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  • Kimberley Peek

Next steps on the #PandemicAccord: What to expect at the final negotiations


19 April 2024

 

The Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) Co-chairs held a briefing in advance of the resumed session of the ninth meeting of the INB (#INB9) to explain how they arrived at the new text and the working modalities for the final meeting - scheduled from 29 April to 10 May at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. The Co-chairs noted the upcoming meeting will be the least - “and must lead to consensus and agreement or not… it’s now or never.” In short, the Bureau proposed a “take-it-or-leave-it approach.”


The Co-chairs noted that INB9 was challenging - to produce a compilation of ideas, balancing ambition and no-go areas (“a balancing act on a thin cord”). They reviewed many documents and other treaties and held additional consultations to inform the proposed draft. The aim was to produce a new text that built on previous discussions, was "realistic," "doable," "focused," "operationalized equity," and had the "potential for consensus."

They explained that some articles had been merged to avoid duplication and streamline the text. They also explained that not all elements are ready to the “needed level of detail” (e.g., Pathogen Access and Benefits Sharing (PABS), One Health, and Financing and, thus, the proposal was put forward to create Intergovernmental Working Groups (IGWGs) to further discuss these issues (which would require approval on this being an appropriate way forward at the World Health Assembly). This potential creation of an IGWG on One Health was a surprise to some Member States and not universally welcomed. 


Noting that next week will be tough because of parallel discussions to finalize the amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR), the Bureau will continue to hold informals with the aim to further consensus before INB9 resumes on the 29th of April.

The aim is for INB9 to be a “drafting group session.” The Co-chairs asked Member States to refrain from adding new language and made it clear that there would be no or limited opportunity to amend the text online during plenary. 


States that don't agree to the text as written will be invited to "informals" (with no more than two concurrent "informals" at a time). Rooms will be available with translation. If no consensus is achieved during "informals", the default will be to return to the text as was proposed in the most recent draft. 


After the update, Member States had the opportunity to ask questions. Tanzania, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia raised concerns including on the proposed One Health working group (outside regular WHO processes, without other agencies of an existing Quadripartite agreement). China asked for clarification on the potential to add, edit, or change the language in the current proposed draft. 


Bangladesh expressed doubt about finishing by May 2024, criticized agreeing “low-hanging fruit for the sake of consensus,” proposed one IGWG on all remaining topics (not separate), and opposed parallel discussions during INB9. The UK asked about civil society engagement moving forward. Zambia questioned how the current text was compiled (e.g., were regional groups considered one voice or many?); Norway asked for a timetable on informals, so that appropriate experts could be included; and the EU confirmed there are still areas of the text (and, perhaps, many) that lack consensus (citing Article 4). 


The Bureau responded on the process - notably that no consensus is considered consensus (text remains as is); countries can bring up “ideas” but are discouraged from proposing new or old ideas (take-it-or-leave-it); and countries (rather than the Bureau) will need to decide for themselves if there should be further working groups. 


A few times there was a reference to something called “the Spirit of Geneva” (“if we can’t do it in Geneva - we can’t do it anywhere”), a term many of us heard for the first time when Dr. Tedros spoke during #INB9. Reference to this “Spirit” begs the question - could the treaty have been better negotiated at the United Nations in New York? Also notable - the slide deck template used by the Bureau has the logo of the WHO Emergencies Programme leaving a question about WHO's role - over and above the role of the Secretariat, based at WHO, with an explicit mandate to support the Bureau. 


Finally, on can’t help but wonder - is the take-it-or-leave-it approach risky? Member States were told they cannot bring old ideas back or introduce new ideas. So, the only space is current text and small changes. Will that be enough when there is so little consensus on the big-ticket items? 


In any case, it’s going to be a tough few weeks ahead. 

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