Ministers highlighted the role of trade and the WTO in promoting recovery, with many underscoring the importance to ensure equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines.
Ministers resolved to “maintain a credible multilateral trading system,” supported by a “fully functional WTO dispute settlement system,” and committed to “restore a climate of mutual trust”.
An informal World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial gathering focused on trade policy challenges and priorities ahead of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12). Twenty-nine WTO members representing a wide range of trade policy interests discussed approaches to overcoming the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposals for facilitating trade and reducing trade barriers regarding medical goods, and environmental aspects of trade policy, among other issues.
The virtual meeting convened on 29 January 2021 in place of the traditional informal WTO ministerial chaired by Switzerland in the margins of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos.
According to the concluding remarks by the Chair, President of Switzerland Guy Parmelin, ministers emphasized the need to confirm the date and venue of MC12, which had been postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. They also stressed the urgency of the prompt appointment of a new WTO Director-General. Having previously expressed reservations about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose candidacy, according to the WTO, is “best poised to attain consensus,” the US indicated that “this important leadership decision” is “currently under active consideration in Washington.”
With respect to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, ministers highlighted the role of trade and the WTO in promoting recovery. Many underscored the importance to ensure equitable and affordable access to medical goods, including vaccines, through implementation of trade facilitation measures, noting the role of intellectual property and transparency. Canada highlighted the Ottawa Group’s efforts on a trade and health initiative that aims to “keep markets open, facilitate the distribution of vaccines, and better prepare for future global health crises.”
Ministers resolved to “maintain a credible multilateral trading system” (MTS), supported by a “fully functional WTO dispute settlement system,” and committed to “restore a climate of mutual trust.”
Ministers regretted that the fisheries subsidies negotiations could not be completed by the 2020 deadline, and agreed that “a comprehensive and effective agreement” should be concluded “as soon as possible.”
Many ministers called for progress on: agricultural trade policy reform; joint statement initiatives on services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, and trade and women’s economic empowerment; and the special and differential treatment of developing and least developed countries (LDCs). Several supported new initiatives to address global challenges, including the Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability launched during the WTO Trade and Environment Week 2020. [Concluding Remarks by the Chair] [Government of Switzerland Press Release]