separate body may not go down well with the developing country members of WTO as they consider the General Council itself to be the most appropriate place to take up such responsibilities through an established set of rules and procedures. A new body could undermine the role of developing and least-developed countries in terms of effective participation, they add.

The Action Plan on Pandemic Response, Preparedness and Resilience is aimed at addressing issues related to Covid-19 and enhancing future preparedness, response and resilience of the WTO and its members to any future pandemics, and at guiding the work of the WTO post-MC12 on these matters. Walker's draft Action Plan has also invited criticism from several developing and least developed nations, who point out that the language used in the draft text does not give them the confidence that the action plan will be in sync with the spirit of the MC12 Declaration they are negotiating at the moment.

Walker proposes that the ad hoc Pandemic Response, Preparedness and Resilience Body should be established under the WTO’s General Council and chaired by a Head of Delegation appointed by the council. It’s role will be to convene sessions till the end of 2023 to assess progress, consider issues of a cross-cutting nature in specific areas of the Action Plan, and provide overall guidance and direction to relevant WTO bodies, including the Council for Trade in Goods, the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade, the Committee on Market Access, the Committee on Agriculture etc. The decisions taken by these committees are considered to be extremely sensitive for the developing and least developed countries as it covers topics such as food security and intellectual property waiver for pandemic products.

The Ministerial Conference, held once in two years, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO and will be attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164-member countries.

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