Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference – Abu Dhabi, February 2024: Resource page


Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference – Abu Dhabi, February 2024: Resource page

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference – Abu Dhabi, February 2024: Resource page

MC13 ends with decisions on dispute reform, development; commitment to continue ongoing talks

The WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) took place from 26 February to 2 March 2024 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, chaired by H.E. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade.

The Ministerial Conference brought together nearly 4,000 ministers, senior trade officials and other delegates from the WTO’s 164 members and observers as well as representatives from civil society, business and the global media to review the functioning of the multilateral trading system and to take action on the future work of the WTO. Initially scheduled for 26-29 February, the Conference was extended in a final push to reach outcomes on the various issues at stake. MC13 closed with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration setting out a forward-looking reform agenda for the organisation.

Closing ceremony

The closing ceremony was held in the early hours of 2 March.

Remarks by the Chairperson of the Thirteenth Ministerial Conference:

“While we may not have accomplished everything, we set out to achieve, we have delivered some much-needed results. On all other work streams, efforts will continue in Geneva. And let us remember that outcomes can be harvested by the 2 General Council as soon as they are ready – in the interval to the next Ministerial Conference.”

“We all know that international cooperation is not only the best, but often the only way to address the challenges that affect global trade. Delivering the Abu Dhabi package of outcomes is a true testament to the value that Members continue to attach to the Organization and its pivotal role in ensuring an orderly global system of trade rules. Delivering these results also enhances trust and confidence in multilateralism, which is particularly valuable given the testing and uncertain times we find ourselves in.”

MC13 closing speech — Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

“We convened MC13 against an international backdrop marked by greater uncertainty than at any time I can remember. During the long hours of negotiation here, we saw moments of difficult but rewarding cooperation, as Ministers overcame intense disagreement, engaged in tough discussions, and found common ground. The beauty of the WTO is that each member has an equal voice, but that also comes at a cost. Nevertheless, we are a unique organisation and I think the cost is worth it.”

“[W]e have worked hard this week. We have achieved some important things and we have not managed to complete others. Nevertheless, we moved those pieces of work in an important way. At the same time, we have delivered some milestone achievements for the WTO — and laid the groundwork for more.”

“The path to progress is seldom linear. The WTO remains a source of stability and resilience in an economic and geopolitical landscape fraught with uncertainties and exogenous shocks. Trade remains a vital force for improving people’s lives, and for helping businesses and countries cope with the impact of these shocks.”

Watch the Closing Ceremony here.

WTO MC13 WTOPrime Vision

Photo credit: © WTO / Prime Vision


The key outcome of MC13 is the Draft Abu Dhabi Ministerial Declaration, where WTO members committed to preserve and strengthen the ability of the multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core, to respond to current trade challenges. The Ministerial Declaration underlines the centrality of the development dimension in the work of the WTO, recognising the role that the multilateral trading system can play in contributing towards the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It also recognised the contribution of women's economic empowerment and women's participation in trade to economic growth and sustainable development.

A number of ministerial decisions and declarations were also adopted, covering areas ranging from dispute settlement and the work programme on e-commerce, to development-focused agreements (small economies, LDCs etc.) and cooperation in the areas of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade.

MC13 outcomes: Ministerial decisions and declarations, adopted on 2 March 2024

pdf Abu Dhabi Ministerial Declaration (97 KB)

pdf Accession of the Union of the Comoros - Ministerial Decision (88 KB)

pdf Accession of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste - Ministerial Decision (88 KB)

pdf Work Programme on Small Economies - Ministerial Decision (70 KB)

pdf WTO Smooth Transition Support Measures in Favour of Countries Graduated from the LDC Category - Ministerial Decision (77 KB)

pdf Strengthening Regulatory Cooperation to Reduce Technical Barriers to Trade - Ministerial Declaration (81 KB)

pdf Declaration on the Precise, Effective and Operational Implementation of Special and Differential Treatment provisions of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade - Ministerial Declaration (71 KB)

pdf Dispute Settlement Reform - Ministerial Decision (70 KB)

pdf Work Programme on Electronic Commerce - Ministerial Decision (69 KB)

pdf TRIPS Non-violation and Situation Complaints - Ministerial Decision (64 KB)

Other Documents and Submissions

A collection of other documents and communications from WTO members were published prior to, and during, MC13. These cover an array of areas both existing and new to the WTO’s negotiating agenda, including accessions, agriculture, cotton, environmental issues, plastics, least developed country (LDC) and development-related issues, investment facilitation, and submissions from regional and political country groups, among other things.

tralac Analysis

What Happened at the WTO’s Thirteenth Ministerial Conference?

