Technical note: Participation in WTO plurilateral talks

Plurilaterals: talks among part of the memership | fotografu, Unsplash licence

This technical note accompanies
Explainer: The 18 WTO plurilaterals and ‘joint-statement initiatives’
India and South Africa pour cold water on alternative approach to WTO talks
‘Plurilateral’ WTO services deal struck after breakthrough text released
The WTO is regularly in crisis, but this time could be different
NGO letter on COVID-19 and WTO reform — persuasive or to be ignored?

Download it as a pdf file

By Peter Ungphakorn
POSTED NOVEMBER 24, 2021 | UPDATED MARCH 24, 2021

Plurilaterals in the WTO (work among only some members, not the whole membership) are not easy to follow. Some information is publicly available but a lot is confidential. Some of what is available publicly is incomplete, including the identities of the countries participating in the work

As this piece was being written, a useful new tool was published, the independent “WTO Plurilaterals” website, created by the Geneva Trade Platform. This technical note has therefore been updated to include the website’s information.

Finding out how many countries are participating in the plurilateral talks is not straightforward. In some cases there are official lists. For others some detective work is needed.

The bottom line: 148 WTO members (90% of the membership) are participating in at least one plurilateral discussion, 16 (10%) are not.

Clearly participation is fluid, but this note has taken several days to compile. It ought to be straightforward, and non-controversial, for lists to be made public and updated routinely.

The starting point is “joint statements” issued at the 2017 Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference (in the WT/MIN(17)/* series) — which is why these talks are officially called joint-statement initiatives (JSIs). In some cases, new lists are circulated as official documents, although they are not always kept up-to-date.

Then come countries’ announcements that they are joining the talks. Some are public documents, others are secret (“restricted”), and in some cases no official announcement is made at all.

And then there are WTO web pages and website news stories. Some of these have full lists. Others only have numbers. Some have nothing.

The numbers that appear here are the ones that have been confirmed. Participants that have not been announced publicly may have slipped through the net. They are supplemented by information on the independent WTO Plurilaterals website, which does not identify how it has arrived at those lists, but is normally reliable.

Finally, the numbers are further complicated by how the EU and its member states are counted. They are 28 WTO members (the EU plus 27 member states, or 28 up to 2019 before the UK left). But for obscure internal legal reasons, the EU sometimes insists on being counted as 27, the number of its member states. That then raises the question of whether the full WTO membership is 164 or 163.

In this note, the EU is always counted as 28 (or 29 before the UK left). If the EU alone is listed, 27 (or 28 pre-Brexit) is added to the total.

These are the figures for the eight subjects currently being negotiated, the first five launched at the 2017 Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference and the other three launched at the originally scheduled time of the 2021 Geneva Ministerial Conference (November 30 to December 3 2021, now postponed). Sources for the numbers are below:

From 2017 (Buenos Aires)

From 2021 (Geneva)


How many in total? 148Back to top

Based on all of these sources, the full list of participants in WTO plurilateral talks is (at least): 148 (90%):

Afghanistan; Albania; Angola; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Austria; Bahrain; Barbados; Belgium; Belize; Benin; Botswana; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cabo Verde; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Dem. Rep. Congo; Congo; Costa Rica; Côte d’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Eswatini; European Union; Fiji; Finland; France; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Grenada; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Jamaica; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Rep. Korea; Kuwait; Kyrgyz Republic; Laos; Latvia; Lesotho; Liberia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macao, China; Madagascar; Malawi; Malaysia; Maldives; Mali; Malta; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Niger; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Pakistan; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russia; Rwanda; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Spain; Suriname; Sweden; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Tajikistan; Thailand; Togo; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Turkey; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; Uruguay; Vanuatu; Viet Nam; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe

Countries not participating in plurilaterals: 16 (10%)

Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Ghana; India, Jordan, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Oman, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Venezuela


