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WTO chief looks to close in on MC12 deliverables
By TII News Service
May 04, 2021 , Geneva

    

WORLD Trade Organisation (WTO) members on Monday discussed issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make the deals – on fisheries subsidies, agriculture and COVID-19 pandemic related outcomes – possible.

Director-General Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged members to speak their mind, stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results ahead of the MC12, scheduled to run from November 30-December 3 in Geneva, was critical for the WTO’s credibility.

"Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results," she said, summing up members' interventions.

The three concrete deliverables that stood out was the agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies, outcomes on agriculture with a focus on food security, and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalise an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12.

On the fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalise an agreement in July, she called on delegations to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve.

"We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," the WTO chief said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair.

Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO "food security package." Elements included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme (WFP) humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

She welcomed the view that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health as the WTO's spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders.

Calling the WTO membership, one of "working together, supporting each other," she asked leaders to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal for Covid-related technologies.

With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members "can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed."

For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Ms Okonjo-Iweala said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

She said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organising meetings to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members.

She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings. "Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don't know about," she emphasised.

Stressing the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the "path to July" would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. "Week in, week out, this is what we will do now," she said.

 
 
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