Mixed Outcomes from the 11th WTO Ministerial Meeting
December 14, 2017: The 11th Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (MC11) finished in Buenos Aires this week without a formal agreed Ministerial statement. Here is a link to the remarks by the Director-General. This means there are no formal mandates for new WTO negotiations.
Developing countries want the WTO to address their specific development needs identified in the Doha Development Round, including addressing unfair agricultural subsidies in the US and EU. Industrialised country governments like the US, EU Japan and Australia, wanted to avoid this agenda and instead want the WTO to focus on new issues like e-commerce and investment.
There were some positive outcomes. Despite some pushback from the US on behalf of its pharmaceutical industry, the moratorium for non-violation cases under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) has been extended for another two years. This will ensure millions of people in the poorest, least developed countries can continue to get exemptions from medicine patents and pay lower prices for lifesaving medicines. Rules that allow public stockholding of food to increase food security for developing countries have also been extended.
There was agreement to continue to discuss WTO rules on fishing subsidies, after developing countries objected to a draft statement which they argued would favour global fishing corporations and disadvantage local fishers in smaller developing countries. They want to ensure that developing countries retain the right to manage their fishing resources.
Thanks to strong campaigning by civil society groups and resistance from developing country governments, the push by technology corporations like Microsoft, Google and Facebook to expand their control of global e-commerce via WTO rules was not supported by the majority of WTO members. Most developing countries want more time to assess the ways in which they can use e-commerce for local development before agreeing to rules that they believe would entrench the dominance of existing global firms.
A proposal for WTO investment facilitation negotiations was also resisted by most developing countries which want priority given to development issues identified in the Doha Development Round.
This means that new WTO negotiations on e-commerce and investment facilitation were not approved. However a minority of mostly industrialised country governments will start discussions on these issues outside the formal WTO framework.
The US appears to be continuing its opposition to WTO multilateral negotiations in general and the WTO dispute settlement process in particular. It has blocked the appointment of new members to the WTO dispute appeals panel, which, if continued, will delay and eventually frustrate the dispute settlement and appeals process. This reflects the Trump administration’s unilateral “America first” position on trade.
AFTINET and our civil society colleagues in other WTO countries reject US unilateralism and support multilateral trade negotiations which include all governments, but believe that these must be based on fair and transparent rules that do not disadvantage developing countries. We also support the demands of developing countries for fair access to medicines, food security and fairer agricultural trade rules.