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334027

WTO can reach deals on 'difficult' topics by early 2024 - WTO chief

By Emma Farge

GENEVA, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The head of the World Trade Organization said on Tuesday the 164-member body can negotiate more ambitious deals, such as on agriculture, climate change and internal reform by its next major meeting, after concluding a series of trade deals in June.

The agreements were the first for the trade watchdog in years and included a fishing deal and one to boost supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, although there were many compromises and some areas remain unresolved.

"I do believe that this (the Geneva package) will provide a basis for more confidence that we can do multilateral work together," Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters at the opening of a forum at the WTO's Geneva headquarters.

"(This) provides a basis for hope that we can move forward and look at other difficult issues," she said, adding that she hoped for deals on some topics by the next ministerial meeting (MC13), due no later than March 2024.

One of these areas is an update to the WTO's own rule book.

The WTO's top dispute settlement body has been paralysed since 2019 when Washington blocked the appointment of new judges. Talks are ongoing about rebooting it.

"I hope at MC13 we will be able to deliver slices of the WTO reform agenda," Okonjo-Iweala said.

Delegates say one of the toughest areas of future negotiations will be the extension of a hard-won deal on a partial waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to drugs and tests as sought by India and others.

"What I'm sensing is its going to be difficult but we do have a deadline to deliver and we are working hard," she said.

WTO members struck an agreement to cut subsidies that contribute to over-fishing but it will require two-thirds of countries to ratify it. Okonjo-Iweala said she was hoping this could be done within six to nine months. (Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alison Williams)

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