WTO Ministerial Conferences List | UPSC Notes

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WTO Ministerial Conferences List | UPSC Notes

The Ministerial Conference, which makes the most important decisions for the WTO, usually meets every two years. All of the WTO’s members, which are either countries or customs unions, meet there. The Ministerial Conference is the only group that can make decisions about any of the multilateral trade deals.

The first Ministerial Conference, called MC1, was held in Singapore in 1996. The last Ministerial Conference, called MC11, was held in Buenos Aires in 2017. All of these MCs have contributed to the current world trading system that is in place.

Singapore, December 9th to 13th, 1996 (MC1)

• Trade, foreign, finance, and farm ministers from more than 120 WTO member countries and countries that are working to join the WTO were there.

• The four problems below, known as the “Singapore issues,” were the first ones brought up so that the multilateral body could start talking about them.

Trade and Investment Trade Facilitation Transparency in Government Purchasing Trade and Competition

Geneva, Switzerland 18-20 May 1998 (MC2)

• The Ministerial Declaration included the following work programmes: implementing existing agreements and decisions, including issues brought up by members; future work already planned for by other agreements and decisions made at Marrakesh; and possible future work based on the work programme started in Singapore.

The next round of full talks on agriculture will focus on things like market access, export subsidies, etc.

USA, Seattle November 30–December 3, 1999 (MC3):

There were two big questions. The first was whether to start a new round of negotiations like the Uruguay Round or to stick to the “built-in agenda” of agriculture and services that was set at the last Ministerial. The second question was what the negotiations should be about, or more specifically, what should be on the agenda for the meeting.

• Neither problem could be solved at the meeting, so it finished in a deadlock.

• The talks were put on hold because no one could agree on a new round of negotiations or a ministerial statement.

9–13 November 2001, Doha, Qatar (MC4)

• Agriculture: Developing countries should be given special and different treatment in all parts of the talks. This will help developing countries meet their development needs, such as food security and rural development.

• Services: Talks about trade in services will be held with the goal of helping all trading partners’ economies grow and helping emerging and least-developed countries grow.

It acknowledges the work that has already been done in the negotiations, which started in January 2000 under Article XIX of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), as well as the large number of proposals made by members on a wide range of sectors and several horizontal issues, as well as on the movement of natural persons.

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• Market access for non-agricultural products: During negotiations, the special needs and interests of developing and least-developed country participants must be taken into account in full, even if it means committing to less than full reciprocity in reductions, as stated in Article XXVIII bis of the GATT 1994.

• Transparency in government procurement: Recognising the need for a multilateral agreement on transparency in government procurement and the need for more technical assistance and capacity building in this area, it was decided that negotiations would be based on a decision to be made by explicit consensus.

Cancún, Mexico 10–14 September 2003 (MC5):

The main job was to look at how negotiations and other work related to the Doha Development Agenda were going.

Hong Kong, 13-18 December 2005 (MC6)

• At the meeting, the WTO member economies tried to reach a preliminary deal on liberalising farm trade by reducing subsidies. They also talked about other issues, with the goal of getting the Doha Round to a successful end in 2006.

• After a lot of talking, WTO members came up with an interim package for the Doha Round talks. This package sets deadlines for the end of agricultural export subsidies in 2013 and cotton export subsidies in 2006. It also says that at least 97% of products from the least developed countries (LDCs) must be given duty- and quota-free access by 2008.

Concerning non-agricultural market access (NAMA), the members adopted the “Swiss formula,” which says that higher tariffs have to be cut more. They also agreed that the rules for cutting tariffs have to be set by April 30, 2006.

o The Swiss Formula, proposed by the Swiss Delegation to the WTO, is a way for both developed and developing countries to lower tariffs on non-agricultural items (NAMA).

o It gives different factors to countries that are rich and countries that are poor.

o In this case, tariffs should be cut in a way that smaller tariffs are cut more quickly than higher tariffs.

• This meeting could have been the last step in the trade talks that started in Doha in 2001.

Geneva, Switzerland, November 30–December 2, 2009 (MC7):

“The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System, and the Current Global Economic Environment” is the theme of the conference.

• Unlike earlier Conferences, this meeting was not a Doha Round negotiation session. Instead, it was a chance for Ministers to think about all of the WTO’s work, share ideas, and give advice on how to move forward in the coming years.

Geneva, Switzerland 15-17 December 2011 (MC8)

• The Conference gave the go-ahead for Russia, Samoa, and Montenegro to join.

• It made a number of decisions about intellectual property, internet commerce, small economies, the least developed countries joining, a waiver for services for the least developed countries, and trade policy reviews.

• It repeated that the special and differential treatment provisions are an important part of the WTO agreements and that they will follow through on the Doha mandate to review them with the goal of making them stronger and more clear, effective, and workable.

Bali, Indonesia 3-6 December 2013 (MC9)

The Conference passed the “Bali Package,” which is a set of decisions meant to simplify trade, give developing countries more options for ensuring food security, boost the trade of the least-developed countries, and help development in general. The “Bali Package” is a subset of the larger Doha Round negotiations.The Conference also agreed that Yemen could join the WTO as a new member.

