outcomes, collapsing MC11 like house of cards
Published in SUNS #8597 dated 15 December 2017
Buenos Aires, 14 Dec (D. Ravi Kanth) - The World Trade Organization's
eleventh ministerial conference (MC11) collapsed here on Wednesday
like a house of cards, after the United States single handedly blocked
outcomes on mandated decisions and the draft ministerial declaration,
several trade ministers told SUNS.
The eleventh ministerial conference, however, paved the way for accelerating
work on fisheries subsidies based on the draft texts.
The decision agreed on fisheries subsidies at Buenos Aires says: "members
agree to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies
negotiations, with a view to adopting, by the ministerial conference
in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that
prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity
and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU (illegal,
unreported and unregulated) fishing recognizing that appropriate and
effective special and differential treatment for developing country
members and least developed country members should be an integral
part of these negotiations."
The trade ministers endorsed South Sudan's request for joining the
The moratorium not to impose customs duties on e-commerce transmissions
(which was further clarified in a footnote following the objections
raised by Indonesia), the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation and situation
complaints, and the work program for small and vulnerable economies
were also approved at the meeting.
While the document posted on the WTO website (WT/MIN (17)/W/6) on
E-commerce transmissions as of the moment of writing (1400 hours Geneva/CET)
did not have any footnote, the Indonesian minister and their chief
trade official, Mr. Iman Pambagyo, said the DG had told them that
he is attaching a footnote clarifying that "electronic transmissions
does not include trade in goods and trade in services."
The ministerial decision on e-commerce based on the existing mandate
based on the 1998 work program seeks to "reinvigorate" work
"and instruct the General Council to hold periodic reviews in
sessions of July and December 2018 and July 2019 based on the reports
submitted by the relevant WTO bodies [the Council for Trade in Goods,
the Council for Trade in Services, the Committee on Trade and Development,
and TRIPS Council] and report to the next session of the Ministerial
Unable to secure consensus on their different proposals for establishing
a Working Party/Working Group and horizontal discussions at the ministerial
meeting, the proponents opted for a plurilateral initiative on electronic
commerce, said a trade minister who asked not to be quoted.
Barring these decisions, the Buenos Aires meeting failed to deliver
"final substantive agreements this time," the WTO director-general
Roberto Azevedo admitted.
Azevedo shed crocodile tears on the multiple failures witnessed at
Buenos Aires on the mandated issues. He said repeatedly that there
were no substantive outcomes at Buenos Aires.
But he welcomed the new "dynamism" witnessed at Buenos Aires
when groups of countries announced plurilateral initiatives on electronic
commerce, disciplines for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs),
and investment facilitation.
Progress on longstanding issues was always going to be difficult and
it would require a leap which was not possible at Buenos Aires, he
"Multilateralism doesn't mean you will get what you want but
it means to get what is possible," he said.
Azevedo, however, remained upbeat about the new "dynamism",
particularly the exploratory plurilateral initiatives launched by
groups of countries at Buenos Aires.
The director-general must take credit for working assiduously with
major developed and several developing countries as part of a plan
B to ensure that Buenos Aires gave birth to plurilateral initiatives
while eroding the multilateral basis of the WTO (See SUNS #8538 dated
25 September 2017).
"There is life after Buenos Aires," said the chairperson
Ms Susana Malcorra, suggesting that Buenos Aires paved the way for
addressing 21st century issues. She welcomed the plurilateral initiatives
in e-commerce, and disciplines for micro, small, and medium enterprises.
[Though Azevedo and Malcorra hailed and welcomed the plurilateral
initiatives, it seemed clear that these might run foul of WTO and
its agreements; even the WTO posting and promoting these initiatives
on its website, and expending WTO's human and material resources for
servicing such initiatives may prove problematic, without specific
General Council sanction (MC11 having provided none). Without it,
both Azevedo and secretariat officials involved might find themselves
facing problems before the WTO Budget Committee, and the General Council
that approves budgets on recommendation of that committee. SUNS]
In the absence of a ministerial declaration, Ms. Malcorra issued the
chair's statement in which she maintained that the multilateral trading
system is at a crossroads. She said the decision adopted in Buenos
Aires will guide members' work in Geneva in the next two years.
