WTO postpones conference due to pandemic travel restrictions

Managing Director of the World Bank, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, listens to a statement, during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009. (AP Photo/Keystone/Alessandro Della Bella)

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has postponed a major conference that was to be held next week in Geneva after governments around the world imposed travel restrictions due to a new and particularly transmissible variant of COVID-19.

The EU Trade Ministers’ Consultations on the Ministerial Conference of the WTO has been postponed indefinitely, the WTO said on Friday night, after countries, including Switzerland, suspended passenger flights from seven southern African countries to contain the potentially more dangerous coronavirus strain.

Trade ministers had planned to negotiate on several pressing issues including relaxing vaccine patents, eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies and WTO reforms, as of Tuesday.

The conference was set to run until Dec. 3.

The delay is the second time the meeting has been postponed because of the pandemic, as it was originally scheduled for June 2020.

“It is better to err on the side of caution,’’ said WTO Director-General. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The conference was planned as a hybrid event, with attendees able to come to Geneva, or join online.

Many still wanted to attend in person and would have been disadvantaged by the new restrictions, Okonjo-Iweala said. (dpa/NAN)