CUTS International, Geneva organised an informal meeting for participants of its West 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.
The last General Council was interesting, many of the issues were not new. The main topic on the table was WTO responses to the pandemic: (i) TRIPS waiver request put forward by India and South Africa and supported by a number of other developing countries, not much progress on the text-based process, as well as (ii) the EU counter-proposal which is not of preference of developing countries.
On the negotiating front, fishery subsidies are the low hanging-fruit, with a ministerial meeting that has happened a few weeks ago (July 15) on the basis of the chair’s text. Views differ a lot, nowhere near close to reach an agreement. The plan in September is to deal with difficult issues in the text and address the supposed imbalance raised by members. In October, negotiations based on the text and the outcome to be shared with ministers to be finalized by MC12. On agriculture, there is little chance of an outcome by MC12 but the issue remains important for developing countries. On Joint Statement Initiatives, concerning services’ domestic regulation US recently joined, which is a boost and an outcome may be likely at MC12; on investment facilitation and e-commerce, members will most likely agree on post MC12 work programmes. Members will most likely have political declarations and look forward to enlarge their memberships at MC12 on TESSD and other environmental-related (i.e. plastics) discussions. It was more likely to have more than one declaration on TESSD and plastics at least for the next MC12 (despite overlap between those discussions). On SDT, members were pushed to engage on the G90 process, frank exchange not only based on written statements with ambassadors having frank dialogue, on how to deal with SDT. GC was not a place to discuss such issue, but such conversation should be continued, on how to make SDT provisions more precise and operational in the past agreements while dealing with the future separately. Finally, the challenges of dispute settlement / appellate body will have to be tackled, discuss how it can be revived, as it is an important feature of the organization.
There is an Africa Group proposal reaffirming the MTS character of the WTO, make sure it is inclusive; which was received with positive spirit. The challenge will be to see if it can feed into a broader MC12 outcome package.
Delegates were worried about the format of the next ministerial meeting, as it has to be in- person if the organization wants to deliver and have proper outcomes reflecting developing and least developed countries’ challenges / development concerns. With the current sanitary situation, it will be complicated to reach a multilateral consensus in a virtual/hybrid format with technical challenges to be faced by developing and least developed countries.
According to participating delegates, the top 3/4 priority issues towards MC12 should include: TRIPS waiver / COVID-19 recovery, fishery (ambitious and development-friendly outcome, ), dispute settlement mechanism (AB revival)/ agriculture despite the challenges. In concluding delegates thanked CUTS for organizing such meetings, and praised the important of having such informal discussions. It was mentioned that interpretation could be useful during such meetings, but it would be difficult to provide such service due to budgetary constraints.