The lack of agreements during the recent biennial WHO meeting in Buenos Aires shows that there is not only a standoff between developed and underdeveloped countries, but that the position of President Donald Trump, that “the WHO has not treated us well and we will only accept agreements that do not suit us”, has strained the situation even more and has driven away the possibilities of an agreement. The U.S. Trade, Robert Lighthizer, was very direct in saying, “The United States has an issue with the WHO.”
The contentious topic of this conference was food safety, as India proposed that governments be allowed to store and offer subsidized foods and authorize minimum sustenance prices with subsidies inclusively above 10% of those admitted by the WHO.
After the conference of Bretton Woods en 1944, the victorious Second World War countries met in Havana (Cuba) to agree to the creation of a World Trade Organization, and although they agreed to a text, the Congress of the United States refused to ratify the agreement with the argument that accepting arbitration from a foreign organization in events of claims from other countries was unacceptable for the sovereignty.
Then in 1948, they agreed to create the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) e agreeing to lower average world tariffs from 40 to 4%, as the non-tariff measures (sanitary, phytosanitary, environmental, customs and others) grew to prevent the entry of goods from underdeveloped countries to large cities.
During after the Uruguay Summit, which ended in Marrakech in 1994, the United States and the European countries pushed to extend intellectual property protection over drugs, cinema, music, software, and books, as well as resisting to review the considerable subsidies provided to farmers of rich countries. The WHO ruling declaring cotton subsidies illegal was trampled by the U.S. when the George W. Bush administration instead of removing or reducing them, increased them!
In January of 1995, the WHO began its operations and the Seattle Summit ended in a harsh dispute due to the aforementioned topic and also ended without any agreements amid massive manifestations and aggressions towards the Ministers. The following Summit in Mexico (Cancun) was not less belligerent or more productive, and ended by a suicide of a Korean demonstrator …
Then during the following summit in Doha (Qatar) where they prevented the entry of NGOs and labor unions, China was officially accepted as a member and they also accepted the governments manufacture drugs with general patents in events of public health dire situations. Unfortunately, this agreement has not been implemented due to delays from the pharmaceutical industry, except in India, South Africa, and Brazil, where their pressure has allowed little but some progress. On its part Colombia has begun a similar policy and the government has been subjected to pressures, claims, and lobby from pharmaceutical companies who threaten to limit their cooperation in issues such as peace and narcotrafficking.
Therefore as the Buenos Aires Summit was approaching the feeling in the atmosphere was not the best and the Indian proposal to support public provision of basic foods (especially wheat and rice), accepting minimum sustenance prices or a 10% subsidy for these foods is strongly resisted by developed countries particularly the United States, which opposes public system food offers and instead says to leave this to the market and support consumers with fund transfers. On the other part, the developed countries are pressuring for the WHO to regulate electronic trade.
The tone of the United States, its reluctance to come to any agreement and the ill-timed desertion of the U.S. Trade Representative before the ending of the summit, clearly express the attitude that this government also uses in other issues such as immigration, the environment, and sexual diversity.
Therefore, while other developed countries headed by India strive to provide continuance to positive aspects of the Doha Summit, the U.S. delegates resisted to any mention “multilateralism”, which is the philosophy which inspired these institutions. Not for nothing the United States has again withdrawn from UNESCO, declined to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is reviewing NAFTA and taking distance from NATO.
As in every other topic, India and Pakistan are on opposite sides. Pakistan advocated for their fund transfer program to people in need and said that the Indian proposal to store food stocks could produce negative effects on third countries if subsidized products were exported to other countries.