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UNWTO General Assembly Postponement Urged: WTO is Indefinitely Postponed!

UNWTO General Assembly Postponement Urged: WTO is Indefinitely Postponed!

The other WTO has just postponed its major ministerial Conference on commerce, planned from November 30th in Geneva, because of the risk which may come from the new COVID variant. Will UNWTO follow? The Honorary Secretary-General, the World Tourism Network and the African Tourism Board are urging UNWTO to follow WTO.

The General Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed late Friday (26 November) to postpone the Ministerial Conference after an outbreak of a particularly transmissible strain of the Omicron Covid Variant B.1.1.529 virus led several governments to impose travel restrictions that would have prevented many ministers from reaching Geneva.

There was no response when eTurboNews contacted the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) on if the upcoming General Assembly in Madrid scheduled for the same time frame as the WTO General Council would be postponed as well.

Former UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli however made a statement Friday saying:

“In light of the new health threat and from my point of view, it would be wise for UNWTO and Spain to renounce for this obvious and strong health reason for delegates and ministers to travel to Madrid in a few days.

Delegates are expected to arrive from many parts of the world. In addition, a de facto discrimination that would result for representatives residing in countries with travel restrictions, specifically from several African Countries would be unacceptable for an Organization where participants must be treated on an equal footstep.

World Tourism Network (WTM) launched by

The World Tourism Network was quick to applaud this timely statement by the Honorary Secretary – General, specifically in view of the importance of the UNWTO General Assembly for the many participants registered from Africa.

Cuthbert Ncube, Chairman of the African Tourism Board currently attending an event in Rwanda is agreeing with WTN and the former Secretary-General.


At the World Trade Organization, the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) was due to start on 30 November and run until 3 December, but the announcement of travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland and many other European countries led General Council Chair Amb. Dacio Castillo (Honduras) to call an emergency meeting of all WTO members to inform them of the situation.

“Given these unfortunate developments and the uncertainty that they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene it as soon as possible when conditions allow,” Amb. Castillo told the General Council. “I trust that you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.”

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the travel constraints meant that many ministers and senior delegates could not have participated in face-to-face negotiations at the Conference. This would render participation on an equal basis impossible, she said.

She pointed out that many delegations have long maintained that meeting virtually does not offer the kind of interaction necessary for holding complex negotiations on politically sensitive issues.  

“This has not been an easy recommendation to make … But as Director-General, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants – ministers, delegates, and civil society. It is better to err on the side of caution,” she said, noting that the postponement would continue to keep the WTO in line with Swiss regulations.

WTO members were unanimous in their support of the recommendations from the Director-General and the General Council Chair, and they pledged to continue working to narrow their differences on key topics.


It can only be hoped that the World Tourism Organization under the current leadership of UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili has the same concern for tourism ministers, and understands the importance of providing delegates from South Africa, Eswatini, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and other African Countries, Belgium and Hong Kong the same attention the World Trade Organization does.

Today the Governor of New York in the United States declared a state of emergency for her State, even though no case of the new virus strain was yet detected.
Cases had been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, and Hong Kong, and are expected to spread.

For Geneva, it’s a nightmare for the World Trade Organization.

This Conference had been expected for four years. And there were major decisions to be taken on world trade as internal decisions to the Institution.

Hard facts for UNWTO to make this decision:

There is no provision in the UNWTO Statutes dealing with that type of emergency situation. The only reference may be article 20 of the Statutes which gives the Executive Council the capacity to take all necessary decisions between two sessions of the Assembly.

If the Council wishes to take the lead, it would be clearly its role. The major point is that there are no ambassadors in Madrid especially in charge of UNWTO, as is the case with big organizations worldwide.

A lot will depend on the attitude and the decisions of the Spanish Government since it’s not only the health of the delegates and the health of the staff members which are at stake, but the safety of the inhabitants of Madrid.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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