The results of the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) – held between the 26th of February and midnight on the 2nd of March in Abu Dhabi – were mixed. While there were some notably positive outcomes, MC13 failed to produce outcomes on three of the most important agenda items: agriculture, fisheries subsidies, and dispute settlement reform.

What MC13 Achieved for Least Developed Countries

In a communication dated 12 January, the LDC group listed their priorities going into MC13. Aside from LDC graduation transition matters, specific priorities included agriculture and food security, the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, the moratorium on e-commerce and equality in accessibility to dispute settlement procedures. MC13 did not deliver much in the way of these matters – no agreement was reached on agriculture, fisheries phase two negotiations, or dispute settlement (where they agreed to continue work on negotiations rather than produce a draft agreement). That said, some progress has been made on the LDC graduation transition process (though modest), and special and differential treatment for LDCs.

Bangladesh’s upcoming graduation from LDC status, its amended provisions for the protection of Patents and its ongoing use of the WTO TRIPS flexibilities

This Trade Brief provides the background to, and also an update on an important aspect of Bangladesh’s graduation from least-developed country (LDC) status, scheduled for 26 November 2026. The specific focus is on the issue of providing protection for pharmaceutical patents, taking into account the history of the pharmaceutical industry in Bangladesh, and the significant role it plays in its economy. It reports on a significant new development, namely the adoption of the Patents Act of 2023. It explains how Bangladesh’s proposed course of action fits in with the applicable multilateral context, especially the WTO TRIPS Agreement, and flags the possibility of challenges which may arise.

What’s on the Cards for MC13? Reform, E-Commerce, Fish Subsidies and more

The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) has begun in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The list of topics and deliverables to be covered on the agenda is overwhelming – if not in number, then at least in complexity. The Director-General of the WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has insisted that no one agenda item supersedes the others in importance, stating that all agenda items “will affect real people”. One can summarise eight key areas of discussion on the agenda: these areas include e-commerce, fisheries subsidies, investment facilitation, agriculture, intellectual property (IP), the environment, development and LDC graduation, and – highly anticipated – WTO reform (including dispute settlement reform).

The WTO Dispute Settlement Impasse: What is happening?

The WTO’s Understanding on Dispute Settlement (DSU) provides World Trade Organisation (WTO) members with a legal framework for resolving trade disputes that arise between them when implementing WTO agreements. On 11 December 2019, however, the Appellate Body (AB) of the WTO ceased to function. The absence of the AB from the WTO dispute settlement system means that an essential feature of the multilateral trade regime embodied in the WTO, is in limbo. An appeal by the losing party in a WTO trade dispute against a panel report decided in favour of the winning party will remain unresolved and unenforceable, since there is no AB to hear new appeals.

In the News

MC13 ends with decisions on dispute reform, development; commitment to continue ongoing talks

WTO members concluded the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on 2 March with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration setting out a forward-looking, reform agenda for the organization. Ministers also took a number of ministerial decisions, including renewing the commitment to have a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system by 2024 and to improve use of the special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions for developing and least developed countries (LDCs). They also agreed to continue negotiations in all areas where convergence was elusive at MC13.

Members of three environmental initiatives share plans for next phase of work at MC13

Co-sponsors of the three environmental initiatives at the WTO presented on 27 February, at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi, the next steps they are taking to advance work on plastics pollution, environmental sustainability, and fossil fuel subsidy reform, building on the extensive analytical work and experience sharing they have conducted since MC12.

