Stop all trade negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak and refocus on access to medical supplies – Open Letter to Trade Ministries and the WTO


An Open Letter to Trade Ministries and the World Trade Organization (WTO) signed by 258 civil society organisations

Stop all trade and investment treaty negotiations during the COVID-19 outbreak and refocus on access to medical supplies and saving lives

April 17, 2020

Dear World Trade Organization Members,

A new coronavirus has caused a COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across nearly all countries. It is currently predicted to infect millions and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for governments to take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach to address this pandemic and refocus their attention on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.

Many governments at the national and subnational level are already doing so. Governments are working around the clock to deal with the health aspects including life-threatening shortages of medical supplies, including medicines, and healthcare workers and preparing for a global economic shock that is more severe than the 2008 global financial crisis. Government officials are being diverted to working on the pandemic, and trade negotiators and key decision makers have already fallen sick with the coronavirus.

Countries do not have enough staff and other resources to deal with just the health aspects of the pandemic. These pressures are especially intense for developing countries. Governments everywhere are facing shortages of essential test kits and other medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment including masks, ventilators, vaccines and medicines. Vaccines and potential medicines to treat COVID-19 are under clinical trial and development and it is not clear whether intellectual property will be a barrier to their supply, access and affordability due to currently applicable obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and free trade agreements.

Given this clear and urgent priority, we are shocked that some trade negotiations are still continuing in the WTO, as well as bilaterally and regionally, using virtual technologies. It is not feasible for many developing and least developed countries to participate, given the digital divide and the need to focus all governmental resources on this public health emergency. Nor should countries be diverting their resources into negotiating rules for a world that will be unimaginably different once the pandemic subsides.

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, such as lifesaving medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines, and the ability of governments to take whatever steps are necessary to address this crisis.

Unilateral sanctions that prevent countries from obtaining essential medical supplies must end.

We call on WTO Members to ensure that all countries have the flexibilities to set aside trade rules that constrain their ability to resolve the pandemic crisis, without fear of repercussions, and to cease other negotiations and activities that divert their energy and resources from that goal.

We further call on you to recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates a fundamental re-think of the types of rules that are negotiated in trade agreements, including those that can encourage monopolies and reduce affordable access to all forms of medical supplies, and put at risk the lives of people in every country of the world.


