How did the Ministerial Conference do? Our scorecards

Delegates late at night on the terrace at the WTO headquarters | WTO

See also
WTO members achieve breakthrough, but the tough part is what happens next | The successful WTO Conference saw one big failure: agriculture | Have we just seen the funeral of the WTO ‘single undertaking’?

By Robert Wolfe and Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED JUNE 19, 2022 | UPDATED JUNE 20, 2022

In our curtain-raiser before the June 12–17 World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference — “Touch and go at the WTO. Is the director-general’s optimism justified?” — we suggested a set of score cards for assessing the result. Based on the actual outcome, we’ve adjusted the scorecards slightly and filled them in.

This is a bit of fun, not to be taken too seriously, although it will help us as we prepare a proper wrap-up assessment of the conference, which ended late, after two consecutive all-night sessions at the WTO headquarters.

In that spirit we invite you to comment, either through the contact form, or even better by replying to us on Twitter, particularly replying to the tweet that announces this is published.

For the plurilateral or joint-statement initiatives, this is what we wrote in the curtain-raiser about a complication arising from the war in Ukraine. It is relevant:

“If the rumours are right, some documents that were ready to go in November 2021, have now had the names of sponsoring countries removed so that they do not appear alongside Russia. The texts would be demoted to summary statements from the talks’ coordinators.

“According to the rumours, this would be the case for the talks on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and on trade and gender. (On June 10 and June 12, the MSME report and trade and gender statement were circulated and they were indeed issued by the coordinator(s).)

“But at least one document has been circulated with a list of sponsors that includes Russia — for a work programme on electronic commerce.”

See also this interesting assessment thread on Twitter from law professor Nicolas Lamp of Queen’s University, Canada.

TRADE GEEK’S SCORECARDS
For assessing the WTO Ministerial Conference

Based on our initial views on what was and ought to have been on the agenda, and the documents identified by the WTO Secretariat as part of the ministerial outcome. Documents not listed there but available elsewhere are marked with an asterisk (*)

Overall
 Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
“Outcome” documentyesyesseveral including annual sessions on transit issues in trade facilitationsome issues 
Negotiations and declarations

(This has been updated. “Declarations” has been added to the title so that the SPS declaration can be moved up from “plurilaterals” — it was agreed by the full membership)

 Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
Agricultural subsidies and support
(pre-ministerial document)
nonono Torn up because members deadlocked on new roadmap, over “stockholding”
Fisheries subsidiesyesretreatyesPartly: some parts to be negotiated, whole agreement terminated if failsArt.5: subsidies contributing to overcapacity and overfishing
Work program on E-commerce (moratorium)yesnono (new deadline set) 
Work program on small economies[before the conference]no  
TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints[before the conference]no  
Responding to modern SPS challenge (originally submitted by a group of members)yesyesyes
Institutional issues
Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
Dispute settlement“outcome” documentonly setting deadlineno 
WTO reform“outcome” documentonly on specifying forumNo 
Transparencyfigures in fisheries, pandemic response. Vague intent in food insecurityyes, but retreat because agriculture withdrawnyes  
Pandemic response and food security
Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
Response to the pandemicyescompromise between competing textsyes, notably par.24: new work in councils and committees, and annual stocktaking  
Food insecurityyesemphasis in title on insecurity, not securityyes: on net-food-importing developing countries  
World Food Programme purchase exemptionyespar.2 (added pre-conference) dilutes original   
Intellectual property waiveryesall square brackets resolvedkicks off ratification and implementation domestically and in WTO  
Plurilaterals and joint-statement initiatives (only some members)

(This has been updated to move the SPS declaration up to “negotiations and declarations”)

Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
E-commerce

(co-convenors statement*, not an official document)yesRevising “working modalities” so can conclude by end-2022  
Investment facilitation(no new ministerial document)  
Domestic regulation in servicesnoagreement already reached*   
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)(co-ordinator’s report)yesyes  
Trade and environmental sustainability structured discussionsno (December 2021 statement* launched the talks)yesyes  
Plastic pollutionnono  
Fossil fuel subsidiesnoyesyes  
Trade and gender(co-chairs’ statement)no  
Important topics not on Ministerial Conference agenda
Part of the “package” agreed by all membersAdvance on previous textsFrame a new agendaKick the can down the roadDeadlock
Least-developed-countries’ graduationno   
Subsidies and countervailing measures, anti-dumping(nothing submitted)   no progress in talks since 2011
Non-agricultural market access(nothing submitted)   no progress in talks since 2011
Trade in services(nothing submitted)   no progress in talks since 2011
Environmental goods and services(nothing submitted)   stalled since 2016

Robert Wolfe is Professor Emeritus of Policy Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. He has written extensively on WTO reform issues. Follow him on Twitter: @BobWolfeSPS.

Updates:
June 20, 2022 — changing the SPS declaration to reflect agreement by the full membership

Image credit:
Delegates on the terrace at the WTO headquarters, Geneva, night of June 15, 2022 | WTO

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