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5th March 2024

BCC welcomes MC13 outcomes but more to do 

Responding to the outcomes from the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference, William Bain, Head of Trade Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:  

“These were difficult and robust discussions between the world’s trade ministers, key officials, and the WTO, but they were ultimately successful.

“The main objectives have been achieved. These include an extension of the moratorium on electronic transmission of goods and services, maintaining the current application of the agreement on intellectual property rights, and the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation entering into full effect.

“We welcome this progress but there is no disguising, that with protectionism on the rise, there is much more to do. We would urge all states to work towards a full e-commerce agreement by the time of the next Ministerial Conference in Canada in 2026.

“It is also crucial that we swift action on acceptable reforms to the appellate body so the fair application of the global rules-based order on trade can be realised by the end of this year.

“The hard yards are yet to come, to use these new agreements to boost exports in goods and services globally. We must realise their potential for sustainable development, and improving the role in global trade of women and micro, small and medium sized enterprises.”

MC13 OUTCOMES

Ministerial declaration

Ministers committed to preserve and strengthen the ability of the multilateral trading system to provide meaningful impetus to respond to current challenges in international trade, take advantage of opportunities and ensure the proper functioning of the WTO.

Ministers referenced the key role of open, inclusive, resilient, sustainable, diversified and reliable global supply chains. They restated the central role played by the WTO in the international development dimension, and ensuring the least developed countries benefit from trade.

Ministers recognised female economic empowerment and participation in trade contributes to economic growth and sustainable development, with capacity building and sharing experiences being crucial in raising participation levels. The same principles underpinned their conclusions on the role of micro, small and medium sized enterprises in trade.

Ministers acknowledged the importance of services to the global economy in output and jobs. Need to ensure increased opportunities for developing and least-developed countries in global services trade in those sectors and modes of export interest to them.

E-commerce

Ministers agreed to retain the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmission of goods and services until the next Ministerial Conference in 2026. This is stated to be the last extension of the moratorium, pursuant to Ministers agreeing a permanent solution by two years from now which removes the need for the moratorium.

Ministers approved undertaking additional work on the impact of the moratorium on economic development and how to level the playing field for digital trade for developing and least-developed countries.

Ministers sought a re-invigoration of the process to adopt a multilateral e-commerce agreement, with a particular focus on its development potential for developing and least-developed countries. Suggested timeline for reaching recommendations on the Work Programme (including discussions on a potential agreement) two years’ time.

The World Bank has announced an investment pilot scheme with the WTO to help developing countries ensure they have the digital infrastructure to make the most of opportunities in digital trade.

Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver

Ministers agreed to safeguard intellectual property’s role in promoting innovation by opposing any further extension of the TRIPS waiver.

Dispute Settlement reform

Ministers took note of the work done on the reform agenda over the past two years. Officials were instructed to accelerate efforts to work on unresolved issues, including on appeal and review. A decision is expected by Ministers by the end of 2024 to ensure that existing global trade rules remain enforceable.

Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation

New services schedules reflecting the commitment by 53 states to implement the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation being lodged without opposition means that it will now form part of the WTO rulebook for those implementing countries. This will entrench the potential benefits of less red tape in trade in services, reducing business costs on licensing and authorisation procedures connected with services exports by up to 7%. Equality provisions of equal access to services employment for males and females have been adopted.

Barriers to trade (Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary and technical barriers to trade)

Ministers resolved to improve training and technical assistance to assist developing and least-developed countries on overcoming challenges in SPS and TBT matters. Officials were also instructed to work on improving the application of the agreements

Fisheries subsidies

South Africa accepted the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement at the closing session of MC13 meaning it has been approved by 71 states, with a further 39 acceptances required before it enters into force, perhaps by the middle of 2024.

Measures to support countries graduating from LDC status

Ministers decided that countries graduating from LDC status should continue to benefit from special procedures, technical assistance and capacity building measures for 3 years after graduation decision made by the UN General Assembly becomes effective.

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