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  • Kimberley Peek

Update on Pandemic Accord negotiations - reaching the end of the line


23 March 2024

 

Beginning on 18 March, Member States began negotiations to finalize a #PandemicAccord at the World Health Organization in Geneva. While all Member States seem committed to presenting a treaty to the World Health Assembly in May, there are still major disagreements on both content and process. 


  • In terms of content, the problem revolves around getting to a consensus on -so-called "red lines" (areas where a Member State doesn't want to budge). These include, among others, intellectual property, conditionalities for recipients of public research and development funding, One Health and Pathogen Access and Benefits Sharing (PABS) (check out our briefing note on PABS to learn more about this issue).


  • In terms of process, the negotiators are discussing article by article. For each article, member states put forward [UN] brackets, which indicate either new text or text they want removed. This is slow going. As of Friday evening, they had made it through only about a third of the 31-page document. Member states are working Saturday to keep it moving. 


The process disagreement is also about whether or not to work in informal small groups parallel to the plenary. Most agree small group work decreases posturing and allows for more open discussions, thus increasing the chance of reaching a deal. However, this approach could prejudice smaller delegations, which can't be in two places simultaneously. They did give this approach a test run to see if it could work. 


In this test run, a smaller group, working on a particular article, will come back to plenary with so-called "yellow text" (which implies near consensus). The text would then need to be "greened" in plenary to be considered agreed. If this approach works, they may use it again for other issues that are seemingly blocked. 


On a positive note, throughout the week during lunch and coffee breaks, Member States continued to gather to huddle to discuss positions and negotiate informally. Some States will also meet this weekend outside the formal meeting environment to try to keep pushing forward and work out differences.


The next steps hinge on whether they can break ground on the "red line" issue and whether smaller delegations will agree to "Formal Informals" to move forward in a way that can meet the deadline. 


While the aim was to reach a near-final draft by the end of this week, with so little of even the non-contentious text finalized (e.g., lots still in brackets), finishing by Thursday seems practically impossible.


One option under discussion is extending negotiations to add another week at the end of April. The potential for success, however, hinges on how much progress they make now and when and how the next draft text will be produced. If the next draft is still filled with brackets, does not represent true consensus, or only comes at the end of the week, the May deadline for a substantive treaty seems near impossible.

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