In a dedicated effort towards the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO), members convened for an informal retreat at the organization's headquarters on September 25-26. This retreat served as a platform for focused discussions on trade and industrial policy, aiming to facilitate deliberations on the intersection between trade and industrial policy and to identify potential pathways and outcomes leading up to several significant high-level meetings on the WTO calendar.
Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana, Chair of the General Council, expressed her satisfaction with the level of engagement and the positive atmosphere prevailing among members throughout the day and a half of discussions. Ambassador Molokomme noted, "We had candid and interactive conversations. We are now better informed about the sensitivities around this topic. I was encouraged by the constructive spirit in which our discussions took place."
"While differences of opinion persist, this informal meeting has demonstrated your willingness to collaborate in pursuit of mutually agreeable solutions," she added, urging all members to build on the momentum generated during the retreat.
Considering recent submissions by WTO members on this matter and the ensuing discussions in the General Council, the retreat provided members with an opportunity to identify key issues related to the nexus between trade and industrial policy and broader economic development.
The retreat revolved around three primary themes: the policy space needed to support industrialization in developing countries, including the least developed countries; the opportunities and challenges posed by industrial subsidies for the global trading system; and the way forward. Plenary sessions bookended the retreat, with delegations convening in four working groups during the interim periods to brainstorm and deliberate on the three themes.
Senior officials are scheduled to meet at the WTO on October 23-24 with the objective of providing political guidance to negotiators in Geneva as they prepare for the 13th Ministerial Conference, slated for February 26-29, 2024, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala emphasized that these discussions mark the initial stages of an engagement process that contributes to the broader WTO reform efforts. She noted, "We've made progress, and we've demonstrated our ability to engage in productive deliberation and explore ways to move forward. While we've taken small steps, I hope we will proceed thoughtfully to reach outcomes or conclusions on these issues."
Ambassador Molokomme echoed this sentiment, describing the meeting as a "milestone on the journey to MC13," emphasizing that it signifies the continuation of a valuable conversation in preparation for meaningful engagement at the 13th Ministerial Conference and the senior officials meeting.
This gathering marked the fourth informal session since the initiation of WTO reform discussions during the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022. At MC12, WTO members committed to working towards reforming the organization with the goal of enhancing all its functions and addressing the interests of all members, including development concerns.
The General Council and its subsidiary bodies have been entrusted with conducting the WTO reform work, assessing progress, and, as appropriate, proposing decisions to be presented at MC13.