WTO: Return of Multilateral Cooperation

On July 14, 2022, Posted by , In International Analysis,

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CMKZ would like to thank André-Philippe Ouellet, CMKZ Collaborator, and Bernard Colas, for preparing this blog.

The last WTO Ministerial Conference held in Geneva between June 12 and 17, 2022 finally bore fruit by leading to various improvements in the multilateral trading system despite successive postponements due to Covid-19.

One of the cornerstones of the last Ministerial Conference was the Ministerial Declaration reached by WTO Members in relation to intellectual property and the Covid-19 pandemic. Those declarations have been made under the impetus of the new WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Indeed, developed Members have agreed to implement a partial waiver in relation to the production of Covid-19 vaccines, allowing developing Members to set up compulsory licensing regimes. Under such a regime, Members can allow manufacturers to use a patented invention without the authorization of the patent owners in exchange for compensation deemed adequate. Developing Members will thus be able to supply their domestic market and those of other developing states. In addition, the agreement could be extended to diagnostic and treatment tools for COVID-19.

The other major achievement of this Ministerial Conference was the conclusion of a Protocol to prohibit subsidies that contribute to overfishing and eliminate subsidies for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. However, the Protocol does not go as far as developed WTO Members would have liked, as the substantial flexibilities provided for developing Members leave them free not to apply substantive parts of it for the first two years after its entry into force. The Protocol still needs to be ratified to enter into force. It should be noted that negotiations on fisheries formally continue with the aim of reaching a full agreement within four years of the Protocol’s entry into force; failing that the fisheries protocol will stand terminated.

In addition, on account of the current context, WTO Members also agreed on a Declaration on food insecurity and on a Decision providing that Members will not put in place export restrictions on food when exported for the benefit of the World Food Programme (WFP).

The moratorium on tariffs on electronic transmissions was also extended until the next Ministerial Conference. This issue will be the subject of intense discussions over the next few years, as some WTO Members, such as India, feel that this moratorium unfairly deprives them of customs revenues, particularly in relation to online video-on-demand services (streaming).

Finally, several problems, including the dispute settlement system’s deadlock, remain, but the results obtained at the last Ministerial Conference show that negotiations move forward, and that the WTO still allows finding pragmatic solutions to practical problems. Accordingly, Members have committed to making the dispute settlement system fully operational again by 2024. However, thorny debates were set aside at the Ministerial Conference in order to achieve results on common ground issues, but highly contentious issues, such as agricultural subsidies, will assuredly take a lot of space until the next Ministerial Conference planned for December 2023.

For information on international trade regulations, please do not hesitate to contact Bernard Colas or one of our other CMKZ lawyers specializing in international trade law.

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