The Week in Multilateralism
Friday, June 4, 2021
A Way Around Waivers?
The European Union is reportedly putting the final touches on a plan for expanded global vaccine distribution that will avoid suspending intellectual property rights. The Wall Street Journal reported on the EU effort:
EU officials said they would present the proposal at the [World Trade Organization] next week, when members are also set to debate the waiver. They argue that removing patents won’t do much to help increase production in the short term and would remove incentives for pharmaceutical companies to do further work, such as updating vaccines for virus mutations.
Meanwhile, the newly installed chief of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mathias Cormann, appeared to downplay the importance of intellectual property waivers. He emphasized alternative means of boosting vaccine access. Via Reuters:
Asked whether an [OECD] ministerial council meeting had discussed the possibility of suspending pharmaceutical companies’ IP rights on coronavirus vaccines they had developed, Cormann told reporters that there were other priorities.
“In terms of how best to ensure that we can guarantee a rollout of the vaccines on a worldwide basis, there are many issues that are more important ... and in particular making sure that we have effective production and distribution mechanisms in place,” Cormann said.
European Notables Defend the Court
The recent violence in Israel and Palestine underscored the International Criminal Court’s new investigation in the region. The ICC prosecutor weighed in during the conflict to emphasize her office’s scrutiny of possible crimes. For their part, Israeli officials identified Palestine’s support for the ICC investigation as an obstacle to any possible cooperation on reconstruction.
In the wake of the fighting, a group of former European ministers criticized what it described as political interference with the court’s enquiry:
[W]e stress the importance of all European governments firmly supporting the independence of the ICC and shielding the institution and its staff from any external pressures or threats. That includes refraining from public criticism of the ICC’s decisions, which could contribute to undermining the independence of the court and public trust in its authority.
That letter coincided with a low-key but perhaps significant U.S. endorsement of the court’s work. In the context of an Organization of American States bilateral session with court officials, a U.S. representative offered general support for the ICC and avoided any criticisms of the investigations in Afghanistan or Palestine:
[T]he Biden Administration believes this is a historic moment in which the United States and the ICC could return to a period of cooperation and work together to achieve our common objectives. We also look forward to working with OAS member states and other partners, as our goals and concerns will be best addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process.
On the Cusp of the Summit
Final preparations are underway for next week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, where a central issue will be the push for a global minimum corporate tax. U.S. officials are optimistic that the G7 members will endorse a plan for a 15 percent floor on corporate taxation. The OECD is the main forum for the taxation negotiations, but a G7 intervention would carry significant weight.
Pandemic response will also feature prominently in the session. Divided on intellectual property waivers, the membership will likely endorse a range of other measures to boost vaccine access. In a statement released in advance of the summit, the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank urged the group to release surplus vaccine supplies to the rest of the world.
Mali On the Outs
In the wake of a coup in the country, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union both suspended Mali’s membership. The AU also threatened sanctions if constitutional rule was not restored promptly. The political turmoil in the country created immediate operational complications for the UN peacekeeping force deployed there (with the government’s consent). More than 12,000 peacekeepers and several thousand civilian officials are deployed to the country. UN officials urged the speedy return of legitimate government.
The UN Security Council is ready to recommend the reappointment of Antonio Guterres as UN Secretary General.
The heads of state from the Quad countries may meet in the fall to discuss infrastructure challenges.
The World Bank is sounding the alarm about Lebanon’s economic crisis.
Defense ministers from the NATO countries met virtually to prepare for the alliance’s upcoming summit.
The European Commission is investigating Facebook’s advertising practices.
A “people’s tribunal” convened in London to examine allegations of genocide agains Uyghur populations.
James Crawford, a renowned legal scholar and judge on the International Court of Justice, died this week.