Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference

13thMINISTERIAL CONFERENCE : briefing note

Investment facilitation for development

Originally launched by a group of developing and least-developed WTO members in recognition of the fact that trade and investment are the twin engines of economic growth and sustainable development, the Joint Initiative on Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) aims at developing a global agreement that will enhance the transparency and efficiency of investment regulations and procedures, making participating economies more efficient and attractive to foreign investors in all sectors (goods and services).

Facilitating greater participation, particularly of developing and least-developed members, in global investment flows also constitutes a core objective of the IFD Agreement, with the aim of fostering sustainable development. The Agreement explicitly excludes market access, investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement. The initiative is currently co-coordinated (chaired) by Ambassador Sofía Boza (Chile) and Ambassador Jung Sung Park (Republic of Korea).

Participating members are convinced that an IFD Agreement in the WTO 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, thereby sending a strong signal to investors that a host economy is committed to reforming its investment climate. Also, it would allow developing and least-developed country (LDC) members to receive the technical assistance and capacity-building support they need to implement and benefit from the future agreement. The aim is to help members – particularly developing and LDC members – attract not only more investment, but more sustainable investment. This is critical to increase production and export capacities, create better-paid jobs, build key infrastructure (including digital) and finance the Sustainable Development Goals.

Member-driven, transparent, inclusive and open to all WTO members, over 120 WTO members participate in the IFD joint initiative, representing three-quarters of the WTO membership. This includes 87 developing economies, among which 25 are least-developed economies. This marks a remarkable increase 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.

A second Joint Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development was issued in November 2019, with 98 members expressing support for the 2017 Joint Ministerial Statement.

Negotiations on investment facilitation for development were formally launched in September 2020, leading to the issuance of a third Joint Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development  in December 2021. In this statement, clear guidance for delegations involved in the negotiations was provided, reiterating the importance of increasing developing and least-developed country (LDC) members' participation in global investment flows.

Participating members concluded negotiations on the text of the Agreement in November 2023.

With the finalization of the IFD Agreement as an MFN-based plurilateral agreement, participants aim to achieve another key landmark at the WTO's 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi in February 2024. During a ministerial event on IFD scheduled for 25 February, IFD participants will issue a Joint Ministerial Declaration, appending the final IFD Agreement and making it available to the public.

Participating members propose to add the Agreement to Annex 4 (Plurilateral Trade Agreements) of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, showcasing that the WTO can deliver for global trade and development and can address current economic challenges by facilitating investment flows as a key driver of economic growth. While the IFD Agreement will be a plurilateral agreement (binding only on those members that accept it), it is open for all WTO members to join.

A number of non-participating members have expressed support to the IFD Agreement while a few have stated their opposition to incorporating the Agreement into the WTO, arguing that the joint statement initiative was born without a clear ministerial mandate. Article X.9 of the WTO Agreement provides that, upon the request of the members parties to the plurilateral agreement, the Ministerial Conference may decide exclusively by consensus to add the agreement to Annex 4.

A study analysing the economic impacts of a multilateral Agreement on IFD in the WTO shows empirically relevant gains associated with the removal of investment barriers (e.g., online publication of information relevant to investors; streamlining investment authorization procedures; focal points providing guidance and information to investors). According to this study, the expected global welfare gains range between 0.63% and 1.73% depending on the depth of a potential Agreement.

Edward J. Balistreri and Zoryana Olekseyuk, "Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement: Potential Gains", February 2024 - available on: Yeutter Institute | University of Nebraska - Lincoln (unl.edu)

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.