Pandemic Accord Negotiations Inch Towards First Draft With Co-Chair Urging Substance Over Speed
INB co-chairs Roland Driece and Precious Matsoso

Pandemic accord negotiations resumed on Monday with World Health Organization (WHO) member states expressing a hunger for text-based talks to begin on a first draft amid grave concerns about whether enough progress will be made before the northern hemisphere summer break.

Roland Driece, co-chair of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), told the body’s sixth formal meeting that while he understood member states’ eagerness for a first draft on which to start text-based negotiations, discussions on Chapter Two of the compilation text (referred to as WHO CA+), focusing on equity, should be completed first.

“I would rather have a first draft that has substance which we all feel is strong enough to have real line-to-line discussions on, than having something in between which is not good enough yet,” said Driece. “So I would rather have a good first draft than a quick first draft, but we will come back with a proposal on how to get there.”

Informal inter-sessional meetings

Since the last INB meeting a month ago, member states have met in informal sessions to discuss three controversial issues in Chapter Two of the compilation draft. These sessions focused on research and development related to pandemic products, particularly vaccines and medicines (Article 9); access to these products and benefit-sharing, including sharing genomic sequencing of whatever pathogen is causing the pandemic(Article 12) and supply chain logistics (Article 13).

This week’s meeting will continue negotiations on Chapter Two, focusing on Articles 15 to 19, then Articles one to three, if there is enough time.

Member states generally regarded the informal sessions as being useful to enable them to understand countries with different positions better, as well as for elucidating how clauses could be practically implemented.

But while some countries felt that the informal sessions could be used to generate new text to enhance the compilation draft of the pandemic accord, others were adamant that the negotiations should not splinter further.

US Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto

“The informals clearly provided a valuable opportunity for member states to clarify their proposals and ask questions, which we believe helped improve our collective understanding of what may or may not be feasible for the accord,” said US Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto. 

“We suggest laying out a process this week for ongoing work by the co-facilitators, further empowering them to convene additional discussions on their respective articles, and if possible, to develop draft text to bring back to our next formal meetings,” she added.

“In this way, we can take strong collective steps under the guidance of the Bureau to move from helpful but still high-level discussions to more specific line-by-line negotiations and begin to build the first draft of the negotiating text together.”

African proposals missing amid concern about onerous meeting schedule

South Africa’s Dr Aquina Thulare

South Africa’s Dr Aquina Thulare, speaking on behalf of 47 African countries, noted that a number of suggestions from the continent had not made their way into the latest compilation text.

Nigeria posited that the informal meetings could “be used as an opportunity to highlight and discuss some of these issues and also see a way to re-import them into the document”.

But Namibia and Botswana were against “having to fight to incorporate our proposals through the informal process”. 

Kenya asked the INB’s Bureau to clarify when and where member states will be able to add text to the Bureau’s compilation. 

“In our view, this should be the preserve of the formal meetings of the INB, and as such, we propose that informal sessions maintain focus on clarity seeking and consensus building as their main mandate,” said Kenya.

Many under-resourced countries are also struggling to keep up with the heavy burden of meetings and fear being excluded if the INB splinters into even more informal sessions.

This was clearly articulated by Fiji, which said that while the informal sessions may assist in speeding up talks, “we run the risk of losing necessary representation and meaningful participation in the process”. 

“Therefore, the inter-sessional meetings should be seen as a useful method to enable better understanding and shifting negotiations forward. but the substantive negotiations must happen within the formal processes of the drafting group, and the INB.”

While sympathetic to this position, New Zealand proposed that the informal sessions could, nonetheless, be “empowered to identify convergence and divergence, restructure articles where it makes sense, and draw on member states’ proposals to help identify compromise text”.

Bureau co-chair Roland Driece reassured the INB that the informal sessions were never intended to replace formal discussions, but rather to “find the room”.

“Decisions are always here in this room and not in the informals,” said Driece, but added that the informal meetings were essential to enhance appreciation of one another’s viewpoints.

“We hear that not some of you struggle a little bit and we have to recognise as a Bureau that it’s not 100% clear on what the mandate of co-facilitators is or what the exact aim of a group is and we are working our way through this,” said Driece.

“But there is no other option than to keep on talking till we reach where we want to go,” he added. “I understand that nobody is willing to put all its cards on the table yet to show complete transparency about where they want to go or what their room to manoeuvre is, but at least everybody needs to show as much of their own cards [as possible]  in order to for the other ones to understand how to move on.”

Robust ‘One Health’ approach essential for prevention

France’s Ambassador Anne-Claire Amprou

Meanwhile, France speaking for the “One Health” group, stressed that pandemic prevention “is at the heart of the mandate” given to countries to negotiate a pandemic accord.

“We must take into consideration the ties between people and animals, both wild and domestic, and the environment in order to understand the fundamental factors and the trends that lead to the emergence and re-emergence of diseases,” stressed France’s Ambassador Anne-Claire Amprou. 

“The One Health approach is fundamental in order to fight risk factors and guarantee multiparty and multidisciplinary collaboration between the environment, human health and animal health experts.

“We have a unique opportunity to reinforce ties between these sectors by focusing on existing systems and capacities to ensure prevention preparedness and rapid response to pandemics. The pandemic accord could not be completed without a One Health approach that is robust and strong.”

New method of work 

European Union’s Director General for Health and Food Safety  (DG Santé) Sandra Gallina,

The European Union’s Director General for Health and Food Safety  (DG Santé)  Sandra Gallina, supported the “new method of work” introduced during the closed drafting session of the June INB meeting.

“The interactive and constructive discussions on key topics that prevailed during the meeting marked a significant shift and they are precisely what we need in order to increase the level of understanding of each other proposals,” said Gallina. 

“In particular, the opportunity given to delegations during the drafting group to present their proposals on access and benefit sharing, and the question and answer sessions that followed, proved to be very useful to increase the level of understanding of the various proposals,” she added.

Gallina stressed that this methodology, along with the informal inter-sessional meetings, should be applied to key topics related to the entire pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR) cycle. 

Commenting that much of the current discussion had focused on response, Gallina urged “interactive and constructive discussion on key topics linked to prevention and preparedness” as “the best way of handling future pandemics is to prevent them from happening in the first place”.

Way forward to the first draft

Concluding the opening plenary, co-chair Driece said that the Bureau was “ a bit squeezed” between the time constraints of delivering an accord by May 2024 and accommodating countries’ concerns about having to attend so many meetings.

Driece added that it was not practical to reinstate the entire compilation text as the basis for negotiations and that the Bureau had done its best to summarise countries’ positions.

“We’ve always said if you feel that we left something out which you have proposed, for example, a third option where we present two or a second option where we present one, this room is the place to tell us that.”

On presenting a first draft for text-based negotiations, Driece said that the Bureau felt this was not possible until discussions on Chapter Two of the compilation text had been completed.

“I would rather have a first draft that has substance which we all feel is strong enough to have real line-to-line discussions on, than having something in between which is not good enough yet. So I would rather have a good first draft than a quick first draft, but we will come back with a proposal on how to get there.”

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