Ottawa Group Recommends Actions on COVID-19, Signals Continued Interest in WTO Reform
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The statement points to thinking already underway on “trade policy actions that would support an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient recovery” from the pandemic, and identifies six action areas to focus on in light of COVID-19.

The statement flags that these focus areas do not signify a reduction of interest by the Group in other priority areas such as reform of the WTO and multilateral negotiations on harmful fisheries subsidies and agriculture.

The Ottawa Group, comprised of 13 World Trade Organization (WTO) members, has released a statement outlining six action areas to focus on in light of COVID-19. Formed in the wake of the Ottawa Ministerial on WTO Reform, held 24-25 October 2018, the Group seeks to address specific challenges that are putting the multilateral trading system under stress.

Addressing group members virtually on 15 June 2020, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo acknowledged that the current pandemic has placed additional strains on the system. Azevêdo emphasized the importance of the upcoming Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12), which has been postponed tentatively to June 2021, but nonetheless provides an opportunity to advance WTO reform initiatives and aid COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The June 2020 statement of the Ottawa Group points to thinking already underway on “trade policy actions that would support an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient recovery” from the pandemic. The statement sets out six areas where actions can be taken:

  • Transparency and withdrawal of trade-restrictive measures;
  • Keeping open and predictable trade in agricultural and agrifood products;
  • E-commerce;
  • Trade facilitation – use of information technology and streamlined procedures;
  • Initiative on medical supplies; and
  • Deepen engagement with stakeholders.

Ministers of the Group instruct officials to carry out “action points” on each of the six areas. On the first area relating to transparency, officials are instructed, inter alia, “to ensure any measures introduced in response to COVID-19 are promptly notified in accordance with relevant WTO requirements.” This includes a return to a quarterly cycle of trade monitoring reports, and supporting best practices to share information. Furthermore, officials must discuss the principle of COVID-19-related measures being “targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with WTO rules” and withdraw or end any trade-restrictive measures introduced in response to COVID-19 as quickly as possible.

The statement flags that these focus areas and actions do not signify a reduction of interest by the Group in other priority areas such as reform of the organization (including reform of the WTO’s dispute settlement system for a long-lasting solution), and multilateral negotiations on harmful fisheries subsidies and agriculture. The Group also notes its support for joint statement initiatives including those on services domestic regulation, investment facilitation for development, and micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and signals that members also intend to remain active in discussions held outside the WTO to safeguard global supply chains.

The 13 members of the Ottawa Group are Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the EU, Japan, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland. In addition to the Ottawa Group, other working groups seeking to tackle WTO reform from different perspectives include a trilateral process between the EU, the US, and Japan, and a bilateral EU-US Executive Working Group, among others. [June 2020 Statement of the Ottawa Group] [WTO News Release] [Ottawa Group and WTO Reform]


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