G20 trade ministers on Tuesday promised to work towards a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines by lifting export restrictions and making the trade system more transparent.
Their final statement, adopted after a meeting in Sorrento, southern Italy, was a sign of the return of multilateralism, said Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
“We have to ensure that there is greater circulation of vaccines and that there are production factories in the developing countries,” French Trade Minister Franck Riester said.
While more than six billion vaccine doses have been produced and administered worldwide, only 1.4% of people in poor countries have been fully vaccinated, compared to 58% in rich countries, World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said earlier this month.
Ahead of the WTO’s ministerial conference set for Nov 30 to Dec 3 in Geneva, she called on members to agree on a strong response to the pandemic based on a fairer sharing of the vaccines.
Riester said another issue was getting vaccine-makers to wave intellectual property rights to allow for production anywhere in the world.
The G20 members also agreed on the need to reform the WTO, something the European Commission has been insisting on for some time.
It backed the current talks on renegotiating fishing subsidies to ensure the sustainability of stocks.
And they agreed the need for stronger international regulation of industrial subsidies to ensure a level playing field and better trade rules on agriculture.
“Many of us highlighted agricultural subsidies and agricultural market access,” the statement said.
While many countries have issued subsidies to industries hit during the pandemic, not all of them have notified the WTO of all the sums paid out.
Di Maio said that the question of subsidies was still creating tensions.
“We are all agreed in saying that the rules of the game have to be same for everyone,” he added.