E-commerce: 86Back to top

2017 ministerial statement: WT/MIN(17)/60 and WT/MIN(17)/60/Add.1 (adding Thailand)

Additional documents on new participants: INF/ECOM/18 (Benin); INF/ECOM/32 (restricted, China); INF/ECOM/37 (Kenya); INF/ECOM/38 (Côte d’Ivoire); INF/ECOM/48 (Cameroon); INF/ECOM/53 (Burkina Faso); INF/ECOM/56 (Guatemala); INF/ECOM/59 (Ecuador)

WTO website news: 86 (but no names, November 10, 2021)
WTO website news archive
See also this in a nutshell

Albania; Argentina; Austria; Australia; Bahrain; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte d’Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Guatemala; Honduras*; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia*; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Republic of Korea; Kuwait; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Mexico; Republic of Moldova; Mongolia*; Montenegro; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua*; Nigeria; North Macedonia*; Norway; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines*; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia*; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom*; United States; Uruguay (86)

*added from the independent WTO Plurilaterals website


Domestic regulation in services: 68Back to top

Including EU + member states

List of schedules of commitments INF/SDR/3/Rev.1 (December 2, 2021)

WTO website news: 67 (November 18, 2021)
WTO website news archive
See also this in a nutshell

Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain; Belgium; Brazil; Bulgaria; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; El Salvador; Estonia; European Union; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hong Kong, China; Hungary; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Rep. Korea; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Montenegro; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; United States; Uruguay (68)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website’s list

(“The European Union presented one schedule for its member states”)


Investment facilitation: 111Back to top

Not US

Latest official list (December 10, 2021) WT/L/1130 (111)

Previous official list (2019): WT/L/1072/Rev.1 2019

Additional documents on new participants since then: INF/IFD/W/36 (Peru, July 2021), INF/IFD/W/20 (Mauritius, June 2020), NF/IFD/W/14 (Philippines, Feb 2020)

WTO news story December 1, 2021 (111)
WTO website news archive
See also this in a nutshell

Afghanistan; Albania; Argentina; Australia; Austria; Bahrain; Barbados; Belgium; Benin; Brazil; Bulgaria; Burundi; Cabo Verde; Cambodia; Canada; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Congo; Costa Rica; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Estonia; European Union; Finland; France; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Grenada; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Honduras; Hong Kong; Hungary; Iceland; Indonesia; Ireland; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Rep. Korea; Kuwait; Kyrgyz Republic; Laos; Latvia; Liberia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macao; Malaysia; Maldives; Malta; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russia; Saudi Arabia; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Spain; Suriname; Sweden; Switzerland; Taiwan; Tajikistan; Togo; Turkey; Uganda; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Vanuatu; Yemen; Zambia; Zimbabwe (111)

(Ghana and Pakistan dropped out)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website’s list


Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs): 101Back to top

Not US

2021 ministerial statement (draft) WT/MIN(21)/1 (October 27, 2021) (94)
See also: 2017 ministerial statement: WT/MIN(17)/58 and revision WT/MIN(17)/58/Rev.1 (adding Côte d’Ivoire, Guyana and Nigeria), latest update (97)

Latest working group list (January 14, 2022) INF/MSME/2/Rev.6

WTO website MSMEs page
See also this in a nutshell

MSME WORKING GROUP (2022), DRAFT STATEMENT (2021)

Afghanistan; Albania; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Bahrain; Belize; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte d’Ivoire; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; European Union; The Gambia; Georgia; Grenada; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Hong Kong; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Rep. Korea; Kyrgyz Republic; Lao PDR; Liechtenstein; Macao; Malaysia; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Pakistan; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; Russian Federation; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Viet Nam (67+27=94)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website


Gender equality and women in trade: 115Back to top

115 in 2021 but 117 in 2017. Afghanistan, China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Tunisia dropped out. Botswana, Georgia, Maldives, and Trinidad and Tobago joined. The 2021 declaration does not list WTO observers. US was never in

