Geneva, 24 June 2022/OACPS: Ministers in Geneva concluded the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC12), with agreed multilaterally negotiated outcomes in a number of areas. MC12 was supposed to be a four-day conference scheduled for June 12-15 2022, but was extended by a day as trade ministers negotiated day and night to reach an agreement near dawn on Friday, June 17 2022. The OACPS representation was led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, H.E. Ms Kamina Johnson Smith.

The package of the agreed outcomes includes an agreement on fisheries subsidies; a political outcome document; a package on a WTO response to food emergencies; a WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a patent waiver on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS); a decision on e-commerce; a statement on WTO Reform; a declaration on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, and a decision on small economies.

Although the full implications of the MC12 outcomes on Members of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) can only be fully appreciated through a more in-depth study of individual economies over time, the general outlook is that WTO members took a step forward by reaching these outcomes. The OACPS has always advocated for multilateral outcomes in world trade as the only hope for its members’ developing economies.

OACPS Secretary-General, H.E. Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, described the historic agreement as definite progress for the world trading system, “While there are still aspects that we would have hoped to be decided differently, we are generally pleased with the overall package. In particular, coming on the heels of the recently concluded 7th Meeting of OACPS Ministers in charge of Fisheries and Aquaculture, we are satisfied with the agreement on fisheries subsidies, and hope to see progress in other issues affecting this very important sector of OACPS economies.” Secretary-General Chikoti added, “We will continue to promote a constructive exchange on the issues that represent challenges for the interest of our Members.” Mentioning that it was the first time since MC9, in Bali in 2013, that the members of the WTO had reached an agreement, the SG praised the leadership of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO Director-General and OACPS national, in being able to reach consensus at the meeting.

The agreement on fisheries subsidies prohibits government support for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and bans support for the fishing of overfished stocks. However, no agreement could be found on subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing which means large fishing nations can continue to capacitate their fleets to travel long distances to fish in distant waters, including in the OACPS regions. This means that, livelihoods, global fish stocks, and food security will continue to be threatened in OACPS regions. Negotiations are set to continue in this regard, including on appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed-country members.

The overall Outcome Document, considered satisfactory by all WTO members, contains a wide range of political messages on various issues including, among others, a commitment to the values of the multilateral trading system, reaffirmation of the need for effective and operational special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries, the importance of addressing the challenges affecting the WTO dispute settlement system, and a commitment to facilitate the completion of ongoing accessions, especially for least developed countries. Going into MC12, the OACPS considered such an outcome document a priority since the last such document was issued at MC9.

In a Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity, Ministers committed to improve the functioning and long-term resilience of global markets for food, agricultural products and agricultural inputs. Related to this, Ministers also approved a resolution to not impose export restrictions on foodstuffs purchased by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian purposes. The declaration and decision are a welcome outcome for food insecure members, including many members of the OACPS, as they provide an alternative interim solution in the fight against food insecurity, especially in light of the fact that WTO members failed to reach agreement on a broad agriculture agreement.

Ministers agreed to a Declaration on the WTO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics, reaffirming their commitment to transparency and restraint in imposing export restrictions on needed vaccines and medicines. Ministers also agreed to waive patent rights to allow eligible developing members to manufacture and export COVID-19 vaccines. No later than six months after the date of this decision, members will decide whether to extend this waiver to the manufacturing and supply of COVID -19 diagnostics and therapeutics. Although the agreed outcome falls short of what the proponents, including many members of the OACPS, wanted because it does not include diagnostics and therapeutics, it can be considered worthy because OACPS members that are able to produce COVID-19 vaccines can now produce and export vaccines.

WTO members agreed to continue the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until MC13. WTO members also agreed to reinvigorate the WTO e-commerce work programme, including challenges and opportunities affecting developing and least developed countries. The extension of the moratorium might mean further revenue losses for some developing countries due to the foregone customs duties on electronic transmissions. But even without the moratorium, there are concerns about the ability of most developing countries, including many OACPS members, to generate revenue from the importation of electronic transmissions.

WTO Ministers committed to launch a fair, transparent, and inclusive reform process that focuses on all aspects of WTO functions. Ministers also committed to restoring a fully functioning dispute settlement system by 2024, at the latest. The message contained in the Ministerial Declaration on WTO Reform is consistent with the demands of OACPS members, and provides a good basis, at least in terms of the principles that members should adhere to, when discussions on WTO reform commence in a structured format.

The Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Declaration instructs the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) Committee to improve the implementation of the SPS Agreement to better address issues related to international trade in food, animals, and plants by establishing a work programme, open to all members and observers, consisting of new efforts to identify (i) challenges in the implementation of the SPS Agreement, and (ii) the impact of emerging challenges. The OACPS was among the proponents of the Declaration based on the fact that SPS measures have been used as barriers by some developed countries to block especially food and crop exports from the OACPS.

The Decision on small economies is of immediate relevance to the OACPS as it calls for the continuation of the work programme on small economies, assessing the challenges faced by these economies, and taking action through various WTO bodies as appropriate.

The date and venue of the next WTO Ministerial Conference, (MC13), is still to be decided, although it is likely to be in 2023. Information at hand indicates that Cameroon and the United Arab Emirates have proposed to host MC13. In the interim, the OACPS through its Geneva Group of Ambassadors will remain actively engaged in the WTO negotiations in search of incremental outcomes to secure its fair share of global trade.