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Nairobi, Kenya 15-19 December 2015 (MC10)

• It ended with the “Nairobi Package,” a set of choices about agriculture, cotton, and problems in the least-developed countries (LDCs).

Agriculture: o Special Safeguard Mechanism for Developing Country Members, o Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes, o Export Competition, o Cotton: Because cotton is so important to many developing economies, especially the least-developed ones, developed country members and developing country members who say they are in a position to do so will give preferential trade arrangements to LDCs starting on January 1.

LDC problems include: Preferential Rules of Origin for Least Developed Countries, Implementation of Preferential Treatment in Favour of Services and Service Suppliers of Least Developed Countries, and Increasing LDC Participation in Services Trade.

• The decision in Nairobi builds on the Ministerial Decision on preferred rules of origin for LDCs that was made in Bali in 2013.

• The “Nairobi Package” is a good way to honour Kenya, which hosted the Conference, by making promises that will help the organization’s poorer members in particular.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 10-13 December 2017 (MC11)

• The Ministerial Conference finished with a number of decisions, including ones about subsidies for fisheries and taxes on e-commerce, as well as a promise to keep negotiating in all areas.

Geneva, Switzerland 12-17 June 2022 (MC12)

• Kazakhstan was supposed to hold MC12 in June 2020, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference had to be moved.

• The WTO’s reaction to the pandemic, talks about fisheries subsidies, agriculture issues like public stockholding for food security, WTO reforms, and a moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmission were the main points of discussion.

How did the 12th Ministerial Conference turn out?

• Changes to WTO:

Members reaffirmed the WTO’s founding values and agreed to an open and inclusive process to reform all of its functions, from deliberating to negotiating to keeping an eye on things.

Notably, they agreed to work towards making a method for settling disagreements that works well and is open to all members by 2024.

• Agreement to Stop “Harmful” Subsidies for Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: It would stop “harmful” subsidies for illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing for the next four years, which would help protect world fish stocks.

Since 2001, member states have been talking about how to get rid of handouts that make people fish too much.

In this deal, India and other poor countries were able to get some changes. They were able to get a part of the plan taken out that would have hurt subsidies that help small-scale artisanal fishing. Under this deal, there would be no limits on farmers who do things the way they have always been done.

• Agreement on Global Food Security: Members agreed to a binding decision that any export limits would not apply to food bought by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) for humanitarian reasons.

Due to the war between Ukraine and Russia, food is getting harder to find and prices are going up around the world. As a result, the group’s members made a statement about how important trade is for global food security and how they won’t ban food exports.

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But countries would be able to limit food sources to meet their own needs for food security.

• Agreement on E-commerce Transactions: From 2017 to 2020, developing countries lost about USD 50 billion in potential tariff income from the import of 49 digital goods.

In 1998, when the internet was still pretty new, WTO members decided not to charge customs fees on electronic transmissions. Since then, the ban has been expanded several times.

All members, however, decided to keep the long-standing ban on customs duties on e-commerce transmissions until the next Ministerial Conference or March 31, 2024, whichever comes first.

• Agreement on ‘Covid-19’ Vaccine Production: WTO members agreed to briefly waive intellectual property patents on Covid-19 vaccines without the consent of the patent holder for 5 years so they can make them more easily at home.

This “will help with ongoing efforts to concentrate and spread out the ability to make vaccines so that a crisis in one area doesn’t cut off other areas.”

India and South Africa first came up with the idea for the current deal in 2020, but it has since been changed. They wanted intellectual property waivers for vaccines, medicines, and tests to cover a wider range of things.

Rich pharmaceutical companies were highly against this. They said that IPs don’t limit access to Covid vaccines and that taking away patent protections sends a bad message to researchers who made life-saving vaccines quickly.

Advocacy groups said that the WTO waiver was too limited because it didn’t cover all medical tools like tests and treatments. “Overall, this agreement doesn’t provide a good way to help more people get access to needed medical tools during the pandemic. It doesn’t waive IP on all important Covid-19 medical tools and it doesn’t apply to all countries, so it’s not a good solution.

What did India bring up at the 12th Ministerial Conference?

• About WTO Reforms: India thinks that talks about WTO reforms should centre on strengthening its basic principles.

Right now, reserving Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT), which includes consensus-based decision making, non-discrimination, and special and different treatment, shouldn’t keep or make the issues worse. S&DT includes consensus-based decision making, non-discrimination, and special and different treatment.

India is the first to suggest changes for developing countries (Developing countries reform paper “Strengthening the WTO to Promote Development and Inclusion”).

India made a plan in which it took the lead in criticising the ideas of the European Union and Brazil, both in terms of how they were made and what they were meant to achieve. It was against a WTO revisions exercise with no clear end.

• E-commerce Transactions: India had asked the WTO to review the extension of the moratorium on customs taxes on e-commerce transactions, which include digitally traded goods and services.

It said that most of the financial effects of such a ban would be felt by poor countries.

• About food security: The WTO should renegotiate the rules for subsidy programmes that buy food for poor people in emerging and poor countries.

India wants to be sure that the WTO won’t say that its state stock-holding programme, which only buys from farmers in the country and has exported in the past, is illegal.