Now is not the time to negotiate trade agreements: governments must focus on securing medical supplies and saving lives endangered by COVID-19

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(23 April 2020) Hundreds of trade unions and civil society organisation are calling on trade negotiators and the World Trade Organisations (WTO) to stop trade negotiations and to focus all governmental resources on dealing with the public health emergency brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an open letter supported PSI and EPSU, the signatories underline that the first and only priority for now is to remove all obstacles - including intellectual property rules - in existing agreements that hinder timely and affordable access to medical supplies, medicines, devices, diagnostics and vaccines. 

Unilateral sanctions that prevent countries from obtaining essential medical supplies must end. WTO Members should  ensure that all countries can make use of flexibilities to set aside trade rules that constrain their ability to resolve the pandemic crisis, without fear of repercussions, and that other negotiations and activities that divert their energy and resources from that goal should cease. 

Furthermore,  the COVID-19 pandemic calls for a fundamental re-think of rules that are negotiated in trade agreements that make it more difficult to build effective and universal public health systems,  encourage monopolies, and reduce affordable access to all forms of medical supplies. Already we are reading that the Commission considers trade agreements as part of the answer to relaunch the economy. We have been there before and before we discuss trade we need to learn the lessons and ensure that we have fair trade.  

You can find the full letter on the PSI website together with a ‘template’ letter that you can use to contact your government.