World Trade Organisation MC12 Outcomes
The Twelfth Session of the Ministerial Conference (MC) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) took place in Geneva from 12 to 16 June 2022. After lengthy negotiations an Outcomes Document, an pdf Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (122 KB) , and the following Decisions and Declarations were adopted:
We mention some of the highlights here. Subsequent tralac publications will contain more detailed discussions of selected aspects.
The Outcomes Document lists issues on which no Decisions and Declarations could be reached. It acknowledges that the challenges that the WTO is facing must be addressed to ensure “the WTO's proper functioning”. The provisions of special and differential treatment for developing country Members and Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) are re-affirmed, as is the decision of the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi on the implementation of preferential treatment in favour of services and service suppliers of LDCs and increasing LDC participation in services trade. The Members also reaffirmed their decision taken at the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali on Duty-Free Quota-Free Market Access for LDCs.
In respect of the WTO Dispute Settlement System the importance and urgency of reforms are recognised. The aim is to conduct discussions with the view to having a full and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by 2024.
The Trade Facilitation Committee is instructed to hold a Dedicated Session on transit issues annually until the next review of the Trade Facilitation Agreement is completed. These dedicated sessions will highlight the importance of transit and reserve time for the Committee to discuss best practices, as well as the constraints and challenges faced by all landlocked WTO Members, including landlocked developing countries and LDCs.
On the position of women, the Outcome Document only records recognition of “women's economic empowerment and the contribution of MSMEs to inclusive and sustainable economic growth, acknowledge their different context, challenges and capabilities in countries at different stages of development”. Global environmental challenges are recognised, while noting the contribution of the multilateral trading system to promote the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals in so far as they relate to WTO mandates. The WTO Committee on Trade and Environment is mentioned as a standing forum dedicated to dialogue among Members on the relationship between trade and environmental measures.
Commentators have described certain MC 12 Decisions as significant. The moratorium on duties on e-commerce and data trade is an example. The relevant decision extends the status quo for another two years in relation to the imposition of duties on digital transactions. This is good news for consumers. Some Members (India, South Africa, and Pakistan) requested an end to the moratorium to raise fiscal revenues.
How are these outcomes viewed from inside the WTO Secretariat? DDG Ellard provided the following assessment in a public address delivered subsequently.
There is a new multilateral Agreement; on Fisheries Subsidies. It will help curb the depletion of fish stocks. It is the second multilateral WTO agreement concluded since the WTO came into existence in 1995. She described it as “the very first WTO agreement with environment sustainability at its core”. The Agreement imposes new and binding disciplines on Members by prohibiting (i) subsidies contributing to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; (ii) subsidies regarding overfished stocks; and (iii) subsidies for fishing in under-regulated high seas. Its transparency/notification requirements will generate better data to target action as more rigorous obligations will be negotiated in future. It also addresses the needs of developing countries and the least developed by creating a funding mechanism to help them implement their obligations and undertake fisheries management regimes to develop their industries sustainably.
In response to the public health crisis, WTO Members adopted a Decision concerning intellectual property rights and a Declaration concerning trade aspects, such as export restrictions, regulatory cooperation, and trade facilitation. She described the Ministerial Decision on the TRIPS Agreement as “a tailored and targeted outcome that will help Members build up and diversify vaccine production capacity, providing a streamlined avenue to export to countries in need. It provides concrete flexibilities and guidance on the practical steps governments can take to diversify vaccine production and export. It is a real win for global health and the world's most vulnerable.” It excludes, in a legally binding manner, those developing countries that have opted out because they already are able to manufacture competitively.
The Ministerial Declaration on the response to the pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics reflects and builds on the lessons learned by the WTO Members and the Secretariat during the pandemic.
To address the food crisis, WTO Members adopted a Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, which reaffirms the importance of not imposing WTO-inconsistent export prohibitions or restrictions. It highlights the importance of promptly sharing information about policies that may affect trade and markets. In addition, the Members agreed not to impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme (WFP).
 WTO, 2022. DDG Ellard addresses the role of multilateralism in a world of polycrisis, 24 June
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