PUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANGELA ELLARD
Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard on 17 January discussed the negotiating priorities for WTO members in the run-up to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi next month and areas where members are considering reform of the WTO at a seminar on the WTO organized by the Washington International Trade Association.
DDG Ellard highlights members’ negotiating priorities and WTO reform issues ahead of MC13
DDG Ellard observed that a key priority for MC13 is to build on the achievements of the previous June 2022 Ministerial Conference, MC12, by concluding the second wave of negotiations on fisheries subsidies and ensuring the entry into force of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. She noted that in the month remaining before MC13, WTO members will be conducting intensive negotiations on provisions to curb subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing. She added that 55 members have already deposited their instruments of acceptance for the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, which is half of the required number for entry into force, and that many more are underway.
DDG Ellard said that other negotiating priorities include dispute settlement reform and extending the moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions, which will expire if members do not renew it at MC13. In addition, members are considering whether to extend the TRIPS Decision on COVID-19 vaccines adopted at MC12 to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. She added that the negotiations on agriculture continue, with many members pointing to food security as an important priority. However, the talks remain difficult as members have different views on issues such as public stockholding for food security purposes, domestic support and market access.
DDG Ellard explained that negotiations have different formats, depending on the subject matter and the level of maturity of the issues discussed. She underlined the role of regular General Council and committee meetings as well as group meetings and informal retreats in building trust among members. “The goal is to make the Geneva process as successful as possible and to have the ambassadors present final texts for ministers’ blessing at MC13,” she said.
With respect to WTO reform, she said that everyone agrees that the WTO needs reform, but members’ views on what needs to be improved differ. She outlined three broad areas of reform: (i) negotiating new rules and revising the existing rules; (ii) reinvigorating the deliberative function of the organization; and (iii) improving the way the Secretariat assists members. She noted that many members are interested in reforming the regulation of subsidies, although their priorities differ. While some members concentrate on addressing state intervention in support of industrial sectors, some developing members seek policy space to promote industrialization.
With respect to the improvement of the deliberative function, DDG Ellard explained that many members emphasize enhancing transparency and improving compliance with notification requirements. In addition, developing countries would like reform in this area to enhance effective and meaningful participation of small and resource-constrained delegations in all deliberations and decisions.
Finally, DDG Ellard emphasized the efforts aimed at enhancing the WTO’s deliberative function through improved working procedures, such as in the Council for Trade in Goods and its subsidiary bodies, as part of “reform by doing”. She noted that 127 improvements have already been adopted by members in Geneva. She also highlighted the Secretariat’s development of new digital tools and databases with a view to improving transparency and facilitating members’ participation in different activities of the organization.