13th WTO Ministerial Conference

The 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) kicked off on February 27th, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The 4-day event brings together ministers from the WTO’s 164 members to advance negotiations on key issues impacting global trade.

Progress Report and Ongoing Accessions

WTO General Council Chair Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba presented a report outlining progress since the last ministerial conference in 2021. This includes commitments to enhance trade monitoring procedures and discussions on reducing fisheries subsidies and barriers to e-commerce.

Lesiba noted that accession processes for the Comoros and Timor-Leste are nearing completion which will expand WTO membership to 166 countries.

Draft Ministerial Declaration

A draft ministerial declaration has been circulated by Host nation UAE for further inputs before its finalization. The document covers WTO reforms, sustainability goals, gender inclusivity, MSME growth, digital transformation and responses to crises that disrupt supply chains.

Dedicated sessions have been slated during the conference to build consensus around the declaration.

Key Negotiation Topics

  1. Work Program on E-Commerce

While e-commerce negotiations have addressed various facets, a consensus remains elusive regarding the draft decision for adoption at MC13. This includes India’s call for a moratorium on cross-border duties.

  1. Fisheries Subsidies

Curtailing certain types of fishing subsidies to deter overexploitation of marine resources remains on the discussion agenda as a long pending issue.

  1. TRIPS Waiver for COVID Vaccines

There is still no agreement on the TRIPS waiver proposal by India and South Africa to enable expanded production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in developing countries.

  1. Public Stockholding Programs

Allowing developing countries to procure foodgrains from farmers for buffer stocks and subsidized distribution without limit is a critical area lacking consensus among members.

India’s Stand and Concerns

The Indian delegation is led by Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal. India will strongly oppose a China-led proposal for an investment facilitation pact, while it would press for finding a permanent solution to public stock holding of grains for food security at the upcoming WTO ministerial meeting.

India has maintained a cautious approach in trade negotiations given FTAs have long-term economic impacts spanning several years. Attempts to introduce non-trade issues lacking multilateral agreements into WTO ambit have been questioned by India.

Regarding sustainability, India has raised concerns on the EU’s proposed carbon border tax measures. It prefers resolving this under the WTO rulebook before exploring bilateral solutions.

With semiconductor industry bodies asking India to halt its plan for cross-border digital trade duties, the e-commerce negotiations at MC13 hold high significance.

On fisheries, India is expected to seek a moratorium on subsidies by developed members like the USA and EU which aggravate overfishing and hurt local communities.


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