1 ActionAid International
2 African Center for Tax and Governance
3 All Win Network
4 Amigos de la Tierra América Latina y el Caribe-ATALC
5 Arab Forum for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
6 Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
7 Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD)
8 Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
9 Association of World Citizens
10 Banana Link
11 BRICS Feminist Watch
13 Columban Missionaries International
14 Confederación Sindical de trabajadores/as de las Américas (CSA)
15 DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)
16 Disabled People’s International
17 Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality
18 Dynamique des Organisations de la Société Civile d’Afrique Francophone (OSCAF)
20 Eastern Himalayan Network on Climate Change
21 Education International
22 ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale farmers Forum
23 FEMNET – African Women’s Development and Communication Network
24 Focus on the Global South
25 Friends of the Earth Europe
26 Friends of the Earth International
27 Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ)
28 Global Policy Forum
30 Greenpeace
31 Groupe de recherche et d’initiative pour la liberation de l’Afrique (GRILA)
32 Hakimadini
33 IBON International
34 Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy (IATP)
35 Institute for Planetary Syntheisis
36 Institute for Social Democracy
37 Internacional de Servicios Públicos, paises andinos
38 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
39 International Transport Workers’ Federation – ITF
40 International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
41 International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
42 Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement
43 Masifundise/WFFP
44 Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign
45 Missionary Society of St. Columban
46 Moana Nui Action Alliance
47 New South Wales Teachers Federation
48 Oxfam International
49 Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)
50 Peoples Health Movement
51 Public Services International (PSI)
52 Red de Género y Comercio-América Latina
53 Red Latinoamericana Mujeres Transformando la Economía – REMTE
54 Regions Refocus
55 Réseau Foi & Justice Afrique Europe antennne France
56 RIPESS-Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy
57 Sisters of Charity Federation
58 Social Watch
59 Society for International Development (SID)
60 Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries
61 TCHAPE, Tchad Agir Pour l’Environnement
62 Third World Network
63 Third World Network TWN-AFRICA
64 Transnational Institute (TNI)
65 UNI Global Union
67 Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA
68 Amigos de la Tierra Argentina Argentina
69 Fundación Vía Libre Argentina
70 IMT-UNTREF Argentina
71 Instituto de Estudios Sobre Estado y Participación IDEP-ATE Argentina
72 Unión del Personal Civil de la Nación (UPCN) Argentina
73 AID/WATCH Australia
74 Australian Arts Trust Australia
75 Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) Australia
76 Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW Branch Australia
77 Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace Australia
78 Community and Public Sector Union (SPSF) Australia
79 Data Stream Pty Limited Australia
80 Gene Ethics Australia
81 GetUp Australia
82 Grail Women for Justice Australia
83 International Grail Justice in Trade Agreements Network Australia
84 Maritime Union of Australia, Victoria Branch Australia
85 Missionary Society of St Columban Australia
86 NSW Nurses & Midwives’ Association Australia
87 Public Health Association of Australia Australia
88 Society of Presentation Sisters of Australia and PNG Australia89 United Workers Union Australia
90 Australian Council of Trade Unions Australia
91 Anders Handeln Austria
92 Attac Austria Austria
93 Center for Encounter and Active Non-Violence Austria
94 ÖBV-Via Campesina Austria Austria
95 Bahrain Transparency Society Bahrain
96 COAST Trust Bangladesh
97 Food Security Network (KHANI), Bangladesh Bangladesh
98 Participatory Research Action Network- PRAN Bangladesh
99 Women Development Program Bangladesh
100 ISDE Bangladesh Bangladesh
101 11.11.11, Belgium Belgium
102 CETRI – Centre tricontinental Belgium
103 Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) Belgium
104 REJEB Benin
105 Social Watch Bénin Bénin
106 Fundación Bolivia
107 Reacción Climática Bolivia
108 Solidarité Bosnie Bosnia
109 Jubileu Sul Brazil Brazil
110 Gestos Brazil
111 Rede Brasileira Pela Integração dos Povos (REBRIP) Brazil
112 RESOCIDE Burkina Faso
114 Associação Comercial Agrícola Industrial e de Serviços de Santiago
Cabo Verde
115 Jeudis de Cotonou Cameroon
116 Council of Canadians/Conseil des Canadiens Canada
117 Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians Canada
118 TCHAPE, Tchad Agir Pour l’Environnement Chad
119 Fundación Constituyente XXI Chile120 Plataforma Chile Mejor sin Tratados de Libre Comercio Chile
121 CENSAT Amigos de la Tierra Colombia Colombia
122 Observatorio de victimas Colombia
123 Sindicato de trabajadores de acuavalle Colombia
124 Asociación Nacional de Profesionales en Enfermería A.N.P.E. Costa Rica
125 Ekumenická akademie (Ecumenical Academy) Czech Republic
126 Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos Dominican Republic
127 Acción Ecológica Ecuador
128 Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos “Segundo Montes
Mozo SJ” (CSMM)
129 FEDAEPS Ecuador
130 Red Ecuador Decide Mejor sin TLC Ecuador
131 New Wind Association Finland
132 Aitec France
133 Amis de la Terre France France
134 Attac France France
135 Collectif stop tafta France
136 Comité pour l’abolition des dettes illégitimes France (CADTM) France
