Why can’t we really expect anything from a “historic” decision to sign a global pandemic treaty

Member states of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday took the first step toward what many governments hope to conclude in a legally binding treaty designed to bolster global defenses against pandemics. Pandemic Treaty. This sounds promising, but it may not be. Even before the first talks began, the United States and other countries were pushing for a weaker mechanism that would not impose any legal obligations on member states. Or: it would probably go the same way as it does with climate treaties—lots of bleating and less wool.

As the UN’s approach to climate has made clear for decades: approval of the deal is a slow process. The pandemic has shown that when threatened, governments often tend not to think globally, but rather to choose to defend themselves.

A rare extraordinary session of the WHO’s Governing Council – only the second ever – agreed to create an intergovernmental negotiating body that meets by March to begin negotiations on an international agreement to ensure a more coherent and equitable response to future pandemics.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is a staunch supporter of a legally binding treaty and hailed the decision as “historic”. He added that the commitment of countries to negotiate a global agreement “will help protect future generations from the effects of epidemics.” He described it as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and enhance the well-being of all people.”

The key word here is “chance”. After all, the resolution is only the beginning of what promises difficult negotiations to reach consensus among the World Health Organization’s 194 member states. The agreement calls for negotiators to submit the outcome of their deliberations by May 2024.

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The target is already weaker by the United States and other countries

The European Union and Great Britain have been pushing for months for an ambitious treaty with legal force. The discovery of the Omikron variant, which has sparked a new wave of travel regulations and border closures, primarily targeting South African countries where the alternative was first identified, has renewed criticism that countries around the world are a patchwork of dealing with and behaving in a discriminatory manner. .

“There is no better response to the emergence of the Omikron variant than this gathering of the international community behind efforts to strengthen the legal framework that underpins our collective response to pandemics,” Simon Manley, the British ambassador to Geneva, said on Twitter. The United States called the initiative in a statement a “very important step”, but with the support of Brazil and other countries, it immediately refused to commit to anything legally binding.

China only “in principle” in the story

The international agreement – if it ever happens – aims to prevent a repeat of the “fragmented and torn” steps by countries that have weakened the global response to Covid-19. Treaty proponents want to commit to sharing data, virus samples, and technology and to ensuring the equitable distribution of vaccines.

These issues raise politically sensitive questions about national sovereignty over access to outbreak sites and the possible search for the disease’s origin — already a source of tension between Western governments and China, which have resisted calls for an independent investigation. in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early 2020. China this week said it agreed “in principle” with the ideas behind the treaty, but immediately warned of what it called “politicization, stigmatization and exploitation”.

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Yesterday’s meeting’s decision will lead to the creation of an “intergovernmental negotiating body” to draft and negotiate the final treaty, which must then be adopted by member states. The negotiating group will meet for the first time on March 1, according to the World Health Organization. It will also hold public hearings to enrich its deliberations and prepare progress reports.


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