On May 9-10, the WTO held a General Council meeting which followed an informal Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and Heads of Delegation meeting from May 4. The meetings resulted in a series of news releases from the WTO focusing on the Director-General’s views on areas for focus for the upcoming Ministerial as well as initial reactions from Members to the paper put forward following negotiations between the European Union, United States, India and South Africa on what, if any, modifications to TRIPS obligations were needed to help WTO Members address the COVID-19 pandemic. See WTO News Release, General Council, Members welcome Quad document as basis for text-based negotiations on pandemic IP response, 10 May, 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_10may22_e.htm; WTO News Release, General Council, DG Okonjo-Iweala urges WTO members to “meet the many challenges of our time”, 9 May 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_09may22_e.htm; WTO News Release, Trade Negotiations Committee, DG Okonjo-Iweala: Members can deliver results at MC12 despite challenging circumstances, 4 May 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/tnc_04may22_e.htm.
The Director-General highlighted at the May 4 informal TNC and Heads of Delegation meeting a possible list of achievables by the 12th Ministerial Conference in the difficult political and economic environment that Members find themselves in.
“One potential MC12 deliverable is a WTO response to the current and future pandemics, including intellectual property issues, where members will discuss possible elements of a compromise at a time to be determined by the Chair of the TRIPS Council, the DG said. Other potential deliverables include concluding an agreement on fisheries subsidies, achieving outcomes on agriculture and making progress on reforming the WTO in addition to various initiatives members are taking forward, she added.
“The Director-General pointed to the threat of a global crisis in food security, with prices for food, fertilizer and energy rising sharply from already high levels. She suggested members could use MC12 as a platform to take actions on these issues separately from the ongoing agriculture negotiations.”
A WTO Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The WTO achieving a response to the COVID-19 pandemic became more likely with the release of the draft text from the EU, US, India and China. I reviewed the main changes from the earlier draft in a recent post. May 4, 2022: Access to vaccines – the public release of the text from the U.S., EU, India and South Africa to the full WTO Membership for consideration by the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/05/04/access-to-vaccines-the-public-release-of-the-text-from-the-u-s-eu-india-and-south-africa-to-the-full-wto-membership-for-consideration-by-the-council-for-trade-related-aspects-of-intellectual-prop/. While Members were not ready to sign off on the draft language and were awaiting instructions from capitals on positions to take, it is clear that the text will be the basis for negotiations. Moreover, as reflected in the WTO press release on the May 10 General Council session, China indicated it would not avail itself of the flexibilities on vaccines in the proposal. As reviewed in my May 4th post, China’s action will facilitate agreement on the text as it will permit adoption of language that makes the provisions available to all developing countries but encourages countries with strong export capabilities to not avail themselves of the provisions. China has self-identified itself as a developing country, but has been the largest manufacturer and exporter of COVID-19 vaccines, The U.S. and EU had drafted language that would have excluded China’s eligibility (as the only developing countries with exports of more than 10% of global totals in 2021). China’s position permits broader eligibility, hence avoiding what China would view as discriminatory language aimed at it. The implicit quid pro quo for using the broader language was China indicating it would not utilize the provisions.
However, there are remaining issues needing resolution in the draft text including whether diagnostics and therapeutics will be included in the provisions immediately versus subject to a separate determination to include within six months. And there is the broader set of issues including transparency, export restrictions, trade facilitation important to many countries as part of any WTO response to the pandemic. The European Union reviewed its views on the broader issues during the General Council meeting. See European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69,
“Item 4. A. WTO RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC – REPORT BY THE CHAIR
“The European Union thanks the Facilitator for his report.
“The European Union has been a strong proponent of the WTO response to the pandemic from the onset of discussions that members had in this forum. We argued for a holistic approach, which would encompass all the necessary elements of the response, including intellectual property.
