The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed to postpone the Ministerial Conference because of the especially contagious Omicron strain of the Covid-19 virus.
The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) was supposed to start on November 30 and last until December 3, but the announcement of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland and many other European countries led to the President of the General Council, Dacio Castillo (Honduras ), to convene an emergency meeting of all WTO members to inform them of the situation.
«Given these unfortunate events and the uncertainty they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene as soon as possible when conditions permit,» Castillo told the General Council. «I trust you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.»
The new variant B.1.1.529 of Covid-19, detected for the first time in southern Africa, was classified on Friday as «worrisome» by the World Health Organization (WHO) and will bear the name «Omicron».
«Variant B.1.1.529 was first reported to WHO by South Africa on November 24, 2021 … This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern,» the group said. of experts commissioned by the WHO to follow the evolution of Covid-19.
For her part, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said travel limitations meant that many ministers and senior delegates could not have participated in face-to-face negotiations at the Conference. This would make participation on equal terms impossible, she added.
Okonjo-Iweala said that many delegations have long argued that meeting virtually does not offer the kind of interaction necessary to conduct complex negotiations on politically sensitive issues.
This is the second time that the pandemic has forced the 12th Ministerial Conference to be postponed. The meeting was originally scheduled 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 meeting and the country’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was to deliver a keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Conference on November 30.
The Director-General and the President of the General Council, along with many speaking ambassadors, paid tribute to Kazakhstan for its support and commitment to the WTO and the multilateral trading system.
No date has been set for rescheduling the Ministerial Conference.