WTO (Negotiations, Regular Work, Leadership)

General aspirations and possible priority areas for MC12 of South and Southeast Asian countries

The sixth forum meeting of the project “Business & Trade Connection” took place through online means due to related-COVID19 restrictions, during a Skype call organized on Monday 30th March 2020. Delegates of all seven beneficiary countries participated.

The meeting started with some introductory remarks by Rashid S. Kaukab, CUTS International Geneva, Executive Director. He thanked the participants for taking the time, and noted a very good attendance for this first attempt at organizing the forum meeting virtually. Leslie Sajous, Programme Officer, CUTS International Geneva, gave a brief summary of the issue note’s main findings on “General aspirations and possible priority areas for MC12 of S&SEA countries”. Though the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) has been postponed for now, it is critical for the negotiators and delegates to be aware of the views of private sector representatives such as Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), in order to better understand their expectations, aspirations and policy related challenges in the concerned countries, while preparing for the WTO MC12 negotiations.

Five issues have been identified as of main interest by the interviewed private stakeholders of the S&SEA countries, which are related to: (i) agriculture; (ii) investment facilitation; (iii) e-commerce; (iv) services; and (v) fishery subsidies. Main challenges mentioned for each of those priority issues are related to barriers to trade, access to technology, access to inputs, capacity limitation, etc. They have been presented in the issue note alongside some of the needs (in terms of policies, regulations, S&DT regimes, MSMEs’ assistance, etc.) to overcome those challenges. Leslie highlighted that there is a common consensus between private stakeholders from all countries that they expect their delegations to present issues based on wide stakeholder consultations and work towards a positive outcome at the 12th MC to maintain the relevance of the WTO.

The floor was then opened to the participating delegates to get their views on the topic as well as their respective country update note. All agreed that there is a need to continue working despite the uncertainty of when the MC12 will be organized. The postponement of this important conference can give them some time to solve some issues in a more meaningful manner. Similarly to the interviewed private sector representatives in the sub-region, participating delegates expressed that agriculture remains a priority issue for MC12, alongside the negotiations on fisheries subsidies including the end of subsidies to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing , the continuation and expansion of some S&DT provisions (e.g. the 10 proposals by G90), the overall functioning of WTO (including the WTO reform proposals)), services, and the resolution of WTO appellate body issues (i.e. despite the 26 March appellate body interim solution).

Delegates expressed the importance of identifying how LDCs and LLDCs could benefit and be part of the WTO negotiations/discussions, for them to equally benefit from the conclusions of all negotiation. Some of the delegates, including some that are not as yet members of the plurilateral initiatives, expressed that ensuring concrete outcomes of Joint Statement Initiatives (JSI) on e-commerce and investment facilitation, would also be critical at the upcoming MC12, despite an uncertainty regarding the rescheduling of those JSI meetings. E-commerce remains a hot topic for the MC12, and is an important development and economic issue for ASEAN countries, which just concluded negotiations for an e commerce agreement. In terms of what to expect at the MC12 on e-commerce, one participant summarized that either having a work program or conclude the moratorium, appears to be the most reachable outcome. One of the participants also mentioned the new Chinese proposal to the ITU which presents a new IP framework. if adopted the Internet as it stands today will be greatly impacted, that will also impact the e commerce negotiations, by complicating them even further. Finally, some participants expressed that it is important for the countries to have a strategy in place for MC12 to have greater stakeholders’ consultations, including sector specific consultations on the ground, which have already started in some of them. Some participants affirmed that they will share the country update notes with their capitals, asking them to reach out to private sector more in preparation for the negotiations.

Rashid S. Kaukab concluded the meeting, thanking the participants for their involvement in the project. The meeting report, alongside two on-demand studies that have just been published on (i) WTO Negotiations on Agriculture: An out-of-the Boxes Approach to Reform Trade-Distorting Domestic Support and; (ii)The Global Debate on Taxation in Digital Economy: State of Play and Implications for Developing Countries will be shared with them. They will also be asked to fill in a feedback survey, which would be critical in the completion of the project’s final narrative report. Country partners have been asked to share the full list of interviewees during the project, which will also be shared with the delegates, for continuing exchange of information.

He concluded the meeting by thanking all the delegates for their active and constructive participation in the project throughout its duration. He also indicated that CUTS will strive to continue working with them despite the formal conclusion of the project on 31 March 2020.