“Now that we have made a substantial step forward in the TRIPS Council, it is high time we had a fresh look at other elements of the pandemic, such as transparency, export restrictions, or trade facilitation. The “strategic pause” allowed us to reflect deeper on how to move the process forward and arrive at a multilateral outcome demonstrating that the WTO can meaningfully contribute to a response to the crisis and learn from it. In that regard, we also note the statement of Brazil in document WT/GC/W/845 on various aspects of the response to the pandemic.
“The European Union and the United States have invested great efforts into allowing progress towards a credible outcome. We have reached a common understanding on the minimum or the landing zone that could be the final outcome in a number of areas, acknowledging that other Members have additional issues of interest that they would like to see reflected in the text. Our new compromise paper presents the essentials of the Walker text, which we value the most, in a condensed format. We are encouraged by the positive feedback we have received so far and we will take account of the comments received.
“The new paper attempts to propose a balance that would be acceptable to all members. Even if slightly shorter on ambition than the Walker text, we believe that it still maintains the credibility of the WTO.
“As MC12 will start in a month time, we do not have the luxury of time. Our collective interest is to engage in a spirit of self-restraint and in a consensus-oriented mode.
“We are hopeful that all members will be able to engage constructively so that we could all resume and promptly finalize the negotiating process before Ministers arrive in Geneva.“
To get to a final agreement on a WTO response to the pandemic will require significant effort, but is looking hopeful at the moment.
While there has been a large agenda of items being discussed in agriculture, there are several possible deliverables besides a work program going forward. First, there has been agreement on tariff rate quota administration. See WTO News Release, General Council, General Council endorses final decision on Bali tariff rate quota underfill mechanism, 31 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/gc_31mar22_e.htm; WTO Committee on Agriculture, REVIEW OF THE OPERATION OF THE BALI DECISION ON TRQ ADMINISTRATION REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON TO THE GENERAL COUNCIL, Addendum, G/AG/32/Add.1 (29 March 2022). G/AG/32/Add.1 is enclosed below.32A1
It is unlikely that other aspects of the agriculture reform program will have concrete results by the 12th Ministerial with the possible exception of not blocking exports of agricultural goods to the UN World Food Programme. See WTO News Release, Agriculture Committee, MC12 outcome must help end hunger, improve food security, says chair, 27 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_02may22_e.htm; WTO, State of Play 13 December 2021, Agriculture negotiations, https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/mc12_e/briefing_notes_e/bfagric_e.htm (topics include Public stockholding for food security purposes, Domestic support, Cotton, Market access, Special safeguard mechanism, Export prohibitions or restrictions, Export competition, Transparency).
Specifically, it is not clear that much progress has been made in 2022 on any of the topics being pursued. The last draft text from the Chair that has been released publicly dates from November 2021. COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE IN SPECIAL SESSION, REPORT BY THE CHAIRPERSON, H.E. MS GLORIA ABRAHAM PERALTA, TO THE TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE, TN/AG/50 (23 November 2021). The document is embedded below and basically lays out a work program on each topic going forward with an annex exempting food purchases by the UN World Food Programme from any export restrictions. Presumably some modified version of the November 2021 draft text will be presented to Ministers at the `2th Ministerial Conference.50
Food security flowing from Russian invasion of Ukraine
As reviewed in prior posts and reflected in the various WTO news releases, there is a current food security crisis flowing from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See, e.g., April 19, 2022: Recent estimates of global effects from Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/19/recent-estimates-of-global-effects-from-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; March 30, 2022: Food security challenges posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/03/30/food-security-challenges-posed-by-the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine/; WTO News Release, Agriculture Committee, MC12 outcome must help end hunger, improve food security, says chair, 27 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/agng_02may22_e.htm. Multilateral organizations have been calling for swift action to address the food security concerns. WTO News Release, WTO and other organizations, World Bank, IMF, WFP and WTO call for urgent coordinated action on food security, 13 April 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/igo_13apr22_e.htm.
