WHO pandemic treaty: Modalities for the negotiations in February/March 2023 (INB4) and April 2023 (INB5)

UPDATED: On 10 February 2023, the Bureau of the WHO Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) circulated to WHO member states a proposal for consideration by the INB regarding modalities for upcoming INB meetings (INB4/5), including the “Zero Draft” and “First Draft” which reflected some of the requests made by member states at the 7 February 20223 briefing. In terms of the modalities and sequencing of discussion for the integrated set approach of INB4 and INB5, the revised proposal of the Bureau is the following:

  • It is proposed that the Zero Draft be addressed first through a “first reading” at INB4, in plenary and with participation of relevant stakeholders. In accordance with agreed practice, plenary would also be webcast. This “first reading” is intended to allow speakers to make general comments on the Zero Draft and to enable Member States to confirm whether, as proposed at INB3, the Zero Draft is the basis for commencing negotiations during INB4. As such, it is not intended that textual proposals be introduced during the “first reading”.
  • Following the “first reading” in plenary, the INB would proceed to the Drafting Group, following the modalities agreed by the INB at its third meeting (as reflected in A/INB/3/6).
  • In the Drafting Group, it is proposed that the Zero Draft be addressed sequentially, starting with the Vision, and then proceeding to Chapter I and subsequent Chapters through INB4, and continuing in INB5. This approach notwithstanding, the Bureau invites Member States to be prepared to discuss all Chapters of the Zero Draft at both INB4 and INB5.

  • During each meeting, it is proposed that, further to the Drafting Group Modalities agreed at INB3, the Drafting Group proceed by having the text of each chapter displayed on screen, in the English language. Textual suggestions, should delegations wish to make them, could be handled as follows: proposed deletions would be shown by brackets, additions by underlined text, and alterations by both brackets and underline. Such changes could show the delegation making the proposal. Further, and in line with the above-referenced modalities, “consensus” text/compromise solutions (should they emerge in the Drafting Group), will also be displayed. The on-screen document reflecting the foregoing would then form a record for Drafting Group delegations.
  • In addition to the above modalities for the Drafting Group meetings, the Bureau proposes that Member States who so wish may provide written comments, on the following proposed understandings: the content and format of any such written comments reflect inputs that would be made during the Drafting Group Meetings (i.e. proposed deletions, additions, and/or alterations to specific sections of the Zero Draft); such written comments are provided the English language, submitted to the INB Bureau through the WHO Secretariat, no later than one week after the closure of INB4 and INB5, respectfully, for matters discussed at each meeting; and written comments are provided on the understanding that they may be shared by the Bureau, through the Secretariat, with all Drafting Group participants, for transparency.

As the pace of WHO negotiations on a pandemic treaty intensifies over the coming weeks, the modalities of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) process will play an important part of the text-based discussions on the INB zero draft. The 4th meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) will take place in hybrid format from 27 February 2023 to 3 March 2023; the 5th meeting of the INB will take place from 3 April 2023 to 6 April 2023.

On 7 February 2023 the INB Bureau convened a briefing to provide guidance to “Member States and relevant stakeholders on the development, approach and structure of the Zero Draft, as well as to provide a proposal from the Bureau regarding modalities for INB4 and INB5.” (Communication from WHO, 2 February 2023); Precious Matsoso, co-chair of the INB, presented the Bureau’s proposed modalities to guide the work of WHO’s negotiations on a pandemic treaty.

The Bureau noted one caveat to the zero draft namely that it is without prejudice to the position of any delegation and follows the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

In terms of structure, the zero draft has:

  • Forty-nine preambular paragraphs
  • Eight chapters
  • Eighteen guiding principles
  • Thirty-Eight Articles

The Bureau proposed an “integrated” approach to INB4 (27 February 2023 – 3 March 2023) and INB5 (3 April 2023 – 6 April 2023) noting the short time frame between the two meetings; in essence, the two meetings of INB4 and INB5 would be designed as an “integrated set”. At INB4, the Bureau proposed a first reading of the zero draft in a plenary webcast, taking into account inputs from relevant stakeholders. The Bureau proposed that a drafting group be established during INB4 and INB5 with the following modalities:

The Drafting Group meetings:

  • The text of each chapter displayed on screen;
  • Proposed deletions shown by brackets, additions by underlined text, and alterations by both;
  • Such changes could show the delegation making the proposal; and
  • “Consensus” text/compromise solutions (should they emerge in the Drafting Group), will also be displayed

In terms of the integrated approach, the Bureau proposed the following allocation of chapters for each session.

INB4 discussions focus on:

  • Vision
  • Chapter III. Achieving equity in, for and through pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems
  • Chapter IV. Strengthening and sustaining capacities for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems
  • Chapter V. Coordination, collaboration and cooperation for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems

INB5 discussions focus on:

  • Chapter I. Introduction
  • Chapter II. Objective, guiding principles and scope
  • Chapter VI. Financing for pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery of health systems
  • Chapter VII. Institutional arrangements
  • Chapter VIII. Final provisions

In essence, the Bureau proposed that procedural matters and financing would be covered in INB5 whereas INB4 would focus on equity and other core elements of the zero draft. In the ensuing discussion, many countries requested the Bureau to reverse the order of discussion between INB4 and INB5.

