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WTO Delays Key Meeting Amid New Variant11/27 08:57

   The World Trade Organization is postponing its conference of government 
ministers set to open Tuesday after Switzerland initiated new travel 
restrictions following the emergence of a worrying new coronavirus variant, 
officials said.

   GENEVA (AP) -- The World Trade Organization is postponing its conference of 
government ministers set to open Tuesday after Switzerland initiated new travel 
restrictions following the emergence of a worrying new coronavirus variant, 
officials said.

   The MC12 conference at WTO headquarters in Geneva was set to take up key 
issues like a long-awaited agreement on subsidies for fisheries, seen as a 
major way to prevent overfishing in the world's seas, and an effort to waive 
patent and other intellectual property protections linked to COVID-19 vaccines.

   Ambassadors from the WTO's 164 member states agreed Friday to delay the 
four-day conference after new Swiss travel restrictions meant all participants 
wouldn't be able to attend in person, and a virtual meeting was not deemed to 
be an option, the a Geneva-based trade official said on condition of anonymity 
because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

   British ambassador Simon Manley tweeted a photo of WTO Director-General 
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on a dais during the meeting of ambassadors, and wrote that 
it depicted her announcing the postponement over the health situation and "the 
inability of all delegations to attend."

   The European Union's international trade office's Twitter page said the 
conference "is postponed for now - a difficult but wise decision by @wto given 
the epidemiological situation."

   The Swiss health department said that all direct flights from southern 
Africa were banned, and as of Friday evening, all people arriving from that 
region as well as Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel -- other places where the 
variant was detected -- must present a negative COVID-19 test and go into 
quarantine for 10 days.

   "This has not been an easy recommendation to make ... But as 
Director-General, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants 
-- ministers, delegates and civil society. It is better to err on the side of 
caution," Okonjo-Iweala said in a WTO statement.

   This marks the second time the pandemic has forced a postponement of the 
12th Ministerial Conference. The meeting was originally due to take place in 
June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.(backslash)

   Across town on Friday, the World Health Organization classified the worrying 
new variant that was first detected in South Africa as a highly transmissible 
variant of concern, and named it the omicron variant -- as part of the 
Greek-letter identification system used by the U.N. health agency.

   South Africa's delegation at the WTO has led the push for an easing of 
protections for patents and other intellectual property behind tools aimed to 
fight pandemic including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, in hopes of 
making them more available to the developing world. Many European countries 
including Switzerland, the EU and Britain have resisted the idea, saying it 
could stifle innovation.

   Concerns about the new omicron variant sent stock markets swooning on Friday 
amid concerns about wider economic fallout including travel restrictions.

 
 
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