At this week’s General Council meeting there were two agenda items that addressed the food security issue. Item 8 and item 12. See WTO General Council, Proposed Agenda, WT/GC/W/846, 6 May 2022. Item 8 dealt with a document entitled “Joint Statement on Open and Predictable Trade in Agricultural and Food Products” and was presented by the United Kingdom. Signatories to the document included Albania; Australia; Canada; Chile; Costa Rica; European Union; Georgia; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Republic of Korea; Liechtenstein; Mexico; Republic of Moldova; Montenegro; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Singapore; Switzerland; The Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Ukraine; United Kingdom and United States (51 WTO Members). The document is embedded below.248
A number of countries have imposed export restrictions which worsen the pricing spikes being experienced on key agricultural commodities where Ukraine is a major exporter. The action by the 51 WTO Members is an important step whether or not it will generate a consensus document by the 12th Ministerial Conference meeting or not.
The EU’s comments on item 8 are likely representative of those supporting maintaining open markets for agricultural products at the present time.
“Item 8 – JOINT STATEMENT ON OPEN AND PREDICTABLE TRADE IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD PRODUCTS – REQUEST FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM
“The European Union would like to thank the United Kingdom and other co-sponsors for their support in raising attention in the WTO to the global food security crisis that we see emerging.
“The crisis triggered by Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and unjustified aggression against Ukraine, is not only a dramatic humanitarian crisis for Ukraine. It has increased food insecurity in many developing countries around the world.
“We are witnessing a dramatic surge in food, fertilizer and energy prices, which exceed the levels reached during the last major food crisis in 2011, as well as risks to supply of staple commodities with immediate impacts on world food security and nutrition.
“Let me be clear that any negative impact on agricultural production in Ukraine, and therefore on global food security, prices or availability of commodities on the world market is a result of the destabilising effects of the Russian aggression and military activities on Ukrainian soil.
“The EU considers that the emerging food security challenges should be addressed as a priority at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.
“We hope this plurilateral statement may help in focussing attention on the crucial importance of responding to these challenges.
“The discussions in the recent food security seminar, including contributions from FAO, WFP and other organisations, were also useful.
“The plurilateral statement is also a response to the call of Director-General Okonjo-Iweala for coordinated actions in areas like export restrictions on food, and transparency, including transparency of stocks.
“We call for unanimous support for a decision exempting World Food Programme humanitarian purchases from export restrictions. This would facilitate sourcing supplies by the WFP in these critical times. The EU expects the WTO and its members to act at this critical moment in order to help ensure open trade, strong rules, resilient markets, and less trade distortions.
“The EU will remain engaged in negotiations towards MC12 for outcomes, which will provide a tangible response to the food security challenges.“
European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69
Item 12 was a topic raised by the Russian Federation in its submission of 16 March 2022 (WT/GC/245) in which it alleges that the food security and other supply chain problems flow from sanctions imposed on Russia by various WTO members. See COMMUNICATION FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, WT/GC/245 (16 March 2022). The document is embedded below.WTGC245
The countries imposing sanctions on Russia strongly disagree with Russia’s characterization of the causes for the food security challenge as the EU’s intervention at the General Council meeting makes clear.
“Item 12 – TRADE-DISRUPTIVE PRACTICES OF CERTAIN MEMBERS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WTO – COMMUNICATION FROM THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (WT/GC/245)
“Let us be clear from the outset: it is the Russian army that has invaded the Ukrainian territory. We strongly condemn the illegal, unprovoked, unjustifiable aggression of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, which has brought catastrophic loss of life and human suffering in Ukraine and poses a direct threat to the European and international security order.
“The Russian Federation’s hostile act is a blatant violation of international law and the rules-based international order, the consequences of which have already extended well beyond Ukraine’s borders.
“We are greatly concerned about the global trade consequences of the aggression; in particular as regards the supply of a number of commodities, including oil and gas, staple foods, and critical minerals.
“The European Union also strongly specifically condemns Russia’s actions targeting Ukraine’s food supply and production. Credible reports highlighted that Russian forces are attacking and plundering grain silos in Ukraine as well as damaging and removing Ukrainian farm equipment. Furthermore, the closure of the Black Sea by Russian armed forces effectively blocks the exports of grains via Ukrainian seaports.
