- Dates fixed for WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference
- Global merchandise and services trade nowcast April 2021
- Participants in talks on services domestic regulation share implementation experiences
- WTO Director General calls on WTO members to narrow remaining gaps in fisheries subsidies negotiations
- DG Okonjo-Iweala calls for follow-up action after WTO vaccine equity event
- WTO launches call for proposals for 2021 Public Forum
The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) will take place from 30 November to 3 December 2021 in Geneva, Switzerland, the chair of the organization’s General Council confirmed on 16 April.
In a communication to WTO members, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras noted that the General Council agreed at its meeting on 1 March to hold MC12 in Geneva the week of 29 November. As a follow-up, the chair indicated to members on 30 March the proposed dates of 30 November — 3 December for MC12. As no objections have been raised, the chair said he was pleased to confirm these dates for the meeting.
The Ministerial Conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 members, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. MC12 was originally scheduled to take place from 8 to 11 June 2020 in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MC12 will be chaired by Kazakhstan’s Minister of Trade and Integration, Bakhyt Sultanov, as approved by WTO members in December 2019.
This will be the fourth time that the Ministerial Conference will be hosted by Geneva, where the headquarters of the WTO are located. Previous meetings took place in Geneva in 1998, 2009 and 2011.
Information on accreditation and other arrangements for MC12 will be made available on the WTO website in due course.
After steep declines in global merchandise trade values and volumes and in global services trade in the first half of 2020, all three series experienced bounce backs in the third quarter of 2020. Due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, services trade has been consistently hit harder than merchandise trade. The data indicate a reversal of this trend in the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, with services growth finally beginning to outpace growth in merchandise trade.
Despite this continued growth in the fourth quarter, services in the first quarter of 2021 are nowcast to remain 7 per cent below their levels one year ago, compared with year-overyear growth of 9 and 5 per cent nowcast for merchandise trade values and volumes, respectively. Signs of accelerated recovery in services trade will likely have to wait for reduced COVID-19 caseloads and a fuller economic reopening.
UNCTAD nowcasts incorporate a wide variety of data sources, reflecting the diverse determinants and indicators of trade. Nowcasts for the first quarter of 2021 started off lower for all series in December, before being revised upwards in mid-January. This is likely related to the fact that the autumn and winter COVID-19 waves arrived relatively early in many countries, with cases peaking for example in Europe at the end of October and beginning of November. As a result, much data in December already reflected the worsened COVID-19 situation compared with summer 2020, and as the situation in many countries either stagnated or improved, the prognosis for the first quarter of 2021 improved. While the nowcast for merchandise volumes has remained around the level it reached in January 2021, the release of fourth quarter 2020 actuals significantly changed the first quarter prognosis for merchandise values and services, albeit in opposite directions. Lower than expected fourth quarter figures for merchandise values dropped first quarter nowcasts to much more modest levels, while the outlook for services, which were nowcast to stagnate or even slightly contract in the first quarter, significantly brightened upon the release of fourth quarter figures.
At a virtual meeting held on 14 April 2021, WTO members participating in the negotiations on services domestic regulation, namely Turkey, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Australia, shared how they have implemented disciplines at the national level. The chair of the negotiations, Jaime Coghi of Costa Rica, and a number of delegations also provided updates on recent outreach activities.
Participants in the negotiations are close to agreeing on a set of common disciplines concerning licensing and qualification requirements and procedures as well as technical standards for suppliers of services. The negotiating text contains flexibilities to help governments implement the measures domestically while remaining free to pursue their national policy objectives.
A “far advanced” negotiating text capturing the progress made in 2020 was circulated by the chair, Jaime Coghi Arias of Costa Rica, in December 2020.
Turkey explained how certain flexibilities that the disciplines provide have been useful, and how they have informed domestic discussions on policy reform. The United States outlined its practice of facilitating licensing by administering certain professional services examinations remotely and internationally. The Republic of Korea spoke about its mechanism for publishing draft laws and regulations in advance and providing opportunities for comment to interested stakeholders, as foreseen in the disciplines. Finally, Australia addressed its experience in ensuring transparency, openness and effectiveness in the development of technical standards for services.
Many delegations took the floor to stress the usefulness and timeliness of this information-sharing exercise. A second round of presentations will take place in the next meeting on 10 May. The chair thanked the participants for their positive engagement and their commitment to this process.