137 Commerce Equitable France France
138 Confédération paysanne France
139 Coordination EAU bien commun France France
140 France Nature Environnement France
141 Notre Affaire à Tous France
142 Reseau ROOSEVELT.IDF France
143 Bio consom’acteurs France
144 Bread for the World, Germany Germany
145 Alliance for Development Ghana
146 The Centre for the Advancement of Marginalized Persons Ghana
147 Naturefriends Greece Greece
148 PAPDA Haiti
149 ATTAC Hungary Hungary
150 Action for Women and Child Advancement (AWCA) India151 All India Drug Action Network India
152 Ansar-un-Nissa India
153 Association For Promotion Sustainable Development India
154 Federation of Indian Micro and Small & Medium Enterprises
155 Indian Social Action Forum India
157 IT for Change India
158 Nivedita Foundation Trust India
159 Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology India
160 United NGOs Mission Manipur India
161 Indonesia for Global Justice (IGJ) Indonesia
162 Climate Change Ireland Ireland
163 Fís Nua Ireland
164 Keep Ireland Fracking Free Ireland
165 Fairwatch Italy
166 Stop TTIP/CETA Italia Campaign Italy
167 Tripla Difesa Onlus Internazional No Violence Italy
168 Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers Jamaica
169 Jamaica Civil Service Association Jamaica
170 Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions Jamaica
171 Globalization Watch Hiroshima Japan
172 Pacific Asia Resource Center(PARC) Japan
173 People’s Action against TPP Japan
174 Kenya Human Rights Commission Kenya
175 Kenya Freedom From Hunger Council Kenya
176 Lebanese Union of Persons with Physical Disabilities Lebanon
177 Policy Analysis and Research Institute of Lesotho (PARIL) Lesotho
178 CELL Luxembourg
179 Malaysian Women’s Action on Tobacco Control & Health
180 Badan Bertindak Selamatkan Industri Padi dan Beras (Padi Rescue) Malaysia181 Consumers’ Association of Penang Malaysia
182 Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group
183 Sustainable Development Network Malaysia Malaysia
184 Treat Every Environment Special Malaysia
185 Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth Malaysia) Malaysia
186 Le Réseau Euromed maroc Marocco
187 Government Services Employees Association Mauritius
188 Equidad de Género: Ciudadanía, Trabajo y Familia México
189 Fundación Mexicana para la Planeación Familiara, AC MEXFAM México
190 Asociación Nacional de Industriales de Transformación (ANIT) México
192 Iniciativas para El Desarrollo de la Mujer Oaxaqueña AC (IDEMO) México
193 GEFONT-Nepal Nepal
194 Rural Area Development Programme (RADP) Nepal
195 Youth For Environment Education And Development Foundation
(YFEED Foundation)
196 Both ENDS Netherlands
197 Handel Anders! coalitie Netherlands
198 Platform Aarde Boer Consument Netherlands
199 Its Our Future New Zealand
200 Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) New Zealand
201 Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa New Zealand
202 Doctors For Healthy Trade New Zealand
203 New Zealand Council of Trade Unions New Zealand
204 New Zealand Public Service Association New Zealand
205 Tax Justice Aotearoa New Zealand New Zealand
206 FIRST Union New Zealand
207 CAFSO-WRAG for Development Nigeria
208 Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development Nigeria
210 Norwegian Trade Campaign, Norway Norway211 Spire Norway
212 Attac Norway Norway
213 Dharti Development Foundation Pakistan
214 NOOR PAKISTAN Pakistan
215 Roots for Equity Pakistan
216 Sukaar Welfare Organization Pakistan
217 Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement
Papua New Guinea
219 Decidamos Paraguay
220 Central Unitaria de Trabajadores del Perú, CUT PERÚ Perú
221 Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) Philippines
222 Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) Philippines
223 Karapatan Alliance Philippines Philippines
224 Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (SENTRO) Philippines
225 Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa
Kalikasan/FoE Phils.
226 TROCA-Plataforma por um Comércio Internacional Justo Portugal
227 Africaine de Recherche et de Coopération Pour l’Appui au
Développement Endogène ARCADE
228 Ongd AFRICANDO Senegal
229 African Futures Institute South Africa
230 SEATINI South Africa South Africa
231 People’s Health Institute South Korea
232 Unión Latina de Economía Política de la Información, la
Comunicación y la Cultura (ULEPICC)
233 Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Sri Lanka
234 Center for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND) Switzerland
235 Nord Sud XXI Switzerland
236 ADETRA Switzerland
237 Association for Proper Internet Governance Switzerland
238 Solidarité Suisse-Guinée Switzerland239 Humanitaire Plus (Togo) Togo
240 Forum Tunisien pour les Droits Economiques et Sociaux Tunisia
241 Observatoire Tunisien de l’Economie Tunisia
242 Alofa Tuvalu Tuvalu
243 Southern and Eastern Africa Trade, Information and Negotiations
Institute SEATINI- Uganda
244 Keep Our NHS Public United Kingdom
245 Global Justice Now, UK United Kingdom
246 Just Treatment United Kingdom
247 War on Want United Kingdom
248 Women’s Budget Group United Kingdom
249 Citizens Trade Campaign United States
250 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach United States
251 Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project United States
252 Public Citizen United States
253 The Oakland Institute United States
254 National Family Farm Coalition United States
255 REDES-Amigos de la Tierra (FoE) Uruguay Uruguay
256 Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition Vanuatu
257 Asoc. cooperativa eps textil m ribas Venezuela
258 Coalición de tendencias Clasista (CTC-VZLA) Venezuela