ARTICLE6 December 2021

WTO Ministerial Conference postponed - a lost opportunity or an opportunity to reach the goal 

The WTO is the primary enabler of rules-based international trade. However, several parts of the organisation urgently need to be modernised if it is to remain relevant in the future. 

Photo: WTO

Trade rules that have not been updated or finalised for 20 years, a non-functioning Appellate Body and geopolitical tensions creeping into the negotiating rooms are just some of the challenges that currently face the WTO. Last week, member countries were supposed to meet in Geneva for the major MC12 ministerial conference; however, Swiss-imposed travel restrictions and another surge in global contagion saw this meeting postponed once again.

Expectations of any significant progress ahead of the meeting were already limited, but even if the decision to cancel was the right one, it remains a major loss for progress in world trade. For Swedish business, it is now important that advances continue to be made in key negotiations in order to create a sense of optimism until such times as the MC12 conference can finally take place.

Earlier this spring, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise set out its priorities for the WTO for 2021 and beyond. In this, we highlight - among other things - the need for reform of the organisation, the importance of updated rules in areas such as digital and trade in services, and clearer rules for industrial subsidies. The majority of the priorities we mention in our agenda were highly relevant in the run-up to the MC12, and will remain so in the future. Some of these are of particular importance now.

First, the WTO needs to be reformed. This includes strengthening the role of the WTO Secretariat in negotiations and monitoring, re-establishing a functioning Appellate Body, and reviewing the challenges relating to the principle of Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) for developing countries. It is also important to strengthen structured cooperation between the WTO and the business community. On this theme, we have developed five concrete proposals - in partnership with 13 other business organisations - on how to improve the productivity of this dialogue.

The WTO rulebook is largely outdated and needs to be refreshed, particularly the rules for trade in services, digital trade and trade and environment. Therefore, we welcome the conclusion of the negotiations on Domestic Services Regulation that will ease the time-consuming and bureaucratic procedures for services traders. These negotiations may sound trivial, but they have the potential to deliver a major positive impact on the trade in services. It is also important that the existing moratorium, which guarantee duty-free access for electronic transmissions, is extended beyond the MC12. In addition, we hope to see further progress in the negotiations on an e-commerce agreement and on investment facilitation.

Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of functioning international trade, not least in health-related goods, components for vaccine production and related services. From the business side, it is therefore desirable that the member countries succeed in presenting constructive proposals for how various export restrictions and trade barriers for these goods and services can be avoided in the future, within the framework of the Trade and Health Initiative.

The MC12 will continue to be a golden opportunity for member countries to demonstrate the ongoing relevance and importance of the WTO as an enabler of rules-based international trade. The meeting may have been postponed indefinitely, but the need in Swedish business for modern trade rules remains. Therefore, it is more important than ever that business, and other stakeholders, engage to ensure the momentum is maintained.

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Contact our EU Office

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Rue du Luxembourg 3
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Subscribe to our Swedish newsletter
Contact our EU Office

Address

Rue du Luxembourg 3
BE-1000 Bruxelles
Subscribe to our Swedish newsletter
Contact our EU Office

Address

Rue du Luxembourg 3
BE-1000 Bruxelles
Subscribe to our Swedish newsletter
Publisher and editor-in-chief Anna Dalqvist