“The food security situation is already dramatic for those directly involved in Ukraine. The impact of the Russian aggression is however not just restricted to Ukraine and its citizens but is seriously challenging food availability in some vulnerable net food-importing countries in particular. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is thus jeopardizing the food supply to some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, and pushing millions of people into food insecurity.
“The Russian Federation has now embarked on a further campaign of disinformation in the context of the WTO. In the face of this, the European Union, alongside our partners, deems it important to set the record straight for the benefit of the membership.
“In a transparent manner, the European Union have issued a Joint Statement together with partners in relation to the trade measures that the European Union and other members are adopting towards Russia, including measures that deny the Russian Federation the benefits which the WTO Agreement provides, such as the benefit of the most-favoured nation treatment. The measures include export restrictions and import restrictions targeting the Russian Federation.
“The European Union considers these actions necessary to protect its essential security interests within the meaning of the applicable security exceptions of the WTO Agreement. The purpose of these measures is to restore peace and security, in full respect of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence within its internationally recognised borders. Therefore, these measures are fully consistent with WTO rules.
“The European Union would like to underline that the EU’s sanctions do not target the agricultural sector of the Russian Federation. The sanctions are primarily directed at the Russian Government, the financial sector and the economic elites. They target the ability to finance the Russian aggression against Ukraine and its people.
“Therefore, the European Union, alongside our partners, strongly condemns Russia’s attempts at putting the blame on international sanctions for the global food security crisis that is directly caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its people.
“In this context, we are committed to helping Ukraine cope with the trade consequences of the aggression. We will seek to facilitate access and transit for imports from Ukraine to our markets and encourage Members to do likewise – including by eliminating tariffs and other restrictions to imports, facilitating the use of infrastructure and facilitating customs procedures in a manner commensurate with their capacity and consistently with WTO rules.
“The European Union will continue to provide humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of Ukrainian civilians by securing their access to basic goods and services, notably food. The European Union will also help Ukrainian farmers to continue planting and growing cereals and oilseeds, much needed for themselves and for the world, and to facilitate their exports.
“We call on the Russian Federation to immediately stop its military aggression in Ukraine, which is also the only way to stop the humanitarian and food security crisis.“
European Union interventions at the General Council, 09-10 May 2022, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/delegations/world-trade-organization-wto/european-union-interventions-general-council-09-10-may_en?s=69.
A number of WTO Members are providing temporary duty free treatment to goods from Ukraine besides the EU — Canada and U.K.. The U.S. has removed Section 232 tariffs on steel from Ukraine for the next year as well.
The EU is working to facilitate movement of Ukrainian agricultural products by land through EU member states. But the main challenges are the blockage of Black Sea ports by Russia and the reported theft of agricultural products and equipment from Ukrainian farms and depots. See, e.g., CNN, Russians steal vast amounts of Ukrainian grain and equipment, threatening this year’s harvest, May 5, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/05/europe/russia-ukraine-grain-theft-cmd-intl/index.html; Voice of America, Russian Blockade of Ukrainian Sea Ports Sends Food Prices Soaring, May 7, 2022, https://www.voanews.com/a/russian-blockade-of-ukrainian-sea-ports-sends-food-prices-soaring/6561914.html; Politico, EU plans to help Ukraine’s food exports dodge Black Sea blockade, EU farm chief warns Russia wants to portray itself as feeding the poor, while it destroys Ukraine’s farmland. May 10, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-plans-to-boost-ukraines-food-exports-black-sea-blockade/.
While many WTO Members will push for a WTO decision to bolster food security, it is unlikely that Russia and those engaging in export restraints will permit a consensus decision.
While many Members and the WTO Director-General talk about delivering an agreement on fisheries subsidies, there has not been a lot of progress in recent months according to WTO news releases on meetings to review the issues. See, e.g., WTO News Release, Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies, Chair of fisheries subsidies negotiations reports on consultations with members, 15 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/fish_15feb22_e.htm.
