DG Okonjo-Iweala encourages members to close remaining gaps to secure outcomes at MC13

ABU DHABI: WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on 28 February commended members for the ‘tremendous amount of progress’ achieved after three days of intense work at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi. With less than 24 hours before the scheduled closing session of MC13, she called on ministers to go the extra mile and find convergence on the various issues at stake.

DG Okonjo-Iweala told members at a meeting of Heads of Delegations (HoDs) that the clock is ticking but stressed that if delegations keep working hard, a positive MC13 outcome is at hand and ministers should be able to go back home in time on 29 February, the last day of the Conference.

The Minister of State for Foreign Trade and MC13 Chair Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi said that it is time to set aside differences and work together for the common goal. ‘This is what consensus – which I know all of you value – is all about.’ He also expressed hope that outcomes will be adopted at the formal MC13 closing ceremony.

The HoDs
meeting was preceded by a thematic session earlier in the day on dispute settlement reform, facilitated by Espen Barth Eide, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, and a working session on development, facilitated by Kerrie Symmonds, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Barbados.

Minister Barth Eide said that members may not be able to finish the work on dispute settlement reform at MC13. However, he said they should be able to take stock of the meaningful progress that has been made, recognise that more work is needed, and instruct Geneva officials to accelerate their work to achieve a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all by 2024, as ministers agreed at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022.

While many members said they were disappointed that MC13 would not reach an agreement on dispute settlement reform, they acknowledged the progress made in the informal discussions facilitated by the former Deputy Permanent Representative of Guatemala Marco Molina.

Kerrie Symmonds reported on the ‘considerable progress’ made in the development discussion and his expectation of a possible landing zone within the next 24 hours. ‘I believe that this will be an important signal to the international community that we can deliver for people through trade,’ he said.

The facilitators of the other areas of negotiations also updated members. Iceland’s Permanent Secretary of State Martin Eyjólfsson reported on what came out of his bilateral and group consultations on fisheries subsidies. He said he is hopeful that solutions are within reach thanks to members’ focused participation and willingness to conclude an agreement. ‘I wholeheartedly believe that we can achieve an outcome,’ he said.

Rebecca Miano, Cabinet Secretary at the Ministry of Investments, Trade and Industry of Kenya, provided an update on the agriculture negotiations. She noted that all members see the importance of achieving an outcome on this issue at MC13, considering that agriculture outcomes have been elusive
at the last two Ministerial Conferences. ‘This is seen as essential for building confidence and working towards achieving an outcome at MC14,’ she said.

Todd McClay, Minister of Trade and Export of New Zealand and facilitator for the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, said he submitted a text to members under his own responsibility in an effort to identify possible areas of convergence. On the moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions, he noted that differing views remain but a viable way forward is possible.

Finally, Botswana’s Minister of Trade and Industry Mmusi Kgafela informed members of his efforts related to some outstanding matters in the MC13 Draft Ministerial Declaration. He said he is ‘heartened by the overall positive good engagement’ and hoped that by the Conference closing session the text will be further stabilized and in such shape that ministers can consider it for adoption.

Source: Emirates News Agency