WTO Ministers hold Informal Meeting on Davos Sidelines

Alicia Nicholls

On January 20, 2017 Ministers and other high-level officials from twenty-nine (29) World Trade Organisation (WTO) member countries held an informal gathering on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s 47th Annual Meeting which took place last week in the beautiful ski resort town of Davos, Switzerland.

The attending ministers hailed from Asia, Africa, the US, European Union and Latin America, but none from the Caribbean. The meeting was chaired by Switzerland’s Federal Councillor, Johann Schneider-Ammann and involved discussion of the on-going negotiations before the WTO and the upcoming 11th WTO Ministerial which will take place this December in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

According to notes taken by the Chair, Ministers stressed the key role of the rules-based multilateral trading system, the priority of working towards further integration into world trade of developing countries, the importance of trade as an engine for growth and development,inter alia. They also identified several issues for further work in the lead up to the Buenos Aires Ministerial, including domestic support in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, special and differential treatment and a permanent solution for public stockholding for food security issues. The Ministers also identified several “new” issues for discussion.

Trade has been high on the political agenda due in the main to a growing popular backlash in western countries. As noted by Director-General Azevedo, some positive news is that the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement will ever closer to coming into force, with only 3 more ratifications needed. Nigeria delivered its instrument of ratification during the Davos Meeting, while member state of the Caribbean Community, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, also recently ratified the Agreement.

In attendance was also the WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo whose remarks  after the ministerial gathering may be viewed here. The Director-General noted that there was need for better domestic policies to support persons who had lost their jobs but also reinforced that attacking trade was not the answer. In reference to the increasing speculation of a looming trade war between Trump’s US and China, Mr. Azevedo cautioned that trade wars and protectionism would destroy jobs and urged “everyone to show caution and leadership. We must avoid talking ourselves into a crisis.”

Earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Mrs. Theresa May in her Davos Speech reiterated her desire for Britain to be a global leader in free trade and free markets.

The Personal Concluding Remarks by the Chair, Federal Councillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, Switzerland can be found on the WTO’s website here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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