Important Deals Struck
WTO Ministerial Conference is its top decision-making body and usually meets every two years. Also, it is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. Following Covid-19 postponements, it is its first ministerial conference in nearly five years.
Outcome of 12th Ministerial Conference:
Fisheries: Removal of subsidies will hurt fishers. But, since 2001, WTO’s member states have been negotiating the banning of subsidies that promote overfishing. So, countries like India demand exceptions for their fishing industry. This time, India and other developing countries could win some concessions in this agreement.
Agreement on Global Food Security: In light of the global food shortages and rising prices caused by the war between Ukraine and Russia, a declaration was issued that they would avoid bans on food exports.
But countries like India want assurances that its public stock-holding program, which buys exclusively from the nation’s farmers and has exported in the past, cannot be challenged at the WTO as illegal.
Agreement on E-commerce Transactions: WTO members first agreed in 1998, when the internet was still relatively new, not to levy customs duties on electronic transmissions. Since then, the moratorium has been periodically extended. However, all members agreed to continue the long-standing moratorium on customs duties on e-commerce transmissions until the subsequent Ministerial Conference or until 31st March 2024, depending on whichever comes first. Since digital trade is currently dominated by big tech and developed countries, the moratorium squarely favors the developed nations. The extension was opposed on the grounds that developing countries have been losing revenue.
Agreement on ‘Covid-19’ Vaccine Production: WTO members agreed to waive intellectual property patents on Covid-19 vaccines temporarily. It will allow the developing countries to produce and export Covid vaccines. Rich pharmaceutical companies strongly oppose this. On the other hand, advocacy groups criticized the WTO waiver for being too narrow in scope, as it did not cover all medical tools such as diagnostics and treatments.
WTO Reform: Notably, they committed to working towards having a well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024.