World trade talks fail as US refuses to budge

14 Dec 2017


The Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Buenos Aires ended in failure today without a ministerial declaration or any substantive outcome on important issues, including agriculture and development.

The conference, however, was well-organised with complete openness and transparency and the process afforded everyone ample opportunity to express their views, said a statement issued by India's commerce ministry.

WTO members wrapped up their 11th ministerial conference on Wednesday without any decision on important issues in the ongoing trade negotiations, albeit with a commitment from members to secure a deal on fisheries subsidies which delivers on UN's Sustainable Development Goal by the end of 2019.

In the run-up to MC11, India and other developing countries had expected a permanent solution on issues like food security and other agricultural issues. Unfortunately, the strong opposition by the United States to agricultural reform of the current WTO mandates and rules, led to a deadlock without any outcome on agriculture or even a work programme for the next two years, the commerce ministry stated.

A statement issued by the WTO noted that one the key area where no agreement was possible was public stockholding for food security purposes. Many members regretted that this was not possible despite the mandate to conclude negotiations at MC11. Other issues under the agricultural negotiations pillar also were not concluded.

Ministers expressed their disappointment over the lack of progress, and gave their commitment to continuing to move forward on the negotiations related to all remaining relevant issues, including to advance work on the three pillars of agriculture (domestic support, market access and export competition) as well as non-agricultural market access, services, development, TRIPS, rules, and trade and environment.

However, the existing mandates and decisions ensure that work will go forward and members will continue to work on issues such as the permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes, agricultural Special Safeguard Mechanism and agricultural domestic support.

Some of the other decisions that were taken included a work programme on disciplines on fisheries subsidies with a view to arriving at a decision by MC12 in 2019. It was also decided to continue with the non-negotiating mandate of the existing work programme on E-commerce.

Ministerial decisions on new issues like investment facilitation, MSMEs, gender and trade, which lacked a mandate or consensus, were not taken forward.

Due to divergences among members, and a few members not supporting acknowledgment and reiteration of key underlying principles guiding the WTO and various agreed mandates, members could not arrive at an agreed ministerial declaration.

The chairperson Susana Malcorra in her remarks mentioned the widely expressed support for the multilateral trading system and the commitment to move forward on various areas of work in the WTO.

During MC11 India stood firm on its stand on the fundamental principles of the WTO, including multilateralism, rule-based consensual decision-making, an independent and credible dispute resolution and appellate process, the centrality of development, which underlies the DDA, and special and differential treatment for all developing countries.

The 10-13 December Ministerial Conference brought together nearly 4,000 ministers, senior trade officials and other delegates from the WTO's 164 members and observers as well as representatives from civil society, business and the global media.

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