Updated: Jun 19, 2022
The 12th WTO's Ministerial Conference (MC) is dubbed a success. But what was really achieved?
Global regulations are crucial in unpredictable times. Legal and economic certainty ensures open and functioning global value chains.
WTO members convened in Geneva for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference amid economic and geopolitical turmoil. It was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Covid-19 regulations prevented ministers from meeting for over 5 years. Soaring energy costs, inflation, conflict in Europe, a food crisis, increased trade weaponization, and significant differences among WTO members plague the global community.
The ministerial conference was initially scheduled to end on June 15, but it was extended for further negotiations and agreement-making. On June 17, WTO members completed the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva, obtaining multilaterally negotiated results on a number of significant trade measures.
At the end stood the "Geneva Package". According to the WTO, it underscores the multilateral trade system's historical relevance and emphasises the WTO's crucial role in tackling the world's most serious concerns, particularly at a time when global solutions are needed. Both before and during MC12, the WTO and ministers had to work to break deadlocks.
So, what is in really in the "Geneva Package"?
In one sentence the product of round-the-clock discussions features extraordinary decisions on fisheries subsidies, a WTO reaction to food and pandemic crises, including a waiver of some COVID-19 vaccine licencing requirements, decisions on food safety, agriculture, and WTO reform.
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that the results show that the WTO can react to crises. They demonstrate the world that WTO members can work across geopolitical fault lines to solve global commons challenges and strengthen the organisation. They offer hope for strategic collaboration and competitiveness. In particular:
Pandemics, COVID-19 Response & TRIPS
With this decision, the WTO responded to COVID's problems. WTO members agreed on a number of clarifications and a waiver of some TRIPS rules to allow the quick manufacture and export of COVID-19 vaccines, even without the patent owner's approval. The approved approach retains a working IP structure with incentives for investment, research, and knowledge transfer.
To be specific, Ministers agreed on a Declaration on the WTO response to the outbreak and readiness for future pandemics, affirming their commitment to openness, prompt and thorough information exchange, and caution in imposing export restrictions.
In response to the COVID pandemic and requests from poor nations, Ministers waived some procedural restrictions under the TRIPS Agreement, allowing the manufacturing and export of COVID-19 vaccines without the patent owner's agreement.
The agreement preserves a working intellectual property system that encourages investment, research, and technology transfer. This climate is essential for developing new vaccines and treatments and should boost African manufacturing capability. This would guarantee that IP regulations promote industrial capability in all areas, including Africa.
Ministers also promoted free commerce to battle this and future pandemics, including transparency, eliminating export restrictions, and other steps that make trading simpler and quicker.
In a nutshell, leaders agreed on a Food Security Declaration that outlines the WTO's reaction to food emergencies.It asks members to avoid needless export restrictions and pledges us to supporting agricultural production in poor countries. This is a major political signal for the current problem.
Specifically, WTO members made initiatives to make food and agricultural input commerce more predictable and prices less erratic in response to the biggest food security crisis in decades. They helped the World Food Programme feed the world's most disadvantaged people. WTO members pledged in a Declaration on Food Security to prevent unjustifiable food export restrictions and improve transparency. The World Food Programme's humanitarian purchases were exempted from export restrictions.
The ratification of the food security statement and the decision to assist the World Food Programme show that the WTO can respond to contemporary concerns. This international proclamation is powerful. Food security has been a top objective in MC12. Although it wasn't able to agree on additional agricultural reform at this ministerial, many WTO members remain committed to continuing the work beyond MC12. WTO must concentrate on trade-distorting policies.
This is the first international WTO agreement to enhance sustainability and cut subsidies that contribute to overfishing. Subsidizing illicit and uncontrolled fishing will be prohibited under international law.
In more detail, WTO members have reached an agreement on fisheries subsidies that prioritise environmental sustainability. 260 million people rely directly or indirectly on maritime fisheries. The new agreement outlaws IUU fishing. It forbids overfished stock support.
Ending incentives for uncontrolled high seas fishing is a first but essential step toward curbing overcapacity and overfishing. Transparency about fishing subsidies is as vital as bans. Members committed to continued talks on these disciplines.
This is a multinational accord protecting oceans UN SDG 14.6. (UN SDG).
The agreement bans subsidies for uncontrolled high-seas fishing. This is a major ban for vulnerable locations without a coordinated fisheries management system.
The WTO extended the e-commerce customs moratorium until the next WTO Ministerial.
Many enterprises and digital commerce needed this.
The e-commerce embargo was prolonged, helping the digital economy. WTO members agreed to avoid customs tariffs on electronic transfers until MC13. Members resolved to refocus their efforts on electronic commerce, including problems and potential for developing nations and LDCs. This agreement protects the WTO's enabling environment for the global digital economy and the millions of firms and jobs that rely on it.
A diktat forum? WTO Refom
Ministers agreed to a comprehensive WTO reform. This should strengthen its ability to negotiate and monitor global trade policy changes. The dispute resolution mechanism must be completely functional by 2024. Reforming the WTO is a top goal to guarantee stability and promote rules-based trade.
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that in recent weeks, many of you have heard her argue that the WTO, set up as a negotiation platform, has transformed into a diktat forum, where members say "this is what I want, give it to me. This week, ministers have shown true give-and-take. Willingness to listen to others' concerns, abandon long-held opinions, and seek a middle ground. Members questioned "can we live with this" instead of "did we get all we wanted?" If we can bottle this spirit, we'll achieve more in the future. How you can spend hours debating about a footnote word beyond me.
This week, WTO members started a member-driven institutional reform process to modernise and strengthen the WTO's basic functions. They acknowledged the WTO's importance in empowering women, fulfilling environmental objectives, and creating possibilities for MSMEs.
Divisions existed on public stock holding for food security, domestic assistance, cotton, and market access. Nations, including the EU, were unable to agree on an agricultural work programme. While there is no new roadmap for future cooperation, WTO Members are motivated to maintain working on current mandates to achieve excellent results at MC13.
The Geneva package adopted by members include:
an outcome document (WT/MIN(22)/W/16/Rev.1);
a package on WTO response to emergencies, comprising:
a Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity (WT/MIN(22)/W/17/Rev.1);
a Ministerial Decision on World Food Programme (WFP) Food Purchases Exemptions from Export Prohibitions or Restrictions (WT/MIN(22)/W/18);
a Ministerial Declaration on the WTO Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Preparedness for Future Pandemics (WT/MIN(22)/W/13); and
a Ministerial Decision on the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (WT/MIN(22)/W/15/Rev.2)
a Decision on the E-commerce Moratorium and Work Programme (WT/MIN(22)/W/23)
an Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies (WT/MIN(22)/W/22)..
In addition, ministers adopted two decisions - on the Work Programme on Small Economies (WT/MIN(21)/W/3) and on the TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints (WT/MIN(21)/W/4) — and a Sanitary and Phytosanitary Declaration for the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference: Responding to Modern SPS Challenges (WT/MIN(22)/W/3/Rev.3).