4