Stop Backroom Trade Negotiations During the COVID-19 Pandemic!

Citizens Trade Campaign has joined civil society networks across the globe in calling on countries to halt business-as-usual trade negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak, and focus on saving lives instead.

Coalitions and organizations from more than 150 nations issued a joint letter arguing that “the first and only priority for trade negotiators at this time should be to remove all obstacles, including intellectual property rules, in existing agreements that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies.”

“The sad truth is that some want to use the current public health and economic crisis as an opportunity to rush through new trade rules that prioritize corporate profits and power ahead of healthy communities,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign.  “Now is not a time for doubling-down on policies that have already left communities around the globe so vulnerable.”

While labor, environmental and family farm organizations struggle to support their members’ immediate health and economic survival needs, the Trump administration recently opened a public comment period in the midst of the pandemic on negotiating objectives for a new trade agreement with Kenya that could become a template pact for trade deals across Africa.  The administration also continues to discuss negotiating new agreements this year in Europe and South America.

The World Trade Organization has likewise considered holding negotiations on digital trade and other issues during the coronavirus pandemic — with richer countries like the European Union, Canada and Australia reportedly supporting “virtual” negotiations and countries like Jamaica, Ecuador, India and South Africa rejecting the idea.

In addition to calling out the inappropriateness of diverting limited government resources into trade negotiations right now, the civil society letter also points out that countries should not be “negotiating rules for a world that will be unimaginably different once the pandemic subsides.”

A PDF of the letter is online here.

UPDATE: CTC has also joined 630 organizations across the world in sounding the alarm about a potential wave of cases from transnational corporations suing governments over actions taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic using a system known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Together, we are calling on governments to urgently shut down this threat.

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