Documents considered by the Committee on 17 January 2018 Contents

6World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny (decision reported on 06/12/2017); drawn to the attention of the International Trade Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Council Decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the EU in the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation as regards public stockholding for food security purposes, trade-distorting domestic support, including for cotton, export restrictions in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, and SMEs/Transparency of Regulatory Measures for Trade in Goods

Legal base

Articles 207(4), 218(9) TFEU

Department

International Trade

Document Number

(39234), 14474/17, COM(17) 668

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

6.1The 11th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC11) took place in Buenos Aires on 10–13 December 2017. The Ministerial Conference is the WTO’s highest decision-making body and meets every two years.

6.2There were five main areas of discussion at MC11: public stockholding for food security purposes; trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture, including for cotton; export restrictions in agriculture; elimination of certain fisheries subsidies; domestic regulation in services; and transparency of regulatory measures for trade in goods.

6.3Agreement was not reached in any of the five main areas of discussion, but various ministerial decisions making commitments to further work were agreed, covering: fisheries subsidies; electronic commerce; TRIPS81 non-violation and situation complaints; a work programme on small economies; and the creation of a working party on accession for South Sudan. A number of initiatives were agreed among groupings of WTO Members.

6.4The Commission had prepared a draft Council Decision in order to reach a combined EU consensus at MC11 in each of the proposed areas of discussion. Ultimately, no Council Decision was required as there were no agreements. The Council did, however, adopt two sets of Conclusions.82

6.5The Minister for Trade Policy (Greg Hands) has written to the Committee, explaining the outcome of the meeting. His response is set out below. While regretting the lack of significant advances at a multilateral level, the Minister is nevertheless pleased with some of the progress made among groupings of WTO Members. He considers that MC11 has provided a good basis from which to carry on important discussions to advance global trade.

6.6We reproduce below the text of the letter received from the Minister. While we require no further action from the Government, we consider the discussions at MC11 are likely to be of interest to the House given the increased focus on the WTO as the UK exits the EU. The relative success of initiatives at the plurilateral level (agreements among groupings of WTO Members) compared to the multilateral approach (consensus among all Members) is of note. The document has already been cleared from scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the International Trade Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Council Decision on the position to be taken on behalf of the EU in the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation as regards public stockholding for food security purposes, trade-distorting domestic support, including for cotton, export restrictions in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, domestic regulation in services, and SMEs/Transparency of Regulatory Measures for Trade in Goods: (39234), 14474/17, COM(17) 668.

Background

6.7Prior to the Conference, negotiations were ongoing in relation to:

6.8In the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum of 30 November, the Minister noted the uncertainty over the outcome but also stated that a successful outcome would strengthen the WTO as the arbiter of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

6.9The UK position on the specific issues was:

6.10The Committee cleared the document from scrutiny at its meeting of 6 December in order not to fetter the UK position in Buenos Aires. In doing so, the Committee wrote to the Government requesting a letter on the outcome of MC11.

Letter from the Minister dated 22 December

6.11The Minister regrets that it was not possible to make significant advances at a multilateral level at MC11. He observes that MC11 was nevertheless able to deliver a number of important outcomes in a challenging context and sets out the details in the following terms:

“The Ministerial Conference concluded with ministerial decisions on fisheries subsidies, on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints, a work programme on small economies and the creation of the working party on accession for South Sudan. It agreed to maintain the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions for a further two years. Furthermore, a number of initiatives were launched among groupings of WTO Members seeking to advance discussions with like-minded countries in plurilateral settings.

“A key priority for the UK at MC11 was to see progress in the discussion on digital trade. We therefore welcome the decision of 70 countries led by Australia, Japan and Singapore to look at ways of making digital trade easier across the world. These discussions will be open to all members and recognise the specific challenges faced by developing countries and LDCs and micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs).

“Further groupings of WTO Members agreed to advance discussions on domestic regulation in services, investment facilitation and SMEs. We welcomed the addition of China and Russia as co-sponsors of the proposal in domestic regulation, which would facilitate services trade. Although a multilateral outcome was not possible at MC11, all 59 co-sponsors agreed to accelerate multilateral discussions.

“On investment facilitation, 70 WTO members announced plans to pursue structured discussions with the aim of developing a multilateral framework on investment facilitation. The proponents, including the EU, China, Brazil, Russia, Japan and several developing economies, agreed to meet early in 2018 to discuss how to organise this. These talks will not cover market access, investment protections, or investor-state dispute settlement. Signatories encouraged all WTO members to participate actively in this work.

“58 WTO Members agreed to create an Informal Working Group on micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) at the WTO. This group will continue to strive for a multilateral outcome aimed at establishing a formal work programme for MSMEs at the next Ministerial Conference. The Informal Working Group is a forum in which discussions on the EU’s proposal for a Ministerial Decision on greater transparency of regulatory measures for trade in goods, which did not generate consensus among WTO Members when tabled in the market access negotiating group, could be taken forward.

“A further priority was to advance support for women’s economic empowerment. In the margins of MC11, 118 WTO Members adopted a Joint Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. The first of its kind, the declaration seeks to enhance the participation of women in trade.

“MC11 has therefore provided a good basis from which to carry on important discussions to advance global trade. The UK will work closely with the EU and other WTO Members to ensure that the momentum behind these initiatives is maintained in 2018.

“In the margins of MC11, the UK announced £18 million funding from the Department for International Development which will help 51 of the world’s poorest countries produce products fit for export, trade more easily across borders and access untapped new markets which have the potential to create thousands of jobs and lift their citizens out of poverty.

“£16.25 million of the funding will go to the WTO’s Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) programme, which helps governments and businesses build the capacity, infrastructure and policies needed to successfully export and trade. A further £2 million will go to the WTO’s Standards and Trade Development Facility which helps developing countries meet international agricultural standards, enabling them to export more produce.”

6.12The UK’s national statement83 and the two sets of Council Conclusions84 adopted at MC11 were attached to the letter.

Previous Committee Reports

None.


81 Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

82 Outcome of the Council Meeting, 3585th Council meeting, Foreign Affairs (Trade issues) 10–13 December 2017.

84 Outcome of the Council Meeting, 3585th Council meeting, Foreign Affairs (Trade issues) 10–13 December 2017.




19 December 2018