In her capacity as chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, the Director-General expressed disappointment with the lack of progress made since the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June, where members achieved breakthroughs on issues such as fisheries subsidies, WTO response to emergencies — including a waiver of certain requirements concerning compulsory licensing for COVID-19 vaccines, food security and WTO reform.

While MC12 remains a highlight of the year, “we've not done much serious negotiating in the past six months,” she told members. “We have a lot of ground to cover and will have to intensify our efforts when we return from the winter break”.

Now that members have clarity on the dates and venue for the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), which will take place in Abu Dhabi in February 2024, the Director-General said there is the additional responsibility to use the coming months to build convergence on meaningful outcomes for the meeting.

“During these difficult times of economic slowdown, food and energy crises, climate change, and persistent development challenges, the WTO cannot afford to stand aside,” she told members. “We must begin to lay the ground for concrete results before, at and beyond MC13.”

One immediate issue remains the appointment of new chairs to lead the WTO negotiations on agriculture and fisheries subsidies, posts that have been vacant for several months.

Ambassador Didier Chambovey, chair of the General Council, reported to members that despite recent consultations with group coordinators on the negotiations chair appointments, the situation remains unchanged. He urged members to work together in a constructive spirit to bring this issue to a solution as soon as possible.

“It should not be beyond this body to be able to appoint negotiating chairs,” the Director-General said. “Six months of not negotiating is not acceptable.”

Also at the General Council meeting, WTO members reached an agreement to extend the deadline set by ministers at MC12 to decide on whether the TRIPS Decision adopted last June should be extended to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. That Decision confirms the right of members to override the exclusive effect of patents and provide greater scope to take direct action to diversify production of COVID-19 vaccines through clarifications of existing flexibilities and a targeted waiver over the next five years.

Paragraph 8 of the Decision states that, no later than six months from the date of the Decision, members will decide on its extension to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

The General Council agreed to the recommendation put forward by the TRIPS Council to extend the deadline and also agreed to revert to the matter of the duration of the deadline at its next meeting tentatively scheduled for 2-3 March 2023.

The General Council chair also reported to members on his consultations regarding WTO reform, including an informal meeting on the issue which took place on 10 November.

Ambassador Chambovey said he would convene an informal meeting on WTO reform focused on development issues at the beginning of February, providing members the opportunity to discuss, inter alia, cross-cutting aspects of the development dimension.

The chair also highlighted dispute settlement, an issue he said has been identified as a priority by almost all delegations during recent discussions on WTO reform. While many delegations have expressed appreciation for the ongoing informal discussions at the expert level, they have also called for the discussions to be formalized in some manner. 

WTO members also heard a report from Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, who was asked by the General Council chair to serve as facilitator for the WTO's work programme on electronic commerce and the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions.

WTO members agreed at MC12 to reinvigorate the work programme, particularly regarding its development dimension. They also agreed to maintain their current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions and to intensify discussions on this moratorium.

Ambassador Dwarka-Canabady noted that a first dedicated discussion was convened on 18 November to identify and start discussions on cross-cutting issues under the work programme. She also convened small group consultations this month to hear members' priorities, specifically on the development-related issues, with a view to develop a thematic calendar of meetings for next year. Tentative dates have been identified for the first four months of 2023.

Regarding the moratorium, delegations indicated their readiness to discuss its scope, definition and impact, in line with the decision by ministers at MC12, the facilitator said.




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