The World Trade Organization (WTO) has announced that it has postponed indefinitely its 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), citing new COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The General Council – the WTO’s highest decision-making body – announced on Friday that it would postpone the event due to new restrictions following the outbreak of the Omicron variant last week.

With the event originally set to begin tomorrow in Geneva, Switzerland, and scheduled to run until December 3, ministers from multiple nations would have been unable to attend.

Last Friday, the Swiss government placed an indefinite ban on all flights travelling to the country from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. 

In addition, Switzerland imposed restrictions on travellers from other countries where Omicron has been identified, including Israel, Belgium, and Hong Kong.

As yet, no date has been set for the rescheduling of the Ministerial Conference. 

This marks the second time that the pandemic has forced a postponement of MC12, which was originally due to take place in June 2020 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

In May 2020, WTO members discussed Kazakhstan’s offer to reschedule the conference to June 2021, but postponed taking a decision due to the early pandemic. 

In April 2021, members agreed that MC12 would take place in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December, but this latest rescheduling has now also been scrapped.

The Ministerial Conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the WTO’s 164 members, is the highest forum of the WTO. 

Under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO – signed in 1994 and effective since 1995 – the Ministerial Conference is expected to meet at least once every two years.

As reported by Trade Finance Global, a new deal on services domestic regulation (SDR) was expected to be agreed at MC12, helping to reduce red tape in global service trade.

If agreed, the measures are tipped to save $150 billion annually for firms involved in global services trade.