WTO 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13)

The WTO 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) took place from 26 February to 2 March 2024 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Ministers from across the world attended to review the functioning of the multilateral trading system and to take action on the future work of the WTO. The Conference was chaired by H.E. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Trade.

Members adopted the Abu Dhabi Ministerial Declaration, where they committed to preserve and strengthen the ability of the multilateral trading system, with the WTO at its core, to respond to current trade challenges.

The Ministerial Declaration underlines the centrality of the development dimension in the work of the WTO, recognizing the role that the multilateral trading system can play in contributing towards the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. It also recognized the contribution of women's economic empowerment and women's participation in trade to economic growth and sustainable development.

The MC13 endorsed the accession to the WTO of two least-developed countries—Comoros and Timor-Leste. This brings the organization’s Membership to 166, representing 98 percent of world trade.

On dispute settlement reform, members recognized the progress made with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024. Ministers instructed officials to accelerate discussions, build on the progress already made, and work on unresolved issues.

Ministers adopted a Ministerial Decision that responds to a 23-year-old mandate to review special and differential treatment (S&DT) provisions for developing and least developed countries (LDCs) with a view to making them more precise, effective and operational. The decision also enhances training opportunities and endorses steps to make the S&DT provisions more effective and operational.

On electronic commerce, Ministers adopted a Ministerial Decision instructing the General Council to hold periodic reviews on the E-commerce Work Programme with a view to presenting recommendations for action to the Ministerial Conference. Members also agreed to maintain the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until the 14th Session of the Ministerial Conference (MC14) or 31 March 2026, whichever is earlier. The moratorium and the Work Programme will expire on that date. Ministers also adopted a Ministerial Decision to extend the moratorium on non-violation and situation complaints regarding the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until MC14.

At the MC13, Ministers also welcomed the progress over the past 20 months towards the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies entry into force. As of 1 March 2024, 71 Members had ratified the agreement. A further 39 ratifications are needed to reach the threshold of 110 for the agreement’s entry into force.  However, Agreement could not be reached on the remaining aspects of fisheries subsidies, i.e. the phasing out of subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. Work on these will continue post-MC13.

The Conference also reaffirmed its commitment to the work program on small economies with a view to seeking solutions to their trade concerns.  In particular, the work program would focus on:

  1. Challenges and opportunities for small economies in using e-commerce and digital ecosystem to drive competitiveness;
  2. Addressing the importance of resilient, accessible, open, reliable and transparent supply chains for small economies given food security issues, and the impact of non-tariff measures on trade costs;
  3. Exploring with other relevant WTO bodies how to integrate trade related climate change adaptation and mitigation policies into the trade policies of small economies.

On agriculture, despite the intense negotiations during MC13, members were not able to find convergence. Divergences remained on public stockholding (PSH) for food security purposes and in respect of timelines, expected outcomes and the scope of the flexibility to be provided to food imports by the most vulnerable countries from export restrictions.

MC13 also saw the entry into force of new disciplines on services domestic regulation, which is expected to lower trade costs by over USD 125 billion worldwide. Supported by 72 WTO members, this joint initiative is designed to facilitate services trade by streamlining and simplifying regulatory procedures. It includes the first-ever commitment in a WTO agreement to ensuring non-discrimination between men and women when they seek permits to supply services.

Additionally, Ministers representing 123 WTO members issued a Joint Ministerial Declaration marking the finalization of the Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) Agreement and made it available to the public.

In the sideline of MC 13, the WTO and the international trade centre (ITC) launched a 50 million of USD fund to support women entrepreneurs tap into international trade opportunities and the digital economy. The fund will assist women in Developing and Least Developed Countries adopt digital technology and expand online presence of their enterprises.

Sources : ITD

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