US Accused of Supporting ‘Veil of Secrecy’ Over Pandemic Accord Negotiations, As WHO Extends Countries’ Textual Deadline
Pamela Hamamoto, lead US negotiator on the WHO pandemic accord.

International NGOs and activists have called out the US for siding with China to exclude the public from seeing drafts of the pandemic accord as it is being negotiated by World Health Organization (WHO) member states.

“The attempt to create a veil of secrecy now surrounding the substantive and technical text-based negotiations on the WHO pandemic treaty sets a dangerous precedent for norm-setting at the multilateral level,” the group says in a letter sent on Wednesday to the US Secretary of Health & Human Services, Xavier Becerra, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Excluding the public “undermines trust in the process at a time when attacks on the WHO and on the pandemic accord are increasing”, according to the letter signatories, which include Health Action International (HAI), Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), Oxfam America, People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), Public Citizen and STOPAIDS. 

“No one doubts the ability of industry lobbyists to obtain access to the negotiating text documents, creating an information and influence asymmetry that is inappropriate for public health norm-setting,” they added.

China and US opposition

The letter arises from China and US opposition to a proposal by the European Union (EU) that “all inputs and additions to the zero draft should be available to all stakeholders”, which was made during the fourth meeting of the WHO’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) that is thrashing out the accord.

However, China insisted that the marked-up version of the pandemic treaty zero draft should be circulated only to “drafting group participants”, and this was backed by the US.

US Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto stated: “I think at this stage, I have some concern about sharing the draft to all stakeholders given where we are in the process and so I just want to be careful about that and certainly if we are sharing it with all stakeholders [we] would support removing the attribution of member states.”

In contrast to the INB process, negotiations at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are public, and observers can access the draft texts under discussion, including those with member-state attributions, the signatories pointed out.

Extended deadline for textual submissions

INB co-chair Precious Matsoso closing the 5th INB meeting.

Meanwhile, the fifth INB meeting concluded on Thursday evening with a brief public report indicating that the deadline for member states’ textual submissions has been extended from 14 to 22 April.

The INB Bureau has undertaken to get a compilation report of the submissions back to states a month later, by 22 May, with a report on the process due to be made to the World Health Assembly, which also starts on 21 May.

The next meeting of the INB’s drafting group is from 12 to 16  June, and the sixth INB meeting is set for 17-21 July.

Concluding INB5, co-chair Precious Matsoso thanked delegates for their hard work.

“We’re really grateful for this level of commitment and and the trust you’ve bestowed upon the Secretariat in the bureau,” said Matsoso.

“It’s very tight and it’s very difficult, and it will get even more difficult as we progress,” she warned.

“But we surely will do our best and hope that we can produce a product that we’ll all be proud of and that will make this world feel safer. Ten years from now, we must look back and say we made the right decisions.

The closing session, which was open to the public, was over in a few minutes after delegates agreed to the meeting report that was shown on screen. The key decisions are captured below.

Image Credits: E Fletcher/Health Policy Watch .

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