Developing countries defend WTO rules and dispute settlement system in the face of US actions and call for more priority for development

May 16, 2019: Ministers from 17 key developing WTO countries met in Delhi on May 14. In a statement on WTO reform, issued after the meeting, they defended the WTO multilateral trading system based on consensus of 164 WTO members, while identifying multiple challenges facing it.

The statement defends the WTO government-to-government dispute settlement process as a central element in providing security and predictability for the multilateral trading system. Without naming the US, the statement criticises its actions in blocking appointments to the WTO dispute settlement Appellate Body, which could paralyse the dispute settlement process by December 2019. They urge the vacancies to be filled without delay while discussions continue on other issues relating to the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism.

In a veiled swipe at the US unilateral imposition of tariffs outside WTO rules, which has resulted in retaliation from China and others, the statement urges all WTO Members to adopt measures that are compatible with WTO rules to avoid putting the multilateral trading system at risk.

The statement asserts that international trade is not an end in itself but a means of contributing to raising standards of living, including through WTO rules for Special and Differential Treatment for developing and Least Developed Countries. The statement also rejects proposals by the US and some other industrialised countries to weaken these rules and argues that they must be preserved and strengthened in both current and future WTO agreements.

The statement gives the example of the Agreement on Agriculture, which still contains imbalances and inequities that allow industrialised countries to continue unfair subsidies for their agricultural exports like cotton. The agreement makes it difficult for developing countries to provide support for their small farmers. The statement urges further flexibilities for Least Developed and Net Food Importing Developing Countries.

The statement urges all WTO member countries to work towards strengthening the WTO by promoting development and inclusivity for the benefit of all Members