Diyana Yahaya: Feminist Trade Justice for Pandemic Resolution


The current intellectual property rights system should stop allowing large corporations to “game” the system.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the economic distortions created by neoliberal capitalism. To understand these abnormalities is to also recall that these were not created by chance but were results of deliberate policies, practices, and decisions that were designed to enrich and empower a few at the expense of the many.

At a time when international solidarity and cooperation is needed more than ever, governments and people are retreating into parochial, national identities, often undertaking unilateral measures. Authoritarian governments are resorting to xenophobic and racist attempts to further undermine democracy. In tandem, powerful multinational corporations continue to advance a neoliberal agenda of austerity, privatization, and investment liberalization that has for decades, devastated peoples and the planet.

In this moment of crisis, we should not merely reiterate the same tired shibboleths of multilateralism, free trade, and investment. Instead, we must re-imagine a new and different world order – a multilateralism that is democratic, equitable and accountable that provides a space for solidarity and cooperation between states and peoples’ movements to advance human rights, justice and equality.

This pandemic will permanently change the global economy and public health. Any recovery must be similarly unique and long-lasting. We have the opportunity to confront the current unjust distribution of power in international economic and financial governance; to reassert sovereignty from a progressive and human rights point of view; to consider the role that developed countries have played in creating and sustaining poverty and deprivation in developing countries; to reverse the decades of abiding by the doctrine of economic growth and market fundamentalism, and to not return to business as usual. These are not only necessary to restore sovereignty, but also to build global public commons democratically.

To emerge from this pandemic with a kinder, healthier, just, equitable and sustainable future for all, we need:

  1. A re-shaping and re-imagining of the current multilateral systems, including the programs of the World Trade Organization and the numerous free trade agreements, bilateral and plurilateral investment treaties, as well as the international financial institutions responsible for debt and austerity measures.
  2. A new and freer intellectual property system: It may not be possible for every country to achieve self-sufficiency but there should be a greater focus on shortening the current global supply chain. Governments should use tariffs, restrict market access, or use subsidies as a means to support and promote local and domestic producers, key to which is the transfer of technology between countries. The current intellectual property rights system should stop allowing large corporations to “game” the system.

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Diyana Yahaya

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