|Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados at Geneva, Dr. Marion Williams.|
The Eighth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was held in Geneva, Switzerland, from December 15 – 17. Barbados, which was led by Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Barbados at Geneva, Dr. Marion Williams, was among the 153 WTO Members represented at the Conference.?? CARICOM was well represented, with the CARICOM Ministerial spokesperson, Minister of Trade and Industry, Trinidad and Tobago, Stephen Cadiz, also serving as one of the three Vice Chairs.??
The event was billed as a ???regular’ Ministerial Conference and, as such, did not include negotiations under the current Doha Development Agenda.?? It nonetheless, took a number of decisions to guide the work of the WTO in 2012 and welcomed the addition of four new Members – the Russian Federation, Vanuatu, Samoa and Montenegro.??
Seven decisions were adopted, including the extension of the moratorium on Non-Violation and Situation Complaints with respect to the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs).?? With this extension, no WTO member, on the basis that it has been deprived of an expected benefit because of an action of the Barbados Government or because of any other situation that exists in Barbados, can bring an action against the Barbados Government in the Dispute Settlement Body in instances where the TRIPS Agreement has not been violated. ??
The Conference also adopted the decision on the Work Programme on Small Economies, where Ministers re-affirmed the commitment and instructed the Committee on Trade and Development in Dedicated Session, "…to continue monitoring the progress of the Small Vulnerable Economies (SVE) proposals in WTO bodies and negotiating groups with the aim of providing responses, as soon as possible, to the trade-related issues identified for the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies in an appropriate manner in the multilateral trading system."
The Committee was also mandated to identify the effects of non-tariff measures on Small Economies.??
Barbados, as the coordinator of the Group of SVEs, has been leading the advocacy for enhanced special differential treatment for these countries.?? Among the special and differential treatment flexibilities gained to date are lower tariff reduction commitments in the agriculture and industrial products and special flexibilities in the area of services.????
Barbados and other SVEs remain vigilant to ensure that these stabilised flexibilities are not undermined as discussions continue towards the conclusion of the Doha negotiations. The recent Conference decision on providing responses to the fuller integration of SVEs into the multilateral trading system is important insofar as Small, Vulnerable Economies are seeking flexibilities in the areas of Fisheries Subsidies and Trade Facilitation.?? In addition, the mandated study on non-tariff measures will involve the identification of the measures affecting the barriers to exports from Barbados and other SVEs. ??This is a first step towards the removal of such barriers.????
Barbados, in its statement to the Conference, delivered on December 16, endorsed the view that the development focus of the WTO should be enhanced.?? The importance of trade to development was noted, as was the need for fiscal space in maintaining macroeconomic stability.
Prior to the start of the Conference, the Group of SVEs held a Ministerial and Heads of Delegation meeting on December 15, 2011. The meeting resulted in the issuance of a Declaration which reiterated the importance of fair and equitable rules based on a multilateral trading system and recognised the challenges facing the world economic environment and the difficulties in concluding the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations in the near future.?? SVEs also called on Members to show the necessary political will to conclude the DDA negotiations and to translate commitments into concrete action, with priority given to the modalities in favour of the SVEs.
The Group of SVEs has made significant strides since the launch of WTO negotiations in 2001.?? They now have proposals in all the major negotiating areas and have established cooperation and support arrangements within the G33, the G20, the ACP and the Group of Friends of Development.
The Conference closed on December 17, with the Chair, Federal Minister of Trade and Investment, Nigeria, Mr. Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, summarising that among the key issues raised by delegations throughout the Conference were: keeping markets open and resisting protectionism; the current global challenges; the WTO dispute settlement system; accessions; regional trade agreements; food security and the Doha Round negotiations.??
Minister Aganga noted that the Conference was significant as it had produced some positive decisions, had sent a strong collective message that the WTO is more than ever important to the world, and had seen some constructive dialogue on the WTO’s atmosphere and outlook.