World Trade Organisation ‘Geneva pact’ trade deals forged by monologue ban as diplomats danced to stay awake

Not everyone was satisfied with final agreement, with many civil society groups saying that one of the main deals struck, a partial waiver on intellectual property for COVID-19 shots, was watered down significantly during the course of negotiations.

But some diplomats credited Okonjo-Iweala for there being deals at all. At several points, negotiations looked hopeless or were on the verge of collapse due to intransigence by India and protests over a fishing text that did not go as far as many coastal and island nations wanted.

“She deserves a lot of praise and she pushed us when we needed to be pushed”, US Ambassador to the WTO, Maria Pagán, told journalists.


EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis agreed that her determination had been instrumental in a deal being reached.

“That’s her style, she was very engaged, very hands-on, one could even say pushing WTO members, pushing for outcomes. Certainly, she played a very significant role here,” Dombrovskis told reporters.

Her supporters say she has re-energized the office of the Director-General – a role that does not have many formal powers – although some members have criticized her for processes they say are opaque and exclusive.

The closing session of the conference proved to be an all-night affair where delegates danced and dosed on caffeine to stay awake. Credit:AFP Pool

Much of the legwork this week was done by delegates. Images shared with Reuters show a dozen negotiators clustering in huddles to draft language around a single laptop and tables strewn with mints and empty coffee cups late past midnight on Thursday.

The coffee was at times badly needed, with hours spent on a single footnote of an agreement on a COVID-19 IP waiver.

For diplomats the week has also been a marathon. US Ambassador Pagan said she and some colleagues kept themselves going by dancing to The Final Countdown and I Will Survive.

“We also at 2 or 3 in the morning danced a little bit in one of the rooms while we were waiting for something to happen, just to keep ourselves awake and entertained,” she said.

By dawn on Friday, Okonjo-Iweala’s voice had grown hoarse from hours and hours of talks and two sleepless nights. “Today, I think I can say you really are earning your salary,” she joked to Geneva trade ambassadors.


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