MC11 in brief

Trade and Development

The WTO agreements recognize the link between trade and development and contain special provisions for developing countries. More than two-thirds of WTO members are classified as developing countries.

Development has been a key part of the WTO's work. At the Doha Ministerial Conference, in November 2001, trade ministers launched the Doha Development Agenda, which placed development issues and the interests of developing countries at the heart of the WTO’s work.

At the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in 2005, the Aid for Trade Initiative, designed to help developing countries build supply-side capacity in order to expand trade was launched.

At the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013, ministers adopted a number of decisions under the developmental pillar, including those aimed at boosting the trade of least-developed countries (LDCs) and on the operationalization of a Monitoring Mechanism on special and differential (S&D) treatment. This was followed at the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference by the adoption of the Nairobi Package containing a series of six ministerial decisions on agriculture, cotton and several initiatives in favour of LDCs. These include a commitment to abolish subsidies for farm exports, something developing countries have long demanded to level the playing field on farm trade. 

Current discussions in the run-up to the 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11)

Current discussions in the Committee on Trade and Development in Special Session (CTDSS) have focused on the ten agreement -specific S&D proposals that had been proposed  by the G90(1) group of developing countries and LDC members in July 2017.  Since the submission in July, the chair of the CTDSS, Ambassador Tan Yee Woan (Singapore), has been conducting extensive discussions, both in formal and informal format, and has met delegations in different configurations, with a view to developing elements of an S&D package for MC11. In October 2017, the chair reported that members had a general exchange of views following the introduction by the G90 of its revised package of ten agreement-specific proposals.

In the discussions, the G90 stated that they are seeking a meaningful outcome on S&D at MC11. While they maintained all the agreement-specific proposals were equal in terms of importance and in addressing the challenges that their constituencies faced, the proponents said that they attached greater priority in focusing members' work on the industrialization cluster, that is, the proposals relating to the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), to rules which would enable them to alter their obligations with the objective of promoting domestic industries (Article XVIII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. They also recognized that "differentiation" – the idea that members at different levels of development should not be granted same treatment in flexibilities, exemptions and concessions - continued to be a sticking point in the discussions.

Developed members have continued to express concerns with the scope of the proposals, both in terms of coverage as well as the nature of flexibilities, and the lack of meaningful differentiation. These members have reiterated that the revised proposals have hardly evolved from the ones tabled in 2015, as these had not taken into account the concerns expressed by members before the Nairobi MC on most of the proposals.  They also believe that the proposed flexibilities could negatively impact on the integration of beneficiaries into the multilateral trading system. Some developing members have shared similar views on the proposals.

Most of the WTO membership is sensitive to the challenges and difficulties faced by LDCs and have expressed their willingness to give favorable consideration to proposals that address the specific needs of LDCs, provided that these needs are real and demonstrable.  In this context, these members have asked proponents to provide factual examples and case studies highlighting the challenges they confront while explaining why the current S&D provisions in the WTO agreements were inadequate to address these challenges.

Some have suggested possible alternative approaches, such as waivers from WTO rules, provided they are based on real needs and subject to certain conditions.

Repeated calls have been made for pragmatism and realism, such as focusing on LDC-specific issues. Some believe that the gaps in positions are too wide to bridge by MC11 and that members should start focusing on the post-MC11 work plan.

At the last CTDSS meeting on 19 October, members did not engage in further substantive discussion on the proposals pertaining to industrialization, despite repeated requests from the chair. This contrasted with the earlier meetings when there was engagement across the room.

The committee meetings on 9 and 14 November witnessed a somewhat higher level of substantive engagement on the proposals relating to the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, elements of GATT Article XVIII pertaining to balance of payments difficulties and the Enabling Clause. The committee is scheduled to meet on 16, 20 and 23 November. At the meeting on 16 November, the committee will take on proposals relating to transfer of technology and the accession of LDCs to the WTO.

Notes:

  1. The G90, otherwise known as the Group of 90, is an alliance between the poorest and smallest developing countries, many of whom are part of the WTO. The G90 emerged as a strong grouping at the WTO’s Ministerial Conference at Cancun in September 2003, taking common positions representing the largest number of countries, with 64 of the 90 countries in the G90 being members of the WTO. It is the largest trading body in the WTO, and it was formed as an umbrella body including the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), the African Union and the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDC). back to text