WTO mini ministerial concludes with call to strengthen multilateralism

Member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) concluded a mini ministerial reaffirming their commitment to work together for a rule-based multilateral trading system and to strengthen the WTO, make it more effective and relevant to the diverse needs of its members. 

“We re-affirm that the dispute settlement system of the WTO is a central element in providing security and predictability to the multilateral trading system. This has proved to be more effective and reliable as compared to its predecessor, GATT,” they stated in a joint release. 
The meeting noted with concern that members have failed to arrive at a consensus in the selection process to fill vacancies in the Appellate Body, which has weakened the dispute settlement system and would by completely paralyse by December 2019. It also urged all WTO members to engage constructively to address the issue of filling the vacancies in the Appellate Body, while continuing discussions on other issues relating to the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism.
“An inclusive multilateral trading system based on equality and mutual respect should ensure that all WTO members abide by WTO rules and abjure any form of protectionism. The core value and basic principles of the multilateral trading system must be preserved and strengthened, particularly with a view to building trust among members. To this end, we urge WTO members to adopt measures that are compatible with WTO rules to avoid putting the multilateral trading system at risk,” the release stated.
They noted that multilateral avenues, based on consensus, remain the most effective means to achieve inclusive development-oriented outcomes and urged members to explore different options to address the challenges of contemporary trade realities in a balanced manner. 
“International trade is not an end in itself but a means of contributing to certain objectives, including raising standards of living. Special and Differential Treatment is one of the main defining features of the multilateral trading system and is essential to integrating developing members into global trade. Special and Differential Treatment provisions are rights of developing members that must be preserved and strengthened in both current and future WTO agreements, with priority attention to outstanding LDC issues,” it noted.
The meeting stressed the importance of technical assistance and capacity building provided to developing members, in particular LDCs, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework, Aid for Trade and other tools and urged members to continue doing so.
“The process of WTO reform must keep development at its core, promote inclusive growth, and fully take into account the interests and concerns of developing members, including the specific challenges of graduating LDCs. The way forward must be decided through a process that is open, transparent and inclusive.”
Members agreed to work collectively with the aim to develop proposals to ensure that common interests are reflected in the WTO reform process.
“WTO rules seek to foster an open and non-discriminatory trade regime. In order to instil confidence among the members, it is imperative that the ministerial conferences of the WTO are organized in a more open, transparent and inclusive manner. WTO notification obligations must consider the capacity constraints and implementation related challenges faced by many developing members, particularly LDCs. In the WTO, a more cooperative and gradual approach is the best way in dealing with the issue of transparency, where many developing members struggle to comply with their notification obligations.”
The meeting also noted with concern some imbalances in WTO agreements such as on agriculture, which is inequitable and prejudiced against development interests of developing members. “There is a need to provide adequate policy space to the developing members to support their farmers through correcting the asymmetries and imbalances in this agreement on priority. This should be undertaken on the basis of work done and progress already made in the past, and provide further flexibilities to the LDCs and Net Food Importing Developing Countries. It is really time that cotton receives concrete and appropriate responses it deserves.”
Members at the mini ministerial also agreed to consult on various issues of common interest to developing members, including comprehensive and effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies with appropriate and effective Special and Differential Treatment provisions for developing Members.
The meeting, hosted by India, was attended by ministers and high-level officials from Egypt, Barbados, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, China, Benin, Chad, Indonesia, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Oman.