Covid vaccines and overfishing agreement / Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Agreements including waiving patents for Covid vaccines and aiming to reduce overfishing have been passed by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The group of 164 countries spent five days negotiating deals which included pledges on health and food security.

The partial intellectual property waiver deal for coronavirus jabs will allow developing countries to produce and export vaccines.

But it will only last five years, and excludes disease treatments and tests.

Director-general of the WTO Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the agreements, reached at a conference in Geneva, would “make a difference to the lives of people around the world”.

“The outcomes demonstrate that the WTO is in fact capable of responding to emergencies of our time,” she added.

The package of the two highest profile deals on the table – aimed at reducing overfishing and sharing Covid vaccine knowledge – was described as “unprecedented” by Ms Okonjo-Iweala.


The WTO is an international agency with 164 member countries and its main functions are to provide a forum for negotiations to reduce barriers to international commerce, and to administer a system of rules governing trade.

Its rules dictate that all decisions are taken by consensus, with any single member able to exercise a veto.

At one stage, a series of demands from India, which sees itself as the champion of poor farmers and fishermen as well as developing countries, appeared set to paralyse talks but accommodations were found, trade sources said.

The accord to curb fishing subsidies is only the second multilateral agreement setting new global trading rules struck in the WTO’s 27-year history and it is hoped it will boost falling fishing stocks.

“This is a turning point in addressing one of the key drivers of global over-fishing.” said Isabel Jarrett, manager of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ campaign to reduce harmful fisheries subsidies.

UK International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the fisheries agreement did “not go as far as many members wanted”.

“But it does go some way to delivering what our oceans need and all those that are dependent on them,” she said.

Meanwhile, the deal on a partial waiver to allow developing countries to produce and export Covid vaccines had divided the WTO for nearly two years, before a version was finally passed.

But campaigners have said the agreement barely expands on an existing exemption in WTO rules and is too narrow because it does not cover therapeutics and diagnostics.

“Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives,” said Max Lawson, co-chairman of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.