Source: World Trade Organization (WTO) |

Director-General Okonjo-Iweala cites members’ desire to complete unfinished business from MC13

WTO members are eager to complete the unfinished business pending from the organization’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi earlier this year

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 22, 2024/APO Group/ --

Speaking in her role as Chair of the WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee, DG Okonjo-Iweala said consultations she has held with members and groups of members since the last General Council meeting in March to hear their thoughts on moving forward post-MC13 demonstrated a “constructive spirit”, with everyone “eager to complete the unfinished business from Abu Dhabi.”

“I was encouraged to hear members express determination to find pathways that allow us to do as much as possible here in Geneva, instead of waiting for ministerials to deliver things,” she said.  “In virtually every group, there was support for the notion of securing the political empowerment needed to get things finished here in the General Council.”

As part of efforts to advance work in Geneva, the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Petter Ølberg of Norway, announced that a members' retreat would be held on 8-9 July to reflect on how work is carried out in Geneva, how Ministerial Conferences can be optimized, and how ongoing work can be carried forward in the various workstreams.

The goal is to “ensure the WTO remains a forward-looking Organization — mindful of the pending, long overdue workstreams that require our attention and breakthrough of longstanding stalemates,” he said.

Ambassador Ølberg said he would be reaching out to members in the next few weeks to hear their views on the actual content of the retreat.

DG Okonjo-Iweala told the General Council meeting that four priorities for action repeatedly came up in her recent consultations with members — fisheries subsidies, agriculture, dispute settlement reform, and investment facilitation for development.

On fisheries subsidies, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted members were “very close” to completing the “second wave” negotiations on fisheries subsidies at MC13 and that “there is much regret that it did not happen”.

“Given this, members said we must get this done as soon as possible. So, this is a top priority, and we are going to have to work very hard to complete” before the WTO's summer break, the goal indicated by many members, she added.

Ratification of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement, agreed at the 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2022, is making progress, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted, with Qatar becoming the 76th member to deposit its instrument of acceptance.  Ten additional instruments of acceptance are expected in the coming weeks, raising expectations that the Agreement will enter into force this year.

On agriculture, making a breakthrough on this critically important sector is key, DG Okonjo-Iweala said. She encouraged members who have ideas on how to break the impasse to put them forward.  She welcomed Brazil's paper on how to move the agriculture negotiations forward and said she was “encouraged by the new willingness to find a pathway to break the logjam.”

The other area where every member wants to continue work is dispute settlement reform, DG Okonjo-Iweala said, adding she was very pleased that Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius will act as facilitator for this multilateral process.

“We need to fix what needs to be fixed so that the world will once again look at the WTO as a fully functioning organization," DG Okonjo-Iweala declared. "The developments we've seen so far are positive.”

Another priority repeatedly mentioned by members in the consultations was the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement and how to incorporate it into the WTO framework. The Agreement now has 128 WTO members as co-sponsors, of which 90 are developing economies.

Citing figures from a World Bank Group agency showing a sharp decline in capital flows to developing economies, DG Okonjo-Iweala said every instrument that can help developing economies attract investment and generate employment should be welcomed.

On development issues, DG Okonjo-Iweala said she was happy with the progress members were able to make for least developed countries and other developing  economies at MC13 and that members should build on the momentum achieved.  She noted that members indicated in the consultations that they would like to work further on the LDC graduation proposal and on the Agreement-specific proposals from the G90 group of developing economies and least developed countries.

During the 22 May General Council meeting, the negotiating chairs for agriculture (Ambassador Alparslan Acarsoy of Türkiye), fisheries subsidies (Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland) and development (Ambassador Kadra Hassan of Djibouti) provided members with a readout on deliberations in their respective areas since the last General Council meeting in March.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Trade Organization (WTO).