In his intervention, Ambassador Castillo noted that he met with representatives from 26 WTO member delegations on 18-19 January to get their views on these three issues and to sustain momentum on delivering results in Geneva, especially on issues of critical importance such as the WTO response to the pandemic.
DG Okonjo-Iweala said his consultations showed a “common path seemed to be emerging and that is that we need to work in a smart manner, building on the progress achieved and continuing work in Geneva in all areas that need further work. And then seeking to involve our capitals as necessary and advancing wherever and whenever we can.”
“All of this should be possible through a dynamic process, one that enables us to advance negotiations on all issues, work on all fronts, and then try to have results piece by piece without waiting for a big bang in-person ministerial.”
On convening MC12, which was postponed because of the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant days before it was scheduled to start late last November, the General Council chair said most delegations he spoke to said it may be premature to set a new date in light of the current pandemic situation. Many delegations also noted that a new date should only be considered once sufficient progress has been registered in Geneva in all key areas under discussion, leaving only very few open issues for ministers to resolve.
A handful of delegations stressed the importance of convening an in-person MC12 while others said a virtual format could be considered for ministers to adopt decisions — provided the heavy lifting is completed in Geneva in advance.
DG Okonjo-Iweala said members should concentrate on achieving substantive progress rather than being distracted by fixating on a date for MC12.
“We need to take a comprehensive but stepwise approach,” she said. “And I do hope based on what we heard that at some point we can take stock in February and decide when we might be able to have a ministerial and be able to agree on such a date … I'm just saying that we should not hang the way we work on that but we should move forward.”
Regarding the substantial issues under the General Council, including an MC12 outcome document, Ambassador Castillo said the delegations he consulted with seemed to agree on the importance of preserving the work accomplished on the outcome document so far, with different views expressed on when to resume work on the text.
On the specific issue of WTO reform, several suggestions were made on how work could proceed, with different views on whether a new institutional framework should be created for these talks or whether they should take place within the General Council.
On the WTO response to the pandemic, the chair said all delegations that came forward noted that this issue remains a top priority for members and the organization as a whole.
The chair said he plans to hold a dedicated meeting on the WTO response to COVID-19 on 27 January. The discussion will comprise both the trade policy-related aspects of the pandemic response, as well as the proposal to waive certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement.
Ambassador Castillo explained that the decision to convene the meeting is the result of his round of conversations in recent weeks where all delegations agreed that only “a holistic, comprehensive, and balanced outcome” on the issue will be credible. Delegations also said they are “willing and eager to continue working on this crucial topic, with the objective of achieving results, and to do so without delay,” the chair added.