Honourable Members of Parliaments,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon

Thank you, chairman Lange, for the invitation.

In my past life, I spent 25 years serving as Chief Trade Counsel to a legislature.  I therefore have tremendous appreciation and respect for the work that you do.  Since parliaments are the key liaison between international institutions and the general public, your engagement on WTO issues is vital to making our work effective, tangible, and meaningful.

It is a pleasure and an honour to speak to you today about the state of negotiations at the WTO as we are preparing for the 13th Ministerial Conference, which will take place in Abu Dhabi in February next year.

Last year, I provided a similar update to you about our work in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).  Much has happened since then.  Despite the difficult geopolitical climate and pessimistic prognoses before MC12, we had a very successful conference, with six important outcomes achieved, including a binding Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, a Ministerial decision to ease the barriers to the use of compulsory licensing for vaccines to fight Covid, an extension of the moratorium on the collection of сustoms duties on e-commerce, decisions and declarations on topics such as food security and the trade tools to address pandemics, and an understanding on the next steps relating to dispute settlement reform.

To a large extent, the progress achieved at MC12 is driving our current negotiating agenda, as WTO Members seek to implement and build on these outcomes.  MC13 will be a critical test of Members' commitment to revitalizing and reinvigorating the WTO, to assure that the success of MC12 is not an anomaly but is instead part of our DNA.

Let me elaborate on a few strands of work in which WTO Members are engaged at the moment.

One of the biggest achievements of MC12 was the conclusion of the binding Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, the first WTO Agreement with environmental sustainability at its core. The Agreement prohibits subsidies to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing — or IUU fishing — as well as subsidies to fishing overfished stocks, and subsidies to fishing on the unregulated high seas.

But the adoption of the Agreement did not bring an end to the WTO's work on fisheries. To the contrary, now that the Agreement is concluded, WTO Members are engaged in two parallel processes to carry the work forward.

First is accepting the new Agreement.  To deliver its benefits for the ocean, the Agreement must enter into force, which requires two-thirds of WTO Members to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the WTO.  Four WTO Members — Switzerland, Singapore, Seychelles, and the United States — have already completed their domestic processes and submitted their instruments of acceptance. Many other Members are well advanced in their acceptance processes.  In particular, I thank the European Parliament for the strong vote in support of the Agreement last week.  We are looking forward to receiving the EU's instrument of acceptance once the Council procedures are completed.

My plea to parliamentarians from all WTO Members that require parliamentary ratification is to say “yes” to this Agreement so that it can start delivering its benefits for ocean sustainability as soon as possible.  Translating this agreement into meaningful action is squarely in your hands.  Even if your system does not require parliamentary approval, I encourage you to urge your responsible authorities to take rapid action, for the sake of the fish and those who depend on it for their livelihoods.

The second strand of ongoing work on fisheries is continuing negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues that could not be agreed at MC12, which include disciplining subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, along with appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed Members.  Delegations in Geneva are already actively working on this second wave.  In fact, a fish negotiating week is taking place in Geneva as I speak, with lots of energy and determination to conclude the second wave of negotiations by MC13.

A final, but no less important, point relates to how the WTO will assist developing and least developed Members in implementing the new disciplines.  In this regard, the Agreement provides for the establishment of a dedicated funding mechanism to support implementation of the Agreement by such Members, once they have formally ratified the Agreement. The Fund is up and running, and we have already started to receive donations, with Japan and Canada being the first, and several European countries in the pipeline.  This action demonstrates to developing and least-developed Members that they will receive the assistance they need to implement the Agreement — they will not be left behind. 

Another important area of work is WTO reform.  At MC12, WTO Members have committed to reform the WTO across its three functions — negotiating, monitoring, and dispute settlement.

With respect to dispute settlement, Ministers set a deadline:  “a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by 2024.”  Reform in this area is vital because the credibility of the rules-based international trade order depends on the enforceability of rules.

The US-led informal process on dispute settlement reform that started last summer has given way to a facilitator-led one.  Members are very actively engaged in these talks, which cover a wide range of issues.  The next step is to move to text-based proposals for specific reforms.

In the meantime, dispute settlement activity in the WTO has not come to a halt.  Members continue to initiate new disputes, and 18 panel proceedings are currently underway.

Another issue our Members will have to address at MC13 is the extension of the multilateral moratorium on levying customs duties on cross-border electronic transmissions.

The main point of disagreement between those who support the extension of the moratorium and those who do not relates to its scope and potential economic effects. Some developing countries see the moratorium as preventing them from raising customs revenue.  By contrast, developed and many developing countries argue that any extra tariff revenue would be outweighed by negative economic consequences that country would see in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption, which would slow down GDP growth and shrink tax revenues.

Discussions will continue in the coming months to address the gap between these two positions.

At MC12, Ministers also agreed to reinvigorate work under the work programme on electronic commerce, a longstanding framework for Members' deliberation on all trade-related issues relating to global e-commerce. Development-related issues feature prominently in this work.  For example, Members have been discussing the digital divide in terms of digital infrastructure, connectivity, affordability, and capacity building.

One area in which no outcomes were reached at MC12, beyond emergency response to food insecurity, is agriculture reform. Many Members have expressed their readiness to update the global food and agricultural trade rules.  But views differ within the membership on the nature of the changes that would be required.  Transforming this shared goal into concrete action will be one of the key challenges of the negotiations ahead.  Food security is emerging as a critical component in the ongoing negotiations given the difficult situation in many regions of the world, and we hope to see an outcome on this issue at MC13.

Efforts to update WTO rules are also taking place through joint initiatives among groups of Members, or “coalitions of the willing”.   Negotiators are proceeding with a plurilateral approach because they seek a depth and breadth of coverage that has proven elusive at the multilateral level, although participants hope that all Members would eventually participate.

There are three joint initiatives at the WTO aimed at developing new disciplines on services, digital trade, and investment.  First, in 2021, 70 WTO Members representing 92.5% of global services trade concluded negotiations on Services Domestic Regulation, and they are currently in the process of implementing the deal. Second, 88 WTO Members, including many developing countries and a few LDCs, participate in the e-commerce initiative, which aims to develop baseline rules governing the global digital economy.  Participants are aiming to substantially conclude these negotiations by the end of the year.  Third, more than 2/3 of WTO Members have been working hard to reach an agreement on Investment Facilitation for Development, which would help Members, particularly developing Members, to improve their investment climate and attract, retain, and expand foreign direct investment.  We might have a deal quite soon as participating Members aim to finalize the text negotiations by mid-2023.

In addition, there is increased recognition among WTO Members that trade is a crucial piece in environmental sustainability and climate change response.  In line with that recognition, many of our Members are participating in three important environmental initiatives, which seek to put environment at the heart of trade discussions. These are (i) the trade and environmental sustainability structured discussions (74 Members); (ii) the dialogue on plastic pollution (76 Members); and (iii) the fossil fuel subsidy reform initiative (48 Members). 

We have also heard interest in reinvigorating negotiations on an Environmental Goods Agreement.  Our research has shown that eliminating tariffs and reducing non-tariff barriers on such goods could boost exports by 5% by 2030 and reduce global emissions by 0.6%. This would be a substantial contribution to limiting global warming.

Honourable Members of Parliaments,

At the WTO, we are looking forward to further deepening our relations with Parliaments and parliamentarians across the globe. Most immediately, we need your help to enter into force the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies so it can start delivering.  And we must make progress in the other areas of work I have just outlined.  

I therefore ask you to further engage with your respective governments and legislators from other countries to help us deliver in our critical mission.

Thank you, I look forward to our discussion.




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