Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference: Outcomes

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The Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) took place from 10 to 13 December 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was chaired by Minister Susana Malcorra of Argentina.

The Conference ended with a number of ministerial decisions, including on fisheries subsidies and e-commerce duties, and a commitment to continue negotiations in all areas.

The Ministerial Conference, which is attended by trade ministers and other senior officials from the organization’s 164 members, is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. Under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the Ministerial Conference is to meet at least once every two years.

On the final day of the conference, three proponent groups announced new initiatives to advance talks at the WTO on the issues of electronic commerce, investment facilitation and micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs).

Other notable events at the Conference included the publication of the: Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade, the launch of the “Enabling E-commerce” initiative and the announcement of Google as the WTO/ICC’s first Small Business Champion following the culmination of the small business video competition.

Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade: For the first time in the history of the World Trade Organization, WTO members and observers have endorsed a collective initiative to increase the participation of women in trade. In order to help women reach their full potential in the world economy, 118 WTO members and observers agreed to support the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade, which seeks to remove barriers to, and foster, women’s economic empowerment.

“Enabling E-commerce” Initiative: A new initiative designed to drive public-private dialogue on e-commerce was launched today (11 December) by the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum and the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP). The initiative, entitled ‘Enabling E-commerce’, aims to bring together leading voices from governments, businesses and other stakeholders to begin a high-level conversation on e-commerce policies and practices that can benefit small businesses.

WTO 2017 Ministerial decisions: The Conference ended with the following ministerial decisions:
1. Ministerial Decision on Fisheries Subsidies.
2. Work Programme on Electronic Commerce
3. TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints
4. Work Programme on Small Economies
5. The creation of the working party on accession for South Sudan.

ANALYSIS OF WTO MEET:

The meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s highest decision-making body in ended becalmed with the WTO’s 164 members unable to reach a consensus on substantive issues such as the food security right of developing countries and the centrality of development in multilateral trade negotiations.

However, the Ministerial Conference managed to salvage a commitment from member nations to secure a deal by 2019 on banning certain forms of fisheries’ subsidies.

During hectic parleys, the U.S. blocked the demands of more than a 100 developing nations, including India and China, to implement their food security programmes without onerous conditions. Since all major decisions in the WTO need to be taken by ‘the membership as a whole’, even a single country can end up being the deal-breaker.

India, for its part, thwarted attempts by several countries, both developed and developing, to initiate binding discussions on what they called the 21st century challenges to trade — including e-commerce, investment facilitation and proposed norms for small firms. This it did by refusing to budge from its position that members should first resolve outstanding issues (such as food sovereignty) of the ongoing Doha Round negotiations that began in 2001 with a ‘development agenda’ (for improving the trading prospects of developing nations), before considering ‘new issues’.

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