GENEVA – Ahead of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 12th Ministerial Conference, Ambassador Katherine Tai urged Members to reach concrete, meaningful outcomes on key issues. After years of stalled progress, she urged Members to come together around shared priorities at this important moment in the WTO’s history.
After a week of long negotiations, the WTO announced a package of outcomes that will make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of people around the world. This represents the first set of multilateral agreements produced by the WTO in nearly a decade, and demonstrates how the organization can remain relevant in today’s international trading system.
Below are highlights from this year’s 12th Ministerial Conference:
- A Necessary Intellectual Property Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: In May 2021, Ambassador Tai announced that the Biden Administration would support a waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in order to facilitate a global health recovery. After difficult and protracted negotiations throughout the last year, WTO Members came together to reach an agreement that will help get safe and effective vaccines to those who need it most.
- A Groundbreaking Fisheries Outcome: For two decades, WTO Ministers debated how to address the use of harmful subsidies in the fisheries sector. The WTO’s Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies will prohibit subsidies to those engaged in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. Notably, the Agreement also represents a step forward in curbing the use of forced labor on fishing vessels, which the United States will continue to work to combat in negotiations moving forward.
- Extending a Moratorium on Electronic Commerce: Electronic and digital commerce has expanded and evolved throughout the pandemic. As more small- and medium-sized businesses rely on e-commerce to support their operations, WTO Ministers agreed to extend the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.
- A Commitment to Improving Global Food Security: WTO Members also sent a clear message that trade is a key part of the solution to ensuring global food security by committing to both short- and long-term actions aimed at strengthening the resilience of global agricultural markets. WTO Members delivered a Ministerial Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity and a Ministerial Decision on World Food Program Food Purchases Exemptions from Export Prohibitions or Restrictions. In addition, through adoption of the SPS Declaration: Responding to Modern SPS Challenges, WTO Members have embraced the opportunity to look ahead at how the SPS Agreement can help facilitate safe trade, as well as support innovation and sustainable productivity growth in agriculture to feed a growing global population.
The United States is also committed to engaging in a broader conversation with fellow Members on how to make the World Trade Organization more relevant to the needs of regular people.
During this ministerial, Ambassador Tai emphasized the importance of holding open and inclusive reform conversations that promote equity and fairness among all WTO Members.
The WTO remains the preeminent organization at the center of the multilateral trading system. The United States believes reforming it for the better will ensure it can continue to deliver on its foundational ambitions to advance the rights of workers, uphold environmental protections and safeguards, and deliver economic prosperity to all.