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WTO meeting pits wealthy versus poor within the battle for vaccines

Here is today's foreign policy mandate: The World trade organization is expected to discuss vaccine access at today's AGM. Somalia records diplomatic relations Kenya, and Europe locks.

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Rich versus poor at the WTO General Assembly

The poorer countries are struggling today for equal access to coronavirus vaccines for the World Trade Organization as rich countries like the United Kingdom and the United States start making vaccines available to their residents.

South Africa and India are leading a group of low- and middle-income countries demanding surrender of intellectual property rights to products related to the pandemic – including personal protective equipment, therapeutics and vaccines. China also supported the measure.

Rich countries and organizations like the United States and the European Union oppose this move, claiming that intellectual property rights are not the hurdle they pose, as voluntary licenses and global institutions like COVAX can help poorer countries meet their needs effectively fulfill.

Empty shelves. High-income countries may find the problem less urgent as they have already bought up most of the world's vaccine supply (and in many cases funded their development). An analysis by the New York Times found that under the current purchase agreements, the European Union could vaccinate its residents twice, the UK and United States four times this and Canada six times.

No silver bullet. Mustaqeem De Gama, advisor to the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the WTO and co-author of today's proposal, said the waiver was necessary to combat a broken system.

“We recognize that this waiver is not a silver bullet. However, COVID has proven that the IP system is not working. It is not designed for pandemics. Hopefully this will enable us to talk about how the IP system can be reformed to respond to members' needs. Because this is not the only pandemic that we face, ”de Gama told the Lancet. (The entire Lancet report by Ann Danaiya Usher is worth a look).

Outside support. The medical charity Doctors Without Borders supports the proposal, arguing that poorer countries cannot otherwise afford vaccines. "We urge all governments to urge their support for this landmark proposal that brings lives over corporate profits at this critical global health moment," said Sidney Wong, of the organization's Access Campaign.

A lost battle. As the WTO operates on a consensus basis, the proposal led by South Africa and India is likely to fail. Yet poorer countries are unlikely to forget the day when rich countries locked the door while disease raged outside among their poorer neighbors.

What we are following today

Somalia is severing ties with Kenya Somalia has severed diplomatic relations with Kenya, claiming that its neighbor interfered in its affairs without providing details. The move comes after Somalia expelled the Kenyan ambassador in November for alleged electoral influence in the Somali state of Jubaland.

Kenya is providing 3,600 soldiers to a peacekeeping force in Somalia led by the African Union. Your position is now in question.

Somalia was likely irritated by the recent two-day visit to Kenya by Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somaliland's secessionist region, during which both Abdi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to deepen ties.

Europe closes. Germany is entering a stricter lockdown phase today as most stores have to close and contacts are limited to another household until January 10. In the Netherlands, schools will end their schooling early and a number of businesses will be closed until January 19.

In the UK, two leading medical journals have issued a rare joint editorial calling on the UK government to lift its decision to relax restrictions over the Christmas season or overwhelm the hospital system.

Facebook generates French activity. Facebook removed dozens of accounts linked to the French military after finding cases of fake accounts, or what are known as sock puppets, used to discuss French talking points with African networks. This is the first time Facebook has called upon a Western government affiliate for this type of activity.

The reports presented themselves as Africans expressing support for French military action while discussing politics in West and Central Africa. In addition, Facebook found that the French accounts had quarreled with Russian accounts who also posed as African.

Journalists jailed in record numbers. According to a report by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, more journalists were jailed for their work in 2020 than any other year. A total of 274 journalists were arrested last year, slightly more than the previous record set in 2016.

China arrested the most journalists, 47, for the second consecutive year, followed by Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The report found that the largest increases in prison sentences that year were in Belarus and Ethiopia.

Hungary's anti-LGBT policy. Hungary has continued its crusade against LGBT people by changing its constitution to effectively ban same-sex couples from adopting children. The constitutional amendment clarified the definition of the family as "based on marriage and the parent-child relationship". The mother is a woman, the father is a man. "

Before the move, gay couples could still adopt children by applying as an individual. Since only married couples are allowed to adopt, this path is now closed.

The EU's major technology plans. The European Commission plans to introduce new rules for large technology companies with heavy penalties for violations.

The new laws – the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act – would further restrict the type of data tech platforms could collect, pushing big players like Facebook and Google to remove criminal and malicious content faster. The new laws would impose fines of up to 10 percent of a company's annual sales for failing to comply with the new standards.

Foreign Policy Editor-in-Chief Ravi Agrawal interviewed EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager earlier this year to discuss her plans to acquire Big Tech.

Iran's oil exports. Iranian oil exports have roughly doubled in recent months, despite tough US sanctions, according to a number of research firms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that high-end estimates put Iranian crude oil exports at 1.2 million barrels a day in the fall, up from 481,000 barrels a day in February. Buyers in China and Venezuela have eased the surge, aided by the hefty discounts offered by Tehran.

Paris city council has fined the French Ministry of Public Services $ 110,000 for hiring too many women. Anne Hidalgo, the city's socialist mayor, hired eleven women and five men in 2018, violating a rule that no gender should make up more than 60 percent of management positions.

Hidalgo said she was delighted to hear about the fine, but added that it was "obviously absurd, unfair, irresponsible and dangerous". The gender equality rule has been repealed since 2018, but the fine continues to apply retrospectively.

That's it for today.

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Photo credit: Mark Felix / AFP

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