After more than 21 years of negotiations, there is obviously a feeling that Members need to reach agreement. However, considering the entrenched positions of some and the current geopolitical situation, any agreement is likely to be modest in actual effect. I have reviewed developments in the negotiations in prior posts. See, e.g., https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/fish_15feb22_e.htm.
Much has been written on WTO reform in recent years. What is important to WTO Members varies although most support the need for reform. Changes to reinvigorate the negotiating function, improving transparency, agricultural reform, addressing dispute settlement concerns of the U.S. and others, addressing industrial subsidies (and subsidies more broadly), state-owned and state-invested enterprises, problems of global excess capacity in various industries, special and differential treatment, compatability of state-directed economies with WTO rules are just a handful of issues important to some Members. I have addressed some of these topics in prior posts. See, e.g., April 28, 2022: WTO Reform and the 12th Ministerial Conference — What Is likely on Dispute Settlement?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/28/wto-reform-and-the-12th-ministerial-conference-what-is-likely-on-dispute-settlement/; April 23, 2022: The WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva the week of June 13, 2022 — What can be expected in the current geopolitical environment?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/23/the-wtos-upcoming-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-the-week-of-june-13-2022-what-can-be-expected-in-the-current-geopolitical-environment/; February 14, 2022: Dispute Settlement Reform at the WTO — What Needs to Precede Negotiations?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/02/14/dispute-settlement-reform-at-the-wto-what-needs-to-precede-negotiations/.
There will likely be a document identifying some areas for future negotiations with a timeline of the 13th Ministerial as the target date for completion of the analysis. The level of ambition agreed up is not likely to be high in the current environment. Certainly, there won’t be agreement on tackling core issues such as the need for convergence of economic systems. While I would expect dispute settlement to be included, there has been no real movement by Members to come to grips with underlying U.S. concerns. Without that happening, there will likely be little chance of an agreed reform package by the 13th Ministerial.
There could also be a decision on transparency at the 12th Ministerial. See, e.g., General Council agenda item 9 and JOB/GC/204/Rev.9 (document from 50 Members). The latest version of the proposed decision is embedded below. The key to movement is eliminating any “penalties” for noncompliance and addressing concerns of some developing countries and LDCs on the challenges they face (capacity building, assistance, etc.). Those seem to be addressed in the latest draft, so hopefully agreement can be reached in the coming weeks.JobsGC204R9
Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs)
As reviewed in prior posts, there has been good progress in a number of the JSIs which are essentially open plurilaterals. A few have results which will be presented at the 12th Ministerial. Others have ambitions to be concluded in the next year or so. See, e.g., April 23, 2022: The WTO’s upcoming 12th Ministerial Conference to be held in Geneva the week of June 13, 2022 — What can be expected in the current geopolitical environment?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/23/the-wtos-upcoming-12th-ministerial-conference-to-be-held-in-geneva-the-week-of-june-13-2022-what-can-be-expected-in-the-current-geopolitical-environment/ (“There are a host of Joint Statement Initiatives that are at various stages of progress on a plurilateral basis, with India and South Africa raising objections to plurilateral agreements being part of the WTO without consensus agreement. See, e.g., April 14, 2022: Challenging China’s Trade Practices — What Role for the WTO?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2022/04/14/challenging-chinas-trade-practices-what-role-for-the-wto/ (“Ongoing JSI include those on electronic commerce, investment facilitation for development, plastics pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade, services domestic regulation, informal working group on MSMEs, and trade and environmental sustainability. The WTO issues periodic press releases on developments in the talks. See, e.g., JOINT INITIATIVE ON E-COMMERCE, E-commerce negotiators seek to find common ground, revisit text proposals, 21 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/jsec_23feb22_e.htm (hoping to have convergence on majority of issues by end of 2022)(86 WTO Members participating accounting for 90% of e-commerce trade including China, U.S. and most other major countries); INVESTMENT FACILITATION FOR DEVELOPMENT, Investment facilitation negotiators take steps to assess needs of developing countries, 15 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/infac_23feb22_e.htm (looking to complete by end of 2022)(over 100 WTO Members participate including China and most developed countries, but not the U.S.); INFORMAL DIALOGUE ON PLASTICS POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE PLASTICS TRADE, Plastics dialogue emphasizes need for international collaboration, cooperation, 30 March 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/ppesp_31mar22_e.htm (70 Members participate including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.); Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, Negotiations on services domestic regulation conclude successfully in Geneva, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/jssdr_02dec21_e.htm (67 Members participated including China, the U.S. and other major developed countries); . MICRO, SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED ENTERPRISES (MSMES), Working group on small business welcomes three more members, 8 February 2022, https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news22_e/msmes_08feb22_e.htm (94 participants including China and most major developed countries but not the U.S.).”).
