jueves, marzo 28, 2024

WTO: “Lose-lose” negotiating strategies responsible for MC13 failure

Geneva, 22 Mar (D. Ravi Kanth) — Singapore, one of the key members of the “Friends of the System”, on 21 March proposed a retreat to discuss how to make ministerial conferences more optimal, efficient, and result- oriented following the failure of the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi, a proposal that was supported by other members of the “Friends of the System”, said people familiar with the development.

At a General Council meeting on 21 March, which is expected to continue on 22 March, several members, including the United States, supported Singapore’s proposal.

The US made a general statement without spelling out its stand on the failed issues, nor on the contemporary trade issues that were pitched before MC13, said one member, who asked not to be quoted.

The meeting witnessed considerable talk about “responsible consensus”, a theme that was advanced in the run-up to MC13 but did not figure in the Abu Dhabi Ministerial Declaration.

However, the issue was raised all over again at the General Council meeting.

Korea, one of the main proponents of the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement, appeared to vent anger at the meeting, saying that there is an “urgent need to re-look at the consensus-building practice.”

Seoul is understood to have said, “We witnessed strategic manipulation costing important agreements at MC13. Main task now is to encourage responsibility. We should raise the cost of objection. How? One way is to improve transparency, clarity on who is objecting, on what is the basis requiring proper explanation and the legal ground will help to create peer pressure and public opinion,” according to a member, who asked not to be identified.

Several members spoke of the need to conclude the second wave of the fisheries subsidies negotiations for addressing the issue of subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing (OCOF), suggesting that there are a few bracketed issues that can be resolved soon without re-opening the rejected draft negotiating text.

Without naming any country for the failure of MC13, several members engaged in finger-pointing on the alleged “reckless” use of the principle of consensus-based decision-making to block progress at ministerial conferences.

One member even suggested that whoever blocks progress or stalls outcomes should be subjected to a peer review, as well as “naming and shaming”, said people who asked not to be quoted.

Barring the Singaporean proposal, members repeated their well-known positions on several issues.


The WTO Director-General, Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, appears to have suggested a “business-as-usual” approach, arguing that she would characterize the outcomes/failures at MC13 as one of the glass being “half-full”.

She appears to have ruled out the possibility of starting from “scratch”, while suggesting that considerable progress was made in agriculture and fisheries subsidies based on the draft texts that are on the table.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala presented a rather upbeat assessment on how things could be turned around in the two failed areas of agriculture and fisheries subsidies based on the rejected draft texts.

Though there were disappointments in agriculture and fisheries subsidies, the DG, however, recounted several accomplishments at MC13, including the large presence of delegates.

She said some 7,400 delegates were registered for the meeting but did not indicate how many of them actually attended the conference.

Compared to past ministerial conferences, the Abu Dhabi meeting appears to have witnessed the thinnest participation, said people familiar with the conference.

The DG said fisheries subsidies can be concluded well before MC14, which is scheduled to be held in Cameroon sometime in 2026.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala spoke about the headwinds that the Abu Dhabi meeting had faced, including global uncertainty, geopolitical conflicts, climate crises, rising inflation, and domestic politics, among others.

She said members adopted ten ministerial decisions and declarations at Abu Dhabi, while a new milestone was crossed by bringing Comoros and Timor-Leste into the WTO.

She suggested that members made breakthroughs at MC13 on making special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions more precise and effective under the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT) agreements.

She touted that the decision on improving S&DT on SPS and TBT took 23 years to conclude, while claiming success for the decision on LDC graduation wherein graduating least developed countries will be provided a period of three years to continue with their LDC benefits.

After the DG’s statement, the chairs of the Doha agriculture negotiations, fisheries subsidies, and trade and development presented their respective assessment of progress made at MC13, barring the disappointing outcomes in agriculture and fisheries subsidies.

The DG suggested that political advances were made in the WTO’s dispute settlement reform discussions, notwithstanding the real complex and difficult issues concerning the restoration of the two-tier dispute settlement system being kept in balance, said people who asked not to be quoted.

The MC13 decision on dispute settlement reform suggests concluding the negotiations by end-2024.

The decision reached at Abu Dhabi states:

* “Recalling our commitment made at our Twelfth Session to conduct discussions with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by 2024, we take note of the works done thus far.

* We recognize the progress made through this work as a valuable contribution to fulfilling our commitment. We welcome all submissions from Members that help advance our work.

* We instruct officials to accelerate discussions in an inclusive and transparent manner, build on the progress already made, and work on unresolved issues, including issues regarding appeal/review and accessibility to achieve the objective by 2024 as we set forth at MC12.”

The DG appears to have said that there were groundbreaking discussions on issues concerning sustainability, industrial policy, and several other contemporary issues.

However, the Abu Dhabi Ministerial Declaration did not include language on any of these issues given the deep divisions, said people familiar with the General Council discussions.

According to the DG, members advanced on the plurilateral agreements on services domestic regulation, as well as on Investment Facilitation for Development, though a decision on the latter is yet to be reached.


The DG attributed the failure to achieve outcomes at Abu Dhabi to “lose-lose” negotiating strategies adopted by some members.

Ms Okonjo-Iweala said the “lose-lose” approach led to a gridlock, suggesting that it undermined the negotiating function.

“MC13 confirmed what we’ve all known – that adopting a lose-lose negotiating posture is not conducive to results,” the DG said, according to her remarks posted on the WTO’s website.

“I urge you not to damage an organization that is critical for some, especially small developing countries, and middle powers. Therefore, as you reflect on MC13, I urge you to think about what is helpful for the people we are here to serve and adopt a win-win approach for the greater good,” she told the members.

The DG suggested that she did not convene “green room” meetings at MC13, after convening a “green room” meeting of eight countries on agriculture and even a small-group meeting on fisheries subsidies, said members who were present at these meetings.

Significantly, the DG supported the Singaporean proposal, suggesting that ministerial conferences are not properly optimized.

More than 50 interventions were made at the General Council meeting, with many members expressing their respective disappointments on not accomplishing outcomes in agriculture and fisheries subsidies.

The Cairns Group of farm-exporting countries echoed their frustrations over the lack of progress in agriculture.

Several members of the “Friends of the System” also raised the need for “responsible consensus”.

A WTO media person described the General Council meeting as a decent and positive event.

However, some of the comments made by the DG and several members suggest a degree of finger-pointing and acrimony at the meeting, said people who asked not to be quoted. +

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