Last week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council unanimously appointed the chairs of 13 WTO bodies for 2022. Among the appointees is Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations, WTO and other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, who is slated to chair the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council for 2022.

The Council for TRIPS is the body legally responsible for administering and monitoring the operation of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. In its regular meetings, the TRIPS Council serves as a forum for discussion between members on key issues. It is open to all WTO members and observers. The TRIPS Agreement facilitates access to the existing technologies and supports the creation, manufacturing, and dissemination of new technologies, such as medicines, vaccines, and other medical devices.

The Council annually reviews reports on technical cooperation and capacity-building activities as well as on developed countries’ implementation of the obligation to provide incentives to their industries to transfer technology to Least Developed Countries (LDCs). In addition, it reviews the system that permits the granting of compulsory licenses for the export of medicines.

On an ad hoc basis the council addresses additional issues, including access to medicines and public health, climate change, electronic commerce, the enforcement of Intellectual Property rights and Intellectual Property and innovation, Intellectual Property and the public interest, and issues of particular interest to LDCs.
Among the issues on the agenda of the TRIPS Council in 2021 is a proposal calling for a waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement in relation to the ‘’prevention, containment or treatment’’ of COVID-19.

Another important issue is the question of continued exemption of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) from TRIPS obligations.

The appointment of Ambassador Dr. Gberie to chair the WTO’s TRIPS Council demonstrates the council’s acknowledgment of his competence and bestows trust and confidence in Sierra Leone’s ability to preside over the meetings and to coordinate the work of the WTO’s TRIPS Council.

Ambassador Gberie intends to commence his leadership of the TRIPS Council by organising a residential briefing and consultation retreat for Ambassadors. This is the established practice by chairs of WTO bodies to generate the required engagement with the work of their committees or councils throughout the year.

The outgoing Chairman of the General Council, H.E Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras expressed his sincere appreciation to all members, group coordinators for their valuable cooperation and tireless efforts throughout the appointment process.

Under Ambassador Gberie’s leadership, Sierra Leone has received several accolades from the international community in Geneva for its efforts in promoting human rights, rule of law and good governance, and sustainable and equitable trade relationships.

Ambassador Gberie was President of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) from August 2020 to August 2021 and is currently First Vice Chairperson of the Governing Bureau of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
At the General Council meeting WTO members also agreed the postponed 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) will now take place during the week of 13 June in Geneva. MC12 was due to take place from 30 November to 3 December 2021 but was postponed due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The Ministerial Conference, which is attended by ministers and senior officials from the organization’s 164 members, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO.

Welcoming the news of Dr. Gberie’s appointment, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Edward Hinga Sandy said: “The Ministry of Trade views this appointment as golden and wishes to congratulate His Excellency for this laudable recognition of his expertise and for making Sierra Leone Proud. Sierra Leone has lagged behind on intellectual property issues and this opportunity should be grabbed in mainstreaming this all-important trade matter in our nation’s economic development agenda. We look forward to working closely with the Ambassador on his new assignment and wish him the very best.”