WTO 12th Ministerial Conference achieves important conclusions on food security, e-commerce, COVID-19 response, fisheries subsidies, and WTO reform

WTO 12th Ministerial Conference achieves important conclusions on food security, e-commerce, COVID-19 response, fisheries subsidies, and WTO reform

Reference Number:  , Press Release Issue Date: Jun 23, 2022
 

The Republic of Malta applauds and welcomes the outcomes of the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference, in various sensitive areas, amid the backdrop of rising global trade tensions and a food security crisis. The 164-member organization's Trade Ministers and Representatives convened for the first time in over five years, after the Conference was postponed twice owing to constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Members came to an agreement on a major multilateral agreement to eliminate detrimental fishing subsidies. Also, on next actions toward WTO reform, including as reinstating the organization's fully operational dispute settlement function. There was also an agreement on a declaration on pandemic response and future preparedness, as well as a waiver of certain intellectual property responsibilities related to COVID-19 vaccines. WTO members decided to exert prudence on export restrictions and exempt World Food Programme humanitarian purchases from such limitations in response to the present catastrophic food situation. Finally, a deal was struck to extend the customs duty moratorium on e-commerce until the next WTO Ministerial.


Food Security

WTO members pledged in an unified declaration on food security to avoid unjustifiable food export restrictions and to improve transparency on any restrictions that do occur. Furthermore, it was decided to exempt any humanitarian purchases made by the World Food Programme from export limitations.


E-Commerce

The e-commerce moratorium was prolonged, which represents a significant victory for digital economy. Until MC13, WTO countries agreed to keep the current practice of not applying customs taxes on electronic transfers. Members also resolved to re-energize their efforts under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, which includes issues and possibilities affecting developing nations and least developed countries.


COVID-19 Response

Ministers agreed on a Declaration on the WTO's reaction to the epidemic and future pandemic preparedness, which reaffirms their commitment to transparency, prompt and thorough information exchange, and caution in imposing export restrictions. Ministers agreed to waive certain procedural obligations under the TRIPS Agreement, allowing for the rapid manufacture and export of COVID-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent owner, in response to the exceptional circumstances of the COVID pandemic and to respond to requests from developing countries.


Fisheries

A significant multilateral agreement that contributes to ocean protection has been reached. It contains a strict prohibition on subsidies that support illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, as well as unprecedented transparency requirements. Moreover, it contains a complete prohibition of subsidies for unregulated high-seas fishing. This is a watershed moment for the most vulnerable places that lack a well-established and well-coordinated fisheries management framework. Finally, in the first phase of the agreement, the provision on overfished stocks will bring sustainability standards for subsidies for the most vulnerable stocks.


WTO Reform

Ministers agreed to overhaul the World Trade Organization (WTO), looking into all aspects of its operations. This should strengthen its ability to serve as a credible platform for negotiations and to keep track of global trade policy changes. Critically, there is a commitment to restore a fully functioning dispute settlement system no later than 2024.


The Republic of Malta and MC12

Apart from all thematic sessions which took place at the Plenary of the WTO, the Maltese delegation at the MC12 attended the EU Coordination Meetings which took place in anticipation of and during negotiations.  During said meetings, the Maltese Delegation emphasised the point that Malta wants meaningful results from this Ministerial, even though expectations were toned down during the initial part of the MC12.  Malta also suggested that, in lieu of finding a solution at the multilateral, the EU as a whole, can opt to address issues as a plurilateral initiative, with a wide participation by the WTO membership.


On the margins of the WTO MC12, H.E. Dr. Alexander Sceberras Trigona, Ambassador of the Republic of Malta to the WTO informally met with the WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and discussed proceedings during this Ministerial.  The two sides also agreed that another meeting between the two is to be organised during which further collaboration between the WTO and the Republic of Malta will be discussed. 


Moreover, H.E. Dr. Alexander Sceberras Trigona also met with Ms. Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s Candidate for the Post of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.  The two discussed how the Commonwealth could be better used as a platform for small states to project their positions on matters and voice their opinions on the global stage.


Finally, H.E. Dr. Alexander Sceberras Trigona and Mr. Alfred Tabone, attended a breakfast meeting organised by Diplofoundation, during which capacity building for digital commerce, especially in developing countries, was discussed.


The Maltese Delegation was made up of H.E. Dr. Alexander Sceberras Trigona, Ambassador of the Republic of Malta to the WTO, who attended on behalf of the Hon. Minster for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Malta, the Hon. Ian Borg, Mr. David Sammut (Director, EPD – MFE), Ms. Martina Portelli (PREU, MFET), Mr. Hubert Paul Farrugia (Liaison Officer to the WTO, MFE), and Mr. Alfred Tabone (Head of Unit – Commercial Diplomacy Unit, MFET).

 

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