Minister Majed Abdullah Alqasabi,
Honourable Ministers of Trade,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to join you today on behalf of WTO Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Director-General regrets that she cannot be with you today due to a prior commitment.

First of all, I would like to thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting this timely and important Virtual Ministerial Meeting of Arab Trade Ministers. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Arab leaders to meet the challenge of development and contribute to peace, security, and prosperity through domestic reform, including trade liberalization. The WTO Secretariat stands ready to support your countries and the wider region in all efforts and initiatives geared toward greater engagement and trade liberalization.

I'm pleased to say that the WTO Secretariat provides regular technical assistance and advisory services to Arab delegations and the Arab Group. The Secretariat is also providing active support and advice to the eight Arab countries that are currently in the process of accession to the WTO.

Excellencies, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you our assessment of key areas currently being considered by Members in the lead up to MC12.

And I would like to start with the response to the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role that trade, and the WTO, can play both to combat the pandemic and to promote economic recovery. The WTO's active engagement is recognized around the world.  We, collectively, have a moral obligation to address vaccine inequity, as well as be prepared for future pandemics.  In anticipation of our MC12 Ministerial, Members are having positive discussions on a work plan to ensure open supply chains and regulatory coherence.

In addition, Members are engaging in active discussions on the role of intellectual property through the TRIPS Agreement. While those discussions are not as far along, we are hopeful to see a balanced and effective result. 

Another important area of work is fisheries subsidies. Delegations are showing increasing engagement, and many are now signalling new flexibilities. We need to capitalize on all elements of convergence that are emerging as time is short.

We have all the elements to finalize an agreement that will bring benefits to all Members. We are quite close and now need political decisions to get to a balanced and robust outcome. This is important for the livelihood of millions of fisherwomen and men from coastal communities, for the oceans and the fish, and for the WTO.

In parallel, we are working to create a Fisheries Assistance Fund to support developing and least developed Members in implementing the new disciplines once agreed. We hope to count on financial support for the Fund by Arab WTO Members.

Let me now turn to agriculture, an area that is challenging for many Members, including many of you. While negotiations are proving difficult, many Members feel that we cannot come out of MC12 without an outcome on agriculture.

Gaps persist on domestic support and public stockholding, which will set the level of ambition for the overall agriculture outcome, and the Chair is meeting with Members to explore ways to bridge them. But if they are out of reach, we should still aim for outcomes on food security and transparency, and set a clear path for addressing other issues.

I will now turn to special and differential treatment. A few weeks ago, WTO Members agreed on a decision to be submitted to Trade Ministers for approval at MC12, which would help facilitate the integration of small economies into the multilateral trading system. It is the first decision proposed for MC12 for which consensus has been forged.

Members are also working on the issue of LDC graduation, as well as on a G90 proposal calling for S&D provisions in WTO agreements to be reviewed with a view to strengthening them.

Another area where we see a lot of action is environment and climate change. The international community is now converging on the urgent challenges of climate and sustainability. Therefore, what we need at MC12 is a clear political signal from trade ministers that they recognize the importance of addressing these challenges. The Arab Region is already making major efforts in this regard.

In addition, many Members, including several Arab countries, are actively participating in ongoing discussions and negotiations on the four Joint Statement Initiatives of e-commerce, domestic services regulation, investment Facilitation, and MSMEs.

There is general consensus among Members that the WTO needs to be better fit for the challenges of the 21st century. A frank discussion on the reforms that are required to ensure that the WTO delivers on its key objectives, including raising standards of living, ensuring full employment, and committing to sustainable development, is a must. In this regard, I would like to thank our host Saudi Arabia for initiating and advancing the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO. 

MC12 is only four weeks away. To ensure that we have a successful Ministerial meeting, I appeal to Ministers to fully and proactively engage in the process. A successful ministerial meeting is one where the outcome is balanced, with positive results for strengthening global demand, increasing growth, and generating benefits for all our Members. I believe that such an outcome is possible with Ministers steering the process and directing their trade negotiators in Geneva. As the Director-General has stressed on several occasions, “we owe it to the people we serve to deliver results.”

I thank you once again for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I wish you fruitful discussions. 




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