In a recent meeting of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) General Council held from December 13 to 15, members were briefed by the Chair of the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), H.E. Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the Minister of State for Foreign Trade of the United Arab Emirates, regarding preparations for MC13 scheduled for February 2024 in Abu Dhabi. The Council also approved a significant budget increase for the WTO Secretariat for the 2024/2025 biennium, marking the first budget increase in 12 years.
Minister Al Zeyoudi emphasized the urgency of intensifying work to address remaining gaps on crucial issues. He noted that the recent "mini-ministerial" meetings had not seen significant shifts in member positions, and it was essential to accelerate progress to achieve outcomes beneficial to the global community. The Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, echoed the call for increased efforts in closing gaps before MC13.
Budget Increase Approved
In a significant development, members agreed to raise the WTO's operational budget by 3.6%, from CHF 197.2 million to CHF 204.9 million, for the 2024 and 2025 period. This decision was influenced by rising inflation and contractual obligations. Notably, this marks the first budget increase in over a decade. Ambassador Bettina Waldmann of Germany, Chair of the Committee on Budget, Finance, and Administration, expressed her gratitude to members for reaching a budget agreement.
The Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, thanked members for their support, emphasizing that this increase would enable the Secretariat to enhance its services and better serve WTO members.
Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme of Botswana, the General Council Chair, highlighted the ongoing discussions on WTO reform, focusing on various aspects such as development, deliberative functions, institutional matters, trade, industrial policy, and environmental sustainability. She underscored the importance of WTO reform in preparations for MC13, as outlined in the MC12 outcome document, which commits members to improve the organization's functions through an open and inclusive process.
TRIPS Waiver and NVSCs
The Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Chair, Ambassador Pimchanok Pitfield of Thailand, reported on discussions regarding the extension of the TRIPS waiver decision to COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. Despite continued engagement and consultations, consensus on this matter remains elusive. Additionally, discussions on extending the moratorium on non-violation and situation complaints (NVSCs) under the TRIPS Agreement have also not yielded consensus. Both items remain open on the TRIPS Council's agenda.
E-commerce Work Programme and Moratorium
Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, the facilitator of the WTO Work Programme on Electronic Commerce, provided an update on developments since the November General Council meeting. She highlighted discussions on text proposals for a ministerial decision to be considered at MC13. The facilitator acknowledged the need for further work concerning the existing moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions.
Graduation of Least-Developed Countries
Ambassador José R. Sanchez-Fung of the Dominican Republic, Chair of the Committee on Trade and Development, reported that more time is needed for members to find convergence in negotiations concerning LDC graduation. MC13 could provide an opportunity to assess progress made in this regard.
Development Assistance Aspects of Cotton
The Director-General reported on positive outcomes in initiatives related to the development assistance aspects of cotton, benefiting Cotton-4 members and other African cotton-producing countries.
As preparations for MC13 continue, WTO members remain committed to addressing key issues and advancing global trade cooperation. The approval of the budget increase reflects a collective commitment to strengthening the organization's capabilities and effectiveness in addressing contemporary challenges in international trade.