The chair recalled that to date, 31 indicative draft schedules of commitments have been received, covering 57 members. The draft schedules from five participants in the talks are still pending. The chair encouraged those members who have not yet submitted their draft schedules to do so as soon as possible. He emphasized that the exchange of draft schedules is an important element in the negotiations.
The next meetings are scheduled for 10 May, 10 June and 15 July.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on 12 April 2021 urged heads of WTO delegations to stay engaged in the fisheries subsidies negotiations and aim to reach an agreement by July 2021. The talks have reached a considerable degree of maturity, and members should make the compromises necessary to get to the finish line, she said in her remarks to open a cluster of week-long meetings of the Negotiating Group on Rules.
“I call on all members, and in particular all Heads of Delegation, to prioritize the fisheries subsidies negotiations over the coming months, and to remain flexible and available as and when needed,” Director General Okonjo-Iweala said.
“Concluding these negotiations is a top priority for this organization, not only for the fisheries, but also for the WTO system. We simply cannot afford to fail here,” she said.
The chair of the negotiating group, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, was convening a cluster of fisheries subsidies meetings on 12-16 April 2021 at the level of heads of delegation with an aim to unlock key issues in the negotiations. Small group meetings were held on the issues of subsistence/artisanal/small-scale fishing; due process requirements for determinations of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and the approach for identifying and prohibiting subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing.
14 April Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on WTO members, vaccine manufacturers and international organizations to act to address trade-related obstacles to the scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine production to save lives, hasten the end of the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.
Speaking at the conclusion of the WTO-organized meeting “COVID-19 and Vaccine Equity: What Can the WTO Contribute?”, the Director-General said that statements from government ministers, vaccine manufacturers, civil society advocates and leaders of international organizations had identified problems and pointed to potential solutions.
She expressed hope that the meeting, which included roughly 50 speakers, would serve as the basis for continued dialogue aimed at delivering results in terms of increased vaccine production volumes in the short-term as well as longer-term investments in vaccine production and enhancing the trading system’s contribution to pandemic preparedness.
The discussion shed light on the complexity of the vaccine scale-up challenge, DG Okonjo-Iweala said.
The large number of trade-related concerns expressed during the meeting, from the importance of open cross-border trade for access to vaccine raw materials and inputs to differences over the role of intellectual property protections, indicated “that the WTO must play a central part in the response to this crisis,” she said. Identifying steps for concrete follow-up that emerged from the discussion, she said WTO members could further reduce export restrictions and supply chain barriers and work to facilitate logistics and customs procedures. Vaccine manufacturers, for their part, could work to turn around existing production capacity where it exists, providing knowhow and technology transfer, and take steps towards longer-term investment. She highlighted the importance of increased contract transparency. International organizations and financial institutions, in addition to providing financial support for existing and new capacity, could provide capacity support on regulatory issues for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
“I hope that part of what we get from today is not only concrete action to increase [vaccine production] capacity, but also the elements of a framework on trade and health that we can pull together at the WTO, and put before ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in December,” she said.
The WTO has issued a call for proposals for this year’s Public Forum, whose theme is “Trade beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience”. Participants interested in organizing sessions at the Forum, scheduled to take place from 28 to 30 September, are invited to submit their proposals by 7 June 2021.
This year’s Public Forum will look at the effects of COVID-19 on trade and how the multilateral trading system can help build resilience to the pandemic and future crises.
Further information on this year’s theme and three sub-themes — Enhancing resilience beyond COVID-19; Strengthening the multilateral trading system; and Collective action towards sustainable trade — is available here:
Details about the format of this year’s Forum will be made available by July.
All the sessions at the Public Forum are organised by the participants. These include civil society, academia, business, governments, parliamentarians and intergovernmental organizations. Participants interested in organizing working sessions or workshops will find further details in this information note: https://www.wto.org/english/forums_e/public_forum21_e/callforporposals_e.htm
The online application form can be accessed from the information note and should be completed no later than 7 June 2021.
Background: The Public Forum is the WTO’s largest annual outreach event. It provides a unique platform for heads of states, parliamentarians, business people, students, academics and civil society to come together and debate a wide range of trade and development topics.