The recently-held 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ended on a positive note for Barbados, other developing countries and lesser developed countries.

The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision making body of the WTO, and gives strategic direction and guidance to negotiations which take place at WTO???s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, significant gains were made in a number of areas, including agriculture, e-commerce and information technology.

At the end of the meeting, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, Senator McClean noted that ???most significant is the decision for developed countries to immediately eliminate export subsidies on all but a limited number of agricultural products.

???Developing countries will have until 2018 to do the same. Barbados and other Net Food Importing Developing Countries will still be allowed to provide marketing and transport costs for agriculture exports until the end of 2030,??? she disclosed.

She revealed that Ministers at the meeting also agreed to continue the practice of not applying tariffs to electronic transactions. Additionally, in an effort to maximise the possible benefits of participation in e-commerce, the WTO and its Members will continue to examine the effects of e-commerce on the trade and economic prospects of developing countries, notably on their small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Foreign Trade Minister stated that there has also been agreement by some 82 major exporters of information technology (IT) products to eliminate tariffs on 201 IT products.

Among the products covered in this agreement are new-generation semi-conductors, GPS navigation systems, medical products which include magnetic resonance imaging machines, machine tools for manufacturing printed circuits, telecommunications satellites and touch screens.

That agreement, which could provide an opportunity for exporters of IT products, also contains a commitment to work to tackle non-tariff barriers in the IT sector, and to keep the list of products covered under review to determine whether further expansion may be needed to reflect future technological developments.

Senator McClean further indicated that attention was given to the needs of the most vulnerable members of the organisation. ???The WTO has agreed to favourably consider the adoption of measures for the fuller integration of small vulnerable economies, like Barbados, in the multilateral trading system.

???The Ministers also decided to improve the participation of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) in global trade through the provision of enhanced preferential rules of origin, special treatment for LDC services providers and the treatment of cotton,??? she said.

Decisions were also made on the issues of public stockholding for food security purposes; Trade related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) non-violation and situation complaints; and a Special Safeguard Mechanism for developing countries. Trade Ministers also welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the accessions of Liberia and Afghanistan at the conference.

A number of development-related decisions were taken by Ministers at Nairobi and a substantial amount of effort was expended in order to secure the continuation of the Doha Development Agenda. It was agreed that members would continue the negotiations, keeping development at the centre of the work.

The 10th Ministerial Conference took place last December, and was the first to be held on the African continent. The 162 members of the WTO celebrated the 20th anniversary of the organisation, and Trade Ministers reaffirmed the pre-eminence of WTO as the global forum for the setting of trade rules.

Barbados??? delegation was led by Senator McClean, who addressed the Conference on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. Also present was Barbados??? Ambassador to the Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office and other International Organisations at Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Marion Williams.

Barbados, which currently coordinates the G90 and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) in Geneva, led these two groupings in the negotiation of the ???Nairobi package???. The G90 is the largest trading body in the WTO, and was formed as an umbrella body encompassing the ACP Group, the African Union, and the group of Least Developed Countries.

The WTO, an intergovernmental organisation which regulates international trade, officially commenced on January 1, 1995, under the Marrakesh Agreement. Its role includes the formulation and implementation of international trade rules; the provision of a forum for trade negotiations; the arbitration of trade disputes and the monitoring of national trade policies.

Author: Kim Ramsay-Moore/Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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