The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference, to be held in Geneva from June 12-15, will be a test by fire of organizational efficiency and ability to respond to today’s economic and trade challenges. Against a backdrop of growing geopolitical tensions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the main objective of the Ministerial Conference should be to reaffirm multilateralism and rules-based trade as the preferred path to boost global economic growth. The WTO must also demonstrate that it can respond to the most pressing challenges of our time, in particular health, climate change and food security.
EU and US businesses remain strong supporters of the WTO, and we believe that pragmatism, prioritization and results-oriented approaches are key to ensuring a successful outcome. Making progress in these areas will be essential for a positive MC12:
1. Advance meaningful reform
The current geopolitical context is difficult, making discussions to advance the reform of the WTO even more complex. A strong political commitment from all WTO members to establish an ambitious agenda, work plan and timetable is essential. Reform should start with improving the functioning of the WTO as an organization in terms of surveillance, dispute settlement, resolving the Appellate Body crisis, increasing transparency and optimizing committee work. Strengthening the negotiating function of the WTO would enhance its ability to design new approaches to competitive neutrality, tackle distorting subsidies, craft new rules for digital trade, address special treatment and differentiated and to promote ambitious climate action through trade. A more structured and coherent dialogue with the business community is essential to ensure a modernization adapted to the objectives of the body of rules of the WTO.
Reforming and restoring the Appellate Body is an urgent priority. International trade agreements are only effective if they can be enforced through an effective dispute settlement system. While WTO dispute settlement continues to operate in all areas except the Appellate Body, recent cases of vacuum appeals show that members’ compliance with WTO commitments WTO and the ability to enforce them will erode over time. Concerns about the functioning of the Appellate Body can be addressed, but WTO members must engage, commit to agreeing and implementing the necessary reforms – and doing so quickly.
2. Extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions
This is a priority and an absolute necessity to avoid major disruptions to trade and investment. Imposing tariffs on electronic transmissions would significantly increase trade costs and lead to market fragmentation, generating additional headwinds for the global economy. The WTO would allow, for the first time, the introduction of new barriers to trade, thus setting a dangerous precedent where tariffs on services could be levied and potentially creating a paradigm shift in international trade that must be avoided.
3. Address trade and health issues pragmatically
The WTO has done a very good job of facilitating the relaxation of certain trade restrictions and monitoring the trade restrictive measures adopted by governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. MC12 is a key opportunity to address trade and regulatory restrictions that limit access to and distribution of related raw materials, medicines, vaccines, equipment, other essential goods and services.
Intellectual property (IP) has played a fundamental role in enabling an unprecedented level of research, innovation and partnerships that has allowed us to fight the pandemic. It is clear that intellectual property-based incentives have played a central role in the innovation and collaboration that has enabled the development, manufacturing, scale-up and distribution of new COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 19. Voluntary licensing of intellectual property for vaccines and therapeutics has resulted in hundreds of partnerships worldwide, resulting in dramatic growth in vaccine manufacturing. There is a broad consensus that there are no problems with vaccine production today. On the contrary, vaccine surpluses are widespread. Logistical bottlenecks, vaccine deployment, country preparedness and lack of public acceptance are the real factors behind low immunization levels in some countries. Therefore, the proposed waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) represents an attempt to solve a problem that currently does not exist. This would not be the right response to the collective challenge of equitable access to vaccines and risks undermining the collective response to the pandemic, and the incentive to invest in solutions to deal with future pandemics will be much weaker.
4. Make progress on joint reporting initiatives
Joint declaration initiatives are essential to make faster progress in adopting rules not covered by current WTO rules. They constitute an important step forward in modernizing and adapting the WTO to current and future trade challenges. We support these negotiations, particularly in the areas of e-commerce, investment facilitation for development, and trade and environment. We also hope that the agreement on domestic regulation of services will be formally concluded.
Negotiations for an electronic commerce agreement need a new impetus. While acknowledging progress in e-authentication, e-signatures, spam, open government data and online consumer protection, we need to make further progress on the most complex and divisive issues, such as cross-border data flows, source code disclosure bans and forced data localization. , expanding market access for ICT products and liability issues.
Trying to wrap up discussions on investment facilitation for development would be very important, as a transparent, non-discriminatory and effective regulatory framework is key to attracting long-term sustainable investment and helping developing economies recover faster. With over 100 participating members, including a significant number of developing countries, this potential agreement shows how the WTO can work for all.
There are several plurilateral initiatives in the area of trade and environment, including a dialogue on plastics, distorting fossil fuel subsidies as well as a broader initiative on trade and environmental sustainability. The fight against climate change is a common and urgent objective. It is also essential to agree on common approaches to promote a level playing field. Therefore, we hope that members will make a firm commitment to achieving concrete results, including the launch of negotiations.
5. Finally conclude the agreement on fisheries subsidies
The fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a key element of the negotiations for a WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies. The main objective is to adopt rules that promote sustainable fishing and protect people’s livelihoods. This is a rare area where the WTO is uniquely positioned to address a serious environmental problem in a way that no other international body can. The conclusion of this agreement would be a clear sign that the WTO can deliver on its promises in a multilateral framework.