After the INB4 and INB5 sessions, the Bureau suggested that the INB (comprised of WHO member states) could request the Bureau to prepare First Draft of WHO CA+, with Secretariat support with comments received during INB4, INB5 and with the relevant stakeholder briefing. According to the Bureau, the “First Draft would constitute a “Bureau’s Text” for the Drafting Group meeting (12-16 June 2023)” with the understanding that this text would not prejudice the position of any Member State” and undergirded by the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

The United Kingdom commended the work of the Bureau in preparing the zero draft, but expressed concerns with what they deemed were ambitious modalities proposed by the Bureau. The United Kingdom noted that Member States were expected to prepare fully worked up proposals and edits on the equity chapter (chapter III) by the 27th of February. In order to provide full consideration of the equity chapter, the United Kingdom proposed that the equity chapter be discussed at INB5 in April 2023. Finally, the United Kingdom noted that the ambition to conclude line-by-line edits of the zero draft by the end of INB5 in April 2023 might be unachievable. While noting the abundance of meetings, the United Kingdom asked the Bureau if it would be possible to convene meetings of the drafting group in late April or early May, if the INB could not go through the entire text by INB5.

The United States requested that there be two rounds of Member State interventions during the first reading of the zero draft at INB4. The United States proposed that the drafting group be set up in a way that each Bureau member, paired with a member state representative, serve as a co-facilitator for a specific section or chapter. The United States proposed intersessional work on key thematic areas to provide “Member States the space we need to find common ground.” The United States signaled its interest in “learning more about the interconnection between the INB [pandemic treaty] process and the IHR amendment process given the many areas of linkage and potential convergence.” The United States expressed reservations about the creation of a Bureau’s text after the conclusion of INB5; the United States stressed the importance of WHO’s “regular negotiating processes which allow for multiple rounds of Member State input and negotiation” as the approach to follow. Instead of a Bureau’s text, the United States proposed a compilation draft with visible edits as the basis for negotiation. The United States requested the Bureau to provide updated modalities (based on Member State input).

In relation to modalities, Chile asked the Bureau on sequencing; the delegate’s understanding was that the drafting group would be established after the general comments. Chile echoed the concerns expressed by the United Kingdom in delegations’ ability to present text and detailed proposals on each article. Chile signaled its flexibility to accept the Bureau’s proposed integrated approach, but requested that the Bureau to provide the opportunity for a second round of comments on the equity chapter (chapter III). Chile proposed that Member States be afforded the opportunity to provide written comments during the intersessional period between INB4 and INB5. Finally, Chile asked the Bureau to provide “absolute clarity” in relation to the themes and chapters to be addressed at INB4 in order to help delegations prepared in advance.

Pakistan requested the Bureau to clarify the role played by the drafting group vis-à-vis the proceedings of the INB. Pakistan echoed the concerns expressed by the United Kingdom regarding the scant time countries would have in preparing textual proposals in time for INB4 (27 February 2023 – 3 March 2023).

Canada noted that it would be helpful to have a sense of what discussions have happened between the INB and IHR bureaus with a view to ensuring coherence between the two processes. Canada supported the comments of the United Kingdom and the United States with respect to sufficient time to prepare substantive policy proposals and to have a discussion on “heavy” selected chapters. Canada suggested that the INB could assess progress after INB4 and hold a virtual meeting to readjust modalities if necessary. Canada asked about the possibility of extending the duration of the drafting groups. Canada echoed the comment by Pakistan inquiring whether the Bureau foresaw the possibility of accepting written comments and textual proposals by member states.

China expressed reservations with the Bureau’s proposal to webcast the plenary session of INB4. China requested the Bureau to permit drafting groups to be conducted in hybrid format to facilitate the participation of capital based experts.

Namibia requested the Bureau to provide a list of references that the Secretariat used in preparing the zero draft.

Bangladesh supported the holding of a general discussion on the zero draft in INB4 for clarity on Member State expectations followed by textual suggestions in INB5. Bangladesh reiterated the call for providing Member States the opportunity to provide written amendment proposals on the zero draft with a provision for amending them from the floor. Bangladesh called for Member State comments to be compiled and made available for public viewing which has been the practice in the WGIHR. Bangladesh recalled that during the FCTC negotiation, member states provided written comments to the legal text. For purposes of transparency and accountability of drafting group proceedings, Bangladesh called for the publication of the on-screen text after a full round of discussions on the WHO website. 

Colombia stated that a line by line reading of the zero draft would be premature especially for smaller countries. Colombia agreed with the United Kingdom’s proposal to reverse the order of discussion topics for INB4 and INB5.

In response to the comments WHO Member States, INB Co-Chair Precious Matsoso noted that the proposed modalities required revision.