Current Business Matters | 13th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi

This month's piece delves into the 13th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi. Gain insights into the challenges facing the WTO amidst an election-heavy year and its crucial role in fostering stable economic prosperity.

The 13th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC13) occurred between 26-29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Representatives from countries worldwide convened to assess the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system and strategize future initiatives for the World Trade Organization (WTO). Currently, 75 percent of world trade is still subject to WTO rules. H.E. Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the Minister of State for Foreign Trade in the UAE led the conference. The Ministerial Conference serves as the highest decision-making authority within the WTO, as mandated by the Marrakesh Agreement (1994) which established the organization, requiring members to convene at least once every two years. These gatherings draw participation from trade ministers and other high-ranking officials representing the 164 member nations of the WTO. The Conference was opened by introducing two countries to the WTO, Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Comoros.

The E-Commerce Moratorium was extended until 2026. The moratorium has been extended since 1998 in two-year increments. Ministers endorsed a Ministerial Decision directing the General Council to conduct regular assessments of the E-commerce Work Program, aiming to formulate actionable recommendations for consideration at future Ministerial Conference. Contrary to the robust and comprehensive regulations guiding international trade in conventional goods, the governance surrounding electronic transmissions and digital commerce lacks permanence and strength. Unlike the structured framework promoting free and fair trade in physical products, there are no enduring principles of nondiscrimination or national treatment in place for digitally delivered products and services, resulting in unpredictability. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce emphasizes: “The moratorium, which has been in place for more than two decades, is vital to economic growth, job creation, and continued trade expansion”. However, many developing countries continue have reservations, as more and more physical goods such as books and videos, which were once subject to traditional tariff rules, are now available as digital services. The growing number of digital imports also means a massive loss of government revenue.

At MC13, ministers convened to evaluate the advancements made about reforming the WTO dispute settlement system and expressed gratitude for the strides taken thus far. A noteworthy development was the presentation of a comprehensive 36-page draft outlining reforms to the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism. This draft reflected the outcomes of an informal process led by Geneva-based officials with facilitator guidance. In response, a Ministerial Decision was enacted, urging these officials to expedite their discussions transparently and inclusively, capitalizing on the current momentum. Ministers restated their collective commitment to realizing a fully operational and efficient dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by the targeted year of 2024.

Ministers also adopted a Ministerial Decision to extend the moratorium on non-violation and situation complaints regarding the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The moratorium was extended until MC14. The TRIPS Agreement establishes baseline criteria for safeguarding copyrights and related rights, trademarks, geographical indications (GIs), industrial designs, patents, integrated circuit layout designs, and undisclosed information. This is noteworthy as Ministers opposed any further extension of the TRIPS waiver (moratorium). 

AmCham’s Position
Significant tasks lie ahead for the WTO leading up to the forthcoming Ministerial conference slated to take place in Cameroon. The timeline for achieving a reform of the dispute settlement mechanism was established by the conclusion of the 12th Ministerial Conference, with a deadline set for the end of 2024. This goal has been reiterated during MC13, emphasizing the importance of meeting the 2024 deadline. However, navigating through the complexities of an election-heavy year adds further challenges to this endeavor.

All decisions within the WTO must be directed towards not only stimulating economic growth but also fostering stable and sustainable economic prosperity. The WTO plays a crucial role in facilitating a dynamic and inclusive global trading environment that promotes the competitiveness of economies worldwide. By creating a conducive ecosystem for international trade, the WTO endeavors to enhance market access, promote fair competition, and facilitate the smooth flow of goods and services across borders. The WTO's actions during this pivotal super election year, especially regarding the enforcement of trade rules, will play a crucial role in its ability to serve as a tool for enhancing transatlantic relations. 

For more detailed information please contact:

Heather Liermann

Head of Department

Membership Engagement & Development