The continuation of the Seventh meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) took place in Geneva between 4th and 6th December 2023.
Report of INB7 and Closing Session
The report of the meeting and the closing session of the INB7, held on 6th December 2023, were the only sessions publicly webcast from the second part of the INB7.
All drafting sessions of INB7 (where the substantive work is carried out, i.e. the negotiations) were, once again, held in secret. In addition, next steps and proposals from Member States of additional stakeholders to be included in the agreement were also “closed sessions”, i.e. held in secret.
In keeping with previous INB meetings, the co-chair of the INB, Mr Roland Driece, read through the report of the INB7 as it was being displayed on the screen. Although Member States were invited to comment as Mr Driece read through the report, very few chose to do so.
During the course of INB7, the following four drafting subgroups were established:
- A subgroup to consider Articles 4. 5 and 6 of the proposed negotiating text, chaired by Ambassador Hanse Kozo and co-facilitated by India, Uganda and Tanzania;
- A subgroup to consider Articles 10, 11 and possibly 13 of the proposed negotiating text, chaired by Ambassador Air Ramadan and co-facilitated by Indonesia, the Philippines and the USA;
- A subgroup to consider Article 12 of the proposed negotiating text, chaired by Dr Viroj Tangcharoensathien and co-facilitated by Australia, Ethiopia and Norway; and
- A subgroup to consider Articles 19 and 20 of the proposed negotiating text, chaired by Ambassador To var da Silva Nunes and co-facilitated by Canada, Malaysia and South Africa.
The drafting sub groups held inter-sessional meetings in November and in early December. Subgroups are expected to produce text of their respective Articles preferably by 15th January 2024 and in any event in time for INB8 (one delegation wanted to push out the date to INB8 in order to be able to enjoy the Christmas festivities!) on the understanding that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The final Report of INB7 is yet to be published.
Many Member States feel the proposed negotiating text is “unbalanced” as it provides concrete obligations in some areas (such as surveillance and information sharing) whilst only aspirational language in others – equity. There is a sense, amongst developing Member States, that the proposed negotiating text fails to change the status quo with respect to the response to pandemics.
The question, “Is there consensus amongst Member States that the proposed negotiating text represents the basis from which to start substantive negotiations?” remains open. Many developing Member States feel that their proposals have not been included in the proposed negotiating text and that this needs to be rectified prior to embarking on textual negotiations.
In spite of the INB Bureau producing a Zero Draft, a Bureaus Text and a proposed draft Negotiating Text, the operationalisation of equity across all Articles remains elusive and thus there is no consensus on equity which, after all, was the reason for embarking on the creation of a new pandemic agreement.
It is hard to see how consensus can be reached by the May 2024 deadline as the Bureau seems wedded to the same process and substantive text-based negations are yet to begin.
Finally, the smaller delegations maintain there is an unfairness built into the negotiating process as a consequence of informal inter sessional sessions which serves to undermine and prejudice the positions of the developing countries.
It is important to remember that WHO is not binding on the people of the UK. The WHO Pandemic Agreement (if ever agreed) cannot apply to the people of the UK unless passed by legislation – there needs to be an Act of Parliament (Supreme Court confirmed in R Miller v DExEU  UKSC 5). Do we want to #binthewho? Absolutely, but let’s not give them power that they don’t have.
INB8 scheduled for 19th February to 1 March 2024.
INB9 scheduled for 18th to 28th March 2024.
You can follow proceedings for yourself at https://apps.who.int/gb/inb/e/e_inb-7.html.