mc12 briefing note

Joint Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development

Originally launched by a group of developing and least-developed WTO members, the Joint Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) aims at developing a multilateral agreement that will improve the investment and business climate, making it easier for investors in all sectors of the economy (goods and services) to invest, conduct their day-to-day business and expand their operations. Facilitating greater participation of developing and least-developed members in global investment flows also constitutes a core objective of the future agreement.

Member-driven, transparent, inclusive and open to all WTO members, the IFD joint initiative currently has the participation of over 110 members(1) , up from the 70 that supported the Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development launched at the 11th Ministerial Conference held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires.

In a second Joint Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development issued on 22 November 2019, 98 members expressed support for the 2017 joint ministerial statement. They committed to intensifying work to further develop the framework for facilitating foreign direct investment relating to both goods and services and to work towards a concrete outcome on investment facilitation for development at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12). The initiative does not cover market access, investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement.

Negotiations on investment facilitation

Negotiations on investment facilitation for development were formally launched in September 2020. Since then, participating members have made significant progress on key pillars of a future IFD Agreement, such as on the transparency of investment measures. Members have been working intensively to advance on remaining topics, with a view to achieving as much progress as possible on the text of a future agreement ahead of MC12.

Participating WTO members have mostly discussed the following topics:

  • improving the transparency and predictability of investment measures
  • simplifying and speeding up investment-related administrative procedures
  • strengthening the dialogue between governments and investors, and promoting the uptake by companies of responsible business conduct practices, as well as preventing and fighting corruption; and
  • ensuring special and differential treatment, technical assistance and capacity building for developing and least-developed countries.

Participating members are using a revised version of the so-called “Easter text” as a basis for the negotiations. The revised text incorporates many areas of convergence achieved since September 2020 and highlights areas where further work and discussion is needed.

Following the postponement of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference on 26 November amid new coronavirus variant concerns, participating members met on 30 November to exchange views on the significant progress achieved in developing a pro-multilateral agreement and on how to move forward.

The meeting was also the opportunity for members to consider an alternative “landing plan” for a proposed draft joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development, which was going to be presented to ministers at MC12 in early December. Many participating members supported a proposal by China to work on an adjusted version of the Joint Statement that could be adopted at the level of ambassadors in Geneva in order to maintain the momentum, to highlight the progress achieved so far in the negotiations, and to provide further impetus to outreach efforts.

The draft Ministerial Statement included a target date to conclude text negotiations by the end of 2022 and reaffirmed the determination to further intensify outreach efforts towards other WTO members. The text also reiterated the importance of developing and least developed country (LDC) members' participation in global investment flows and the need for technical assistance and capacity building to help them implement the future IFD Agreement.

Members shared the common view that a future IFD Agreement would create clear and consistent global benchmarks for investment facilitation, reducing regulatory uncertainty and making it easier for investors to invest. It would anchor domestic reforms in shared international commitments, sending a positive signal to investors. Also, it would allow developing and least-developed country members to receive the technical assistance and capacity-building support they need to implement and benefit from the future agreement, participants said.

Historical background

Investment is not a new issue for the WTO. In fact, at the origin of the multilateral trading system the issue was on the agenda. In 1947, negotiations to create an International Trade Organization (ITO) extended beyond world trade disciplines to include rules also notably on international investment. As the ratification of the so-called Havana Charter proved impossible, the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) became the only multilateral instrument governing international trade from 1948 until the establishment of the WTO in 1995.

As a result of the Uruguay Round negotiations, the WTO in 1995 for the first time put important obligations on governments with regard to the treatment of foreign nationals or companies within their territories — particularly in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and in the plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).

The integration of investment and cross-border trade is most evident in the GATS, which contains elements applying directly to certain investment measures. The GATS defines four “modes” of supplying services, one of which is the supply “by a services supplier of one Member through commercial presence in the territory of another Member”.

The Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMs) prohibits the application of certain investment measures related to trade in goods to enterprises operating within the territory of a member. The TRIMs Agreement is concerned with the discriminatory treatment of imported and exported goods, and trade restrictions. It is not specifically oriented to the treatment of foreign legal or natural persons. But the agreement prohibits, in most instances, WTO members from mandating that enterprises use locally produced goods in their manufacturing or that they impose export requirements on companies.

In 1996, members decided at the WTO's First Ministerial Conference in Singapore to establish a working group on trade and investment, with a mandate to carry out analytical and exploratory discussions. Investment was originally included in the Doha Round agenda launched in 2001 but ministers in Doha decided to postpone the decision on whether to launch negotiations on investment for two years. At the 2003 Cancún Ministerial Conference, ministers were unable to reach consensus on the start of negotiations. On 1 August 2004, unable to bridge their differences, members agreed to drop investment from the Doha Round agenda.

More on the Joint Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development.


  1. Afghanistan; Albania; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Barbados; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burundi; Cabo Verde; Cambodia; Canada; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Congo; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; European Union; Finland; France; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Grenada; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait, the State of; Kyrgyz Republic; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Latvia; Liberia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macao, China; Malaysia; Maldives; Malta; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Spain; Suriname; Sweden; Switzerland; Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Tajikistan; Togo; Turkey; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Vanuatu; Yemen; Zambia; and Zimbabwe. back to text


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