Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana, the Chair of the General Council, said at the conclusion that she was pleased with the level of engagement and the positive attitude witnessed among members during the day and a half of discussions.
“We had candid and interactive conversations,” Ambassador Molokomme told members. “We are now better informed about the sensitivities around this topic. I was encouraged by the constructive spirit in which our discussions took place.”
“Although divergence still persists, this informal meeting has showed your willingness to work together with a view to finding mutually agreeable solutions,” the Chair added. “I urge all of you to build on this momentum.”
In light of recent submissions by WTO members on the issue and subsequent discussions in the General Council, the retreat provided members an opportunity to identify the main issues as regards the trade and industrial policy nexus and economic development in general.
Three main themes were addressed by members at the retreat: policy space in support of industrialization in developing countries including least developed countries; industrial subsidies - opportunities and challenges for the global trading system; and the way forward. The retreat opened and closed with plenary sessions where the full membership attended, with delegations breaking out into four groups in between to brainstorm on the three themes.
Senior officials will meet at the WTO on 23-24 October with the aim of providing political direction to negotiators in Geneva as they prepare for the organization's 13th Ministerial Conference which will take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on 26-29 February 2024.
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that members were at the beginning of a process of engagement that added to members' WTO reform efforts.
“We've made progress,” she said. “We've shown that we can do this deliberative function in a very productive way and come up with ways to move forward. You've started with baby steps, but I hope we'll proceed carefully along the way to try and get to some outcomes or conclusions on these issues.”
“This has been the start of a useful conversation that will continue as we work towards preparing for meaningful engagement at MC13 and at the senior officials meeting,” Ambassador Molokomme said. “Today is not the end, but a milestone on the journey to MC13.”
The meeting was the fourth such informal gathering since the WTO reform discussions were launched at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022. WTO members agreed at MC12 to work towards reform of the WTO with the aim of improving all its functions and to address the interests of all members, including development issues.
The General Council and its subsidiary bodies have been tasked with conducting the WTO reform work, reviewing progress and considering decisions, as appropriate, to be submitted to MC13.