“I welcome the substantive work carried out by the initiatives over the last two years, with the support of stakeholders and experts in the environment community. They are an example of how ambitious WTO members are finding innovative ways to reinforce the WTO's deliberative function to address 21st century challenges,” DG Okonjo-Iweala said in remarks released to mark the launch of the MC13 outcomes by the three environmental initiatives — the Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Sustainable Plastics Trade (DPP), the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD), and the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (FFSR) Initiative.

DG Okonjo-Iweala on MC13: “We are going to get it done”

The Director-General said that while she was encouraged by members’ stamina and passion in advancing the MC13 preparations, “frankly speaking, we are still not where I would have wished us to be at this point in our preparatory processes…. But I remain positive because of the relatively positive tone in the negotiations,” she said. “This gives me hope that we’ll get more convergence in our negotiating positions.”

“The importance that we all attach to sending a strong, meaningful, and responsive political message from ministers is evident – particularly given the difficult period we are currently living in,” Ambassador Molokomme said. “Let us all keep in mind what is at stake, as we finalize the MC13 draft Declaration.”

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. 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.

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.

DG Okonjo-Iweala: “Our work is cut out for us” on achieving concrete MC13 outcomes

In her capacity as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, the Director-General welcomed the results from the Group of 7 trade ministers meeting in Osaka, Japan, on 29 October, which also included the participation of a number of developing country trade ministers.

The G7 trade ministers “were pleased about the results and it was heartening to hear ministers strongly reiterate the calls we had just heard at the SOM for us to work for concrete outcomes and a successful MC13,” she said. “All of them were desirous to have a successful MC13 but they acknowledged that, on some of the dossiers we have in front of us, differences still remain and have to be resolved... So, we have our work cut out for us. With about four months to MC13, every day must count to effectively utilize the political guidance and support we sought and got from senior officials and ministers to substantially advance our work towards concrete results at MC13.”

Senior Officials Meeting paves way for progress on deliverables at MC13

A two-day meeting of senior trade officials concluded at the WTO on 24 October with encouraging signs that negotiators in Geneva will have the political backing to achieve outcomes at MC13. The Chair of the General Council noted that the Senior Officials Meeting was the fourth station in preparations for MC13. The next stations will be a General Council meeting in early November, and the end of year meetings of the General Council and the Trade Negotiations Committee. “We hope that, by that time, we can flesh out the matters that have been endorsed and on which political guidance has been received,” Ambassador Molokomme said. “So, as you go back to capital and brief your ministers, I hope that our Senior Officials Meeting illustrated the urgent need for capital engagement at all levels — to ensure success at MC13 and beyond. We all know what is at stake.”

The chairs’ summary of the Senior Officials Meeting as well as oral reports from the facilitators can be found here.

More news from the WTO

New WTO-World Bank project seeks to boost Africa’s participation in digital trade

DG Okonjo-Iweala urges trade ministers’ coalition to boost climate action through the WTO

Three-quarters of members mark finalization of IFD Agreement, request incorporation into WTO

WTO, FIFA strengthen cotton partnership, call for increased investment in African cotton

DDG Hill emphasizes role of trade in fostering access to digital finance

Fisheries subsidies chair circulates draft text to ministers as basis for MC13 negotiations

Agriculture negotiations chair circulates revised text, aiming for outcome at MC13

TRIPS Council finalizes preparations for MC13

Chair introduces draft text for agriculture negotiations in run-up to MC13

Plastics Pollution Dialogue finalizes text for MC13 Ministerial Statement

Members make progress on trade and environmental sustainability outcomes for MC13

WTO members examine proposals to deepen discussions on trade and environment

WTO members address trade and development dimension of cotton, potential MC13 outcome

Agriculture negotiators discuss new proposals submitted by WTO members

Members to continue dialogue on extending TRIPS Decision to therapeutics and diagnostics

Small business group discusses access to information, capacity building, MC13 plans

Working group on food security moves closer to finalizing report and recommendations

DDG Paugam: Trade is becoming more political, more sustainable, more traceable

WTO members review farm policies, discuss food security, agri-food system resilience

Members advance discussion on challenges in SPS Agreement implementation ahead of MC13


Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel +27 21 880 2010