CUTS International, Geneva organised an informal meeting for participants of its East Africa Trade Forum of Delegates, on 30th July, 2021. The meeting is part of a project implemented by CUTS with funding support from MFA Sweden to support the informed participation of LDCs and Smaller Developing Country WTO delegates in WTO negotiations in the run-up to the 12th WTO Ministerial conference. The meeting discussed priority issues emerging from the last WTO General Council (GC) meeting held on 27-28 July towards MC12. Below are main points presented and discussed by participating delegates.
There does not seem to have much hope for resolving issues for the coming MC12. On the fishery subsidies, the chair final draft text did not resonate very well with many members; with many issues still dividing the membership. With the Ministerial meeting on 15 July, members intended to have a political statement, however not diving into substance. It could be beneficial if members become more flexible in addressing the sticky issue to have an outcome at MC12.
On the WTO response to COVID-19, there is no one track process to put together the trade and health related issues (TRIPS, IP and other proposals to be put forward as one document where members could discuss going forward towards a Ministerial Declaration). All these tracks are still running independently unfortunately. At the last GC meeting, it was not clear how the chair intends to put all these proposals together, and what format it could take pre MC12 (no meaningful pathway at the WTO to solve this global health issue at the moment).
Agriculture is not in the front banner anymore. However, the DG is trying to push for an outcome at MC12 on agriculture. There are specific proposals on specific sub pillars: PSH, SSM, domestic support … to be discussed once back from the summer break. However, discussions seem to be going around in circles. It might be needed to focus on areas where the largest number of members (both developed and developing) could agree: issue of domestic support supposedly. Talks might happen at the Africa Group level, ACP level, to then trying to promote developing and least developed countries’ interests to the broad membership.
Concerning S&DT, interests of many delegations from developing countries, with no interest from the other side to offer anything.
Outcomes in the plurilaterals, pushed by developed countries and the DG to showcase WTO is doing something, however it is not considered to be of great help to developing countries. There is no clear mandate from Ministers to negotiate/participate in those plurilaterals. There is a push to increase the membership; but benefits for developing and least developed countries are limited. It has created an imbalance on the way discussions are undertaken at the WTO. For instance, dynamics have been changed on e-commerce with less interest on the moratorium on e-commerce.
There is an eagerness to have a next MC this year, however there will be some challenges with the format: issue of representativity, issue of travel and access to vaccination, sanitary problems etc. Generally, there is a polarization of discussions with 2 blocks, on all subjects – no topic where is convergence at the moment. There is a need to find in a future WTO reform ways to mitigate the polarization challenges and be able to move forward.
In concluding delegates thanked CUTS for organizing such meetings, and praised the important of having such informal discussions. It was also suggested by one delegate that the next meeting could look at the issue of TRIPS waiver.