South Africa's trade minister Rob Davies said "it is a moment
of truth" for the multilateral organization which faces a grave
He castigated the attempts at Buenos Aires to terminate the special
and differential treatment (S&DT) flexibilities and walk away
from all mandated issues while embracing new issues, which doesn't
portend well for the organization.
Barring the decision to commence structured work on fisheries subsidies
and a decision on the moratorium for not levying customs duties on
electronic commerce and the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation and
situation complaints, the Buenos Aires meeting failed to provide any
concrete outcomes on mandated issues such as the permanent solution
for public stockholding (PSH) programs for food security.
Director-General Roberto Azevedo admitted both in his concluding plenary
statement as well as at the press conference.
He said the work on permanent solution for PSH programs will continue
along with other unresolved issues in Geneva.
During several meetings - both open-ended and small group of countries
- yesterday, the US vehemently opposed many of the items including
the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security,
the language on domestic support, particularly cotton, and the special
safeguard mechanism (SSM).
The draft "agricultural work program" recalled the paragraph
31 of the Nairobi ministerial decision "to advance work in all
three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access,
and export competition" as per the Doha work program.
It maintained that "members agree that negotiations on agriculture,
including as mandated on cotton with a view to concrete and measurable
outcomes, shall continue in a comprehensive and balanced manner in
the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session (COA-SS)."
The draft decision says "negotiations on Public Stockholding
for Food Security Purposes and the Special Safeguard Mechanism for
developing country members shall continue in dedicated sessions of
the COA-SS (the Doha negotiating body on agriculture) as per relevant
past Ministerial and General Council Decisions."
It says "the negotiations shall be based on existing and future
proposals that may be submitted by Members" in which "special
and differential treatment shall be an integral part of the negotiations."
The draft decision also includes language proposed by the US that
"members reaffirm the systemic importance of transparency as
regards the implementation of WTO agricultural disciplines."
"In the run-up to MC11, decisions were expected on a permanent
solution on food security and other agriculture issues," India
Without naming the United States, India said, "unfortunately,
the strong position of one member against agricultural reform based
on current WTO mandates and rules, led to a deadlock without any outcome
on agriculture or even a work programme for the next two years."
US also blocked the draft ministerial statement issued by the chair
of the conference.
The draft ministerial decision says "we reiterate paragraphs
30 and 31 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration, we commit to work
towards more effective implementation and enforcement of WTO rules
as negotiated and agreed by all and underscore the importance of implementing
decisions by members."
India initially blocked the moratorium on electronic commerce transmissions
on ground that it can accept the moratorium only after members agree
to the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints
and structured work program on the relationship between the TRIPS
Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
But later India agreed to take up the demand on the TRIPS and the
CBD work program at the TRIPS Council.
India also blocked a draft ministerial decision on "policy dialogue"
that was initiated to bring new issues such as gender and trade and
labour and trade and environment into the international trade.
"There was a view amongst Ministers that the WTO can play an
important role in promoting the exchange of comparative experiences
and a better understanding of the implications of different policy
choices," the draft decision suggested.
India rejected the draft proposal on policy dialogue on grounds that
it was not part of the WTO mandate.
The African Group of countries opposed the Chair's weak language for
continuing work on ten agreement specific proposals after the Buenos
The facilitator for agricultural outcomes Ms Amina Mohamed, Kenya's
cabinet secretary, modified the draft decisions several times to ensure
the US came on board to continue work on the unresolved issues.
A trade minister from the Cotton-four countries told SUNS that they
had lowered their level of ambition on domestic support and market
access to enable the US to agree to the language on cotton.
Despite the facilitator's painstaking efforts, the US finally pulled
the plug on agriculture at an open-ended heads of delegations (HoD)
meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Once the US rejected the agriculture
package, even the language agreed by the C-4 countries fell apart,
the trade minister said.
In conclusion, the four-day meeting held by the Argentinean government
amidst protest demonstrations on the streets of Buenos Aires was a
well crafted attempt to give birth to plurilateral initiatives of
the 21st century while burying the bread-and-butter issues of the
Doha work program.
The conference will remain as the mother of trade ministerial summits
for eroding the multilateral framework of the WTO, several ministers