WTO: Paths Forward

WTO: Paths Forward

The multilateral trade system embodied in the 1994 WTO agreements serves as the backbone of the global economy. Keeping up with changes in the organisation of production, business models and the geography of trade and investment in the past twenty years has proven elusive. In addition, present challenges related to climate change and the environment as well as social inclusion and the imperative to eradicate poverty require an updating of the frameworks of rules.

Existing modalities have delivered some meaningful achievements, including a Trade Facilitation Agreement, an expanded Information Technology Agreement, a Least Developed Country Services Waiver and the end of Export Subsidies. However, it has proven difficult to advance discussions on core elements of the WTO rulebook or to launch negotiations on the emerging issues that define trade in the 21st century.

Forging a way forward for the WTO between now and the 12th Ministerial Conference requires new ideas, analysis and complementary dialogue platforms where delegates, experts and stakeholders frankly and candidly bridge differences to contribute to formal agreements. In the absence of productive engagement the WTO legislative function risks atrophy.

Having identified eight areas where negotiations are most promising for delivery by the 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2020, ICTSD’s WTO: Paths Forward initiative serves as a parallel track. It offers opportunities for negotiators to engage in key questions, address information and analytical gaps, and level their knowledge, open to the participation of critical outside voices and focus on bridging differences in substance, not procedure.

Research

Cover of Advancing Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Fisheries SubsidiesCrafting a Framework on Investment Facilitation
A coalition of over 70 World Trade Organization members endorsed a Joint Ministerial Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development (WT/MIN(17)/59) during the global trade club’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) in December 2017. The statement outlined the group’s interest in exploring more “structured discussions” on the issue, with the objective of crafting a “multilateral framework on investment facilitation.” Given this development, this policy brief aims to provide context to the investment facilitation discussion, both inside the WTO and externally, along with mapping issues and options for interested members to consider going forward.
Read this paper...

 

Cover of Advancing Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Fisheries SubsidiesNegotiating Disciplines on Domestic Regulations in Services
This policy brief seeks to provide a birds-eye perspective on current and possible future developments on services domestic regulations in the context of the World Trade Organization. The Joint Ministerial Statement on Services Domestic Regulations (WT/MIN(17)/61) issued by 58 members at the WTO’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference in December 2017, provides new impetus on this topic while reaffirming the commitment to “advancing negotiations on the basis of recent proposals as set out in WT/MIN(17)/7/Rev.2 and related discussions in the WPDR [Working Party on Domestic Regulation] and future contributions by Members to deliver a multilateral outcome.” The brief presents the most salient issues around the organisation of these discussions on domestic regulations as well as possible options of relevance for the development of frameworks for international and multilateral rule-making in this area. Read this paper...

 

Cover of Promoting Capability Enhancing DevelopmentPromoting Capability Enhancing Development
The World Trade Organization's Eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires did not deliver on special and differential treatment (S&DT). Partly, this is because the debate on S&DT and policy space rests on different views on the optimal nature and scope of trade policies, and on the role of governments in promoting structural transformation. The discussions presented in this policy brief bring to light the need to acknowledge the rising call from a number of lower income developing countries to consider ways in which multilateral trade rules can best support the design of trade and trade-related policies enabling of economic transformation. WTO members could further seize this opportunity to open up a broader debate on how new technologies, the configuration of global value chains, and regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements influence the nature and scope of today’s trade and industrial development policies.
Read this paper: In English | En français | En español

 

Cover of Advancing Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Fisheries SubsidiesAdvancing Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Fisheries Subsidies
At the World Trade Organization’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference, ministers adopted a Decision on Fisheries Subsidies (WT/MIN(17)/64) directing negotiators to continue talks with a view to adopting an agreement by the next ministerial conference. These negotiations would build on two working documents: RD/TN/RL/29/Rev.3, which sets out a vertical compilation of key proposals on the table as of fall 2017, and TN/RL/W/274/Rev.2, containing streamlined texts setting out the main options and positions on key substantive elements of the disciplines. The ministerial decision also specifically re-commits WTO members to implementing their existing notification obligations in order to strengthen transparency of the subsidies provided to fishing.
Read this paper: In English | En français | En español

 

Cover of Reforming Fossil Fuel Subsidies through the Trade SystemReforming Fossil Fuel Subsidies through the Trade System
Fossil fuel subsidy reform is recognised as a vital component of the transition to a sustainable future. A group of 12 countries issued a Ministerial Declaration on Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (WT/MIN(17)/54) on the occasion of the WTO’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017. Drawing on the knowledge and policy options generated by ICTSD and partners over recent years, this policy brief is intended to support WTO members in building on this declaration.
Read this paper: In English | En français | En español

 

 

Cover of Updating the Multilateral Rule Book on E-CommerceUpdating the Multilateral Rule Book on E-Commerce
This policy brief seeks to provide a birds-eye perspective on current and possible future developments in e-commerce rules in the context of the World Trade Organization. The Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (WT/MIN(17)/60) issued by 70 members at the WTO’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference in December 2017, which aims to “initiate exploratory work toward future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce,” marks an important moment. This brief presents the most salient issues around the organisation of discussions on e-commerce in the WTO as well as possible options relevant for the development of frameworks for international and multilateral rule-making in this area.
Read this paper...

 

Cover of Updating the Multilateral Rule Book on E-CommerceAchieving Progress in Multilateral Trade Negotiations on Agriculture
The World Trade Organization’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference ended without ministers providing clear direction for talks on agriculture—despite the need for urgent action to help advance Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. Meanwhile, changing trade flows are reshaping markets for food and agriculture, along with preferential trade deals and national policy decisions. Together, these factors are likely to establish the contours of future negotiations on agriculture at the WTO. If countries are to build successfully on sustained engagement in 2017, progress between now and the Twelfth Ministerial Conference will require solid groundwork at the technical level. This brief explores a number of avenues to achieve multilateral progress.
Read this paper: In English | En français | En español |中文