2017 ministerial declaration WTO website news
2021 ministerial declaration WT/MIN(21)/4

WTO website main page
WTO website news archive
See also this in a nutshell

2021 ministerial declaration:

Albania; Angola; Argentina; Australia; Barbados; Benin; Botswana; Brazil; Burundi; Cambodia; Canada; Chad; Chile; Colombia; Costa Rica; Côte d’Ivoire; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; Eswatini; European Union; Fiji; Gabon; Gambia; Georgia; Grenada; Guatemala; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; Iceland; Indonesia; Israel; Jamaica; Japan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kyrgyz Republic; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Lesotho; Liberia; Liechtenstein; Madagascar; Malawi; Malaysia; Maldives; Mali; Mauritius; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; Namibia; New Zealand; Niger; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Tajikistan; Togo; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Turkey; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Vanuatu; Viet Nam; Zambia (88+27=115)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website’s list is not based on the 2021 declaration. It adds six WTO members — Afghanistan, Botswana, China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Panama — and seven WTO observers Andorra, Bahamas, Belarus, Ethiopia, Serbia, Somalia, and Sudan


ADDED: 2021
These were launched on December 15. Originally intended for the Geneva Ministerial Conference, scheduled for November 30–December 3 but now postponed, the launch went ahead anyway


Trade and environmental sustainability structured discussions: 70Back to top

(TESSD)

2021 ministerial statement WT/MIN(21)/6/Rev.1 (December 3, 2021)

WTO news story December 15, 2021
WTO website news archive
WTO website main page
See also this in a nutshell

Albania; Australia; Bahrain; Cabo Verde; Canada; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; European Union; Fiji; The Gambia; Honduras; Hong Kong; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Kazakhstan; Rep. Korea; Liechtenstein; Macao; Maldives; Mexico; Moldova; Montenegro; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Singapore; Suriname; Switzerland; Chinese Taipei; Turkey; Ukraine; UK; US; Uruguay; Vanuatu (43+27=70)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website


Plastics: Informal dialogue on plastic pollution and environmentally sustainable plastics trade: 67Back to top

(IDP) Not US

2021 ministerial statement WT/MIN(21)/8/Rev.2 (December 10, 2021)

WTO news story December 15, 2021
WTO website news archives
WTO website main page
See also this in a nutshell

Albania; Australia; Barbados; Cabo Verde; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada; Central African Republic; Chad; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; European Union; Fiji; The Gambia; Honduras; Hong Kong; Iceland; Jamaica; Japan; Kazakhstan; Rep. Korea; Macao; Morocco; New Zealand; Norway; Panama; Peru; Philippines; Russia; Singapore; Suriname; Switzerland; Thailand; Tonga; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Vanuatu (40+27 = 67)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website


Fossil fuel subsidies: 45Back to top

2021 ministerial statement WT/MIN(21)/9/Rev.1 (December 14, 2021)

WTO news story December 15, 2021
WTO website (no dedicated webpages so far)
See also this in a nutshell

Albania; Chile; Costa Rica; European Union; Fiji; Iceland; Liechtenstein; Moldova, Republic of; Montenegro; New Zealand; North Macedonia; Norway; Panama; Switzerland; Tonga; United Kingdom; Uruguay; Vanuatu (18+27=45)

The independent WTO Plurilaterals website


Main updates:
March 24, 2022 — updating and correcting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs)
January 3, 2022 — linking to the main blog post on plurilaterals, updating some links
December 15–16, 2021 —adding the three new subjects: trade and environmental sustainability structured discussions, plastics, and fossil fuel subsidies
December 13, 2021 — updating investment facilitation
December 2, 2021 — updating services domestic regulation
November 25, 2021 — participating countries re-checked and updated, including references to the independent WTO Plurilaterals website

Image credits:
Main image (beach at sunset) | fotografu, Unsplash licence


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