India, Namibia and South Africa have raised issues with whether such plurilateral agreements can be made part of the WTO body of agreements without consensus. See THE LEGAL STATUS OF ‘JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES’ AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES, Revision, WT/GC/W/819/Rev.1 (30 April 2021). While that question will not likely be resolved at the 12th Ministerial Conference, important progress is being made on the JSIs.
Moratorium on Imposing Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions
During prior Ministerial Conferences there was agreement both on Members holding off on non-violation nullification and impairment cases under the TRIPS Agreement and also agreement to extend the moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. WTO Members have already agreed to extend til the 13th Ministerial the ban on non-violation TRIPS cases. But a number of developing countries are seeking to end the moratorium on customs duties citing studies on loss of government revenue from the moratorium and the increased importance of electronic commerce.
Some Members have also expressed concern about the JSI on e-commerce in light of the ongoing work program on e-commerce within the WTO.
In the briefing note on e-commerce on the WTO webpage from January 11, 2022, the following is a discussion of activities in 2020 and 2021 on the topics.
“In summer 2020, WTO members put forward proposals on the implications of the moratorium, its scope, the definition of electronic transmissions and the implication of the moratorium on revenue loss for developing countries. This discussion is part of the broader developmental aspect of e-commerce: developing and least-developed countries face various challenges related to e-commerce, such as connectivity, infrastructure and capacity to implement policies related to e-commerce.
“The General Council continued to review progress in the Work Programme based on reports submitted by the chairs of the relevant WTO bodies. The General Council Chair convened a Structured Discussion under the Work Programme in July 2021. The discussion focused on three themes: electronic transmissions, imposition of internal non-discriminatory taxes on electronic transmissions, and e-commerce challenges and opportunities particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a subsequent submission in November 2021, some members outlined that it is necessary to have more clarity on the definition of electronic transmissions, consensus on the scope of the moratorium and an understanding of the impact of the moratorium in order to enable the WTO members to take an informed decision at MC12 on whether or not to extend the moratorium on customs duties.
“In November 2021, a group of WTO members put forward a proposal that contains draft ministerial text for possible adoption by ministers at MC12 for the extension of the moratorium and continuing the reinvigoration of the work programme. Views of members vary and consultations led by the General Council chair continued ahead of the conference scheduled to start on 30 November.”
It is likely that the moratorium will be extended to the 13th Ministerial but it will likely be a late agreed topic and will be coupled with a “reinvigorated” WTO work program on e-commerce and a likely lack of agreement on the role of plurilaterals moving forward.
At a time of tremendous trade challenges globally, the WTO continues to struggle to demonstrate its relevance to addressing current issues. The large number of Members, the very different perspectives on what they look to the WTO to provide, the emergence of economically important Members with economic systems not really compatible with existing WTO rules, the consensus based system and many other factors make restoring relevance for many of the current challenges a daunting task. The geopolitical crisis flowing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has both expanded the challenges and made resolution through the WTO more difficult.
The WTO Director-General is urging Members to achieve results at the 12th Ministerial even if less ambitious than might have been possible in a different environment. As the above review suggests, a modest package is possible but not at all certain. There is very little time to close the gaps and get a meaningful package ready. Let’s hope that Members can rise to the occasion.