Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

The World Trade Organization commenced its 13th ministerial conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on Monday, stressing the imperative of consensus amid escalating geopolitical tensions and the upcoming US election, which pose significant obstacles to major breakthroughs.

Held in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, this conference marks the first in two years for the WTO, aiming for advancements in critical areas such as fishing, agriculture, and electronic commerce.

Achieving substantial agreements remains challenging within the WTO’s framework, which necessitates unanimous consent among its 164 member states, a formidable task given the current global climate. Compounding these challenges are ongoing conflicts, including the war in Gaza and attacks by Yemeni rebels on Red Sea ships, disrupting maritime trade on a global scale.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged trade ministers to strive for consensus during the Abu Dhabi meeting, acknowledging the prevailing uncertainties and instabilities worldwide. Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the heightened complexity compared to two years prior, emphasizing the urgency for collective action in navigating global challenges.

Amid the backdrop of economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions, WTO’s General Council Chairperson, Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme, emphasized the paramount importance of addressing global challenges collectively. Notably, the last ministerial meeting in Geneva in 2022 witnessed landmark agreements, including the ban on harmful fisheries subsidies and a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.

While replicating past successes poses considerable challenges, negotiations on critical issues such as fisheries, agriculture, and e-commerce are ongoing. Additionally, efforts to reform the dispute settlement system, disrupted during the Trump administration, remain on the agenda, with pressure mounting ahead of potential policy shifts following the US election.

Despite uncertainties surrounding major reforms, hopes for progress on smaller fronts persist, particularly regarding aid for developing countries. The expected acceptance of new WTO members, Comoros and East Timor, alongside agreements facilitating international investments in development, signal potential advancements amid the complexities of global trade negotiations. However, the proliferation of plurilateral agreements underscores concerns regarding the fragmentation of the global economy, highlighting the need for concerted efforts to uphold multilateral trade mechanisms.

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