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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tough negotiations at WTO ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi

Trade ministers from around the world gather in Abu Dhabi for the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Trade ministers from around the world gather in Abu Dhabi for the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where discussions on fisheries and agriculture take center stage. The closed-door talks, scheduled to run until Thursday, are anticipated to be challenging, with little hope for significant breakthroughs given the requirement for full consensus among all 164 member states. However, there is optimism surrounding the potential for progress on a new global agreement on fisheries subsidies, building upon the 2022 deal aimed at curbing harmful practices in the industry.

Progress on Fisheries Subsidies

Since the 2022 agreement banning subsidies contributing to illegal fishing, the WTO aims to finalize a second package addressing subsidies fueling overcapacity and overfishing. Despite the complexities, there is confidence among diplomats that an agreement is within reach, contingent upon compromise and political will. The draft text for the new agreement outlines provisions for banning subsidies that promote overfishing and overcapacity, with considerations for the needs of developing countries. However, negotiations face challenges, particularly concerning demands for extended transition periods from certain member states like India.

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Concerns and Perspectives

While there is momentum towards reaching an agreement, concerns linger among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding the leniency of exemptions. NGOs advocate for a clearer prohibition to ensure the effectiveness of the agreement in preserving marine ecosystems. Despite differing viewpoints, the consensus remains that any agreement, even with its imperfections, is preferable to none.

Agriculture on the Agenda

Apart from fisheries, agriculture emerges as another key area of discussion at the WTO conference. Member states are eager to address domestic measures distorting trade, with a focus on market access, export competition, and restrictions. Food security, particularly regarding public stockholding of food, remains a contentious issue, with India leading calls for a permanent solution. However, disagreements persist, hindering convergence on an agriculture agreement.

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WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala emphasizes the importance of delivering an agricultural outcome at MC13, despite the lack of consensus. The complexities surrounding public stockholding pose significant challenges, highlighting the need for continued dialogue and cooperation among member states. While the road ahead may be fraught with obstacles, the commitment to addressing critical issues in global trade highlights the significance of the WTO ministerial conference.