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Tonight, a sub-group of WTO Members will celebrate the conclusion of a break-away agreement on investment facilitation and try to secure its adoption as a plurilateral agreement at this week’s 13th ministerial conference.  That can only be done by consensus.

The convenors – South Korea and Chile, backed by China – have announced that plan, in the face of sustained objections from India and South Africa that these negotiations have no legitimacy.

WTO Members have explicitly rejected attempts to get an investment agreement ever since 1996. A decision in 2004 said no discussion of investment negotiations in the WTO until the Doha round is over. It is not. In the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference, WTO Members agreed that any such new issues will only be addressed if agreed by all Members.

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Ministers representing 123 WTO members issued on 25 February a Joint Ministerial Declaration marking the finalization of the Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) Agreement and made it available to the public. Ministers also issued a submission asking for the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13), taking place in Abu Dhabi on 26-29 February, to incorporate the IFD Agreement into Annex 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO. Participants represent three-quarters of the WTO membership, including close to 90 developing economies and 26 least-developed economies.

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Here’s a roundup of the issues at stake at the upcoming ministerial:

Fishing subsidies: The WTO reached a partial agreement at its last ministerial conference in June 2022 to curb subsidies that threaten the future of ocean fish supplies.

This time they are trying for a more comprehensive agreement that would hopefully have a much bigger impact on maintaining one of the world’s most important food stocks.

Of all the issues at stake in Abu Dhabi, officials are most hopeful about getting this negotiation over the line. “If there’s no agreement on fish at MC13, that’d be a tragedy,” one Geneva-based diplomat said.

For Okonjo-Iweala, the negotiation is proof the WTO is still relevant. “260 million people depend on fisheries for their livelihood, and the oceans are being overfished. [The question for ministers in Abu Dhabi is] can we save the oceans, be part of the regenerative blue economy and save jobs?” she told POLITICO in an interview.

On February 23, 2024, small and traditional fisherfolk groups sent an open letter to the Indonesian Government regarding negotiations on a fisheries subsidy agreement at the WTO, which will prohibit subsidies for small fisherfolks in developing countries including Indonesia. In the draft WTO text currently being discussed, there are eight types of fisheries subsidies that will be prohibited because they contribute to IUU Fishing, Overcapacity and Overfishing.
Among the prohibited subsidies are fuel oil, insurance, employee costs, ship improvement subsidies, fishing technology, subsidies to support activities at sea and subsidies that cover fishing losses or fishing-related activities.

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On the occasion of the 13 th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation, the Gender and Trade Coalition– a global alliance of international and regional feminist networks and progressive allies across civil society, academia and trade unions– calls on Member States and Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for an alternative approach to 'gender issues' in the WTO, one that advances feminist trade analysis and advocates for equitable trade policy.

Our Coalition was established in the wake of a strong concern with the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women's Economic Empowerment endorsed in 2017– given its narrow focus on improving opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the trade sphere– and subsequent formation of the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender with 128 Members and seven observers.


Nearly two years’ worth of negotiating will conclude next week at the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where trade ministers could be leaning toward agreements on fisheries subsidies and a path forward on reform issues as the fate of a moratorium on e-commerce transmission duties hangs in the balance.

The ministerial kicks off on Monday and is scheduled to run through Thursday, though it is not uncommon for ministers to extend talks if they are making progress.

Most of the optimism about negotiations this time around centers on supplementing the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. That deal, reached at MC12 in June 2022, did not include provisions on subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity. Addressing those types of subsidies has been a priority for members ever since.

We, fisherfolks organizations and civil society groups in Indonesia are worried about the fisheries subsidy agreement at the WTO which will prohibit fisheries subsidies for small fisherfolks. In Indonesia, small fisherfolks are fishers who use fishing vessels under 10 GT and the number of small fisherfolks is 90% of the total number of fishers. It is recorded that 2.4 million fishers and 3.9 million fishers women in Indonesia will be affected by the elimination of fisheries subsidies by the WTO.
Small fishers are the most vulnerable group in the capture fisheries sector who also experience poverty and extreme poverty. So a different approach and treatment is needed for small fisherfolks in obtaining rights and protection from the state. We know that there are two pillars in this fisheries subsidy agreement that have reached conclusion, so we firmly ask the Indonesian government not to ratify the two pillars of the WTO fisheries subsidy agreement.

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rom February 26–29, 2024, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Governments from 164 countries will be joined by Timor-Leste and Comoros, the first two nations to join the group since 2017.

At stake is a fight between two visions of what role the WTO, as the world’s most powerful rule-making body in the global economy, should play.

Should the institution expand as an even more corporate-influenced body, with rich countries allowed to set agendas, impose negotiation mechanisms in their favor, and leave poorer countries — and multilateralism itself — in the dustbin of history?

Or should members of the institution recognize the constraints that the current rules place on developing economies, including the harm caused to workers, farmers, and the global environment, and increase flexibilities so that these countries can use trade for their development?

Ministerial Declaration

South Centre

The WHO pandemic instrument should commit the Parties to limit the exclusionary effects that government-granted patents and other IPRs may have during pandemics in support of rapid diffusion of new vaccines, diagnostics, medicines and other tools and facilitate collaboration and freedom to operate. The current draft text of Article 11 would not make any change to the status quo.




WTO electronic commerce negotiations (draft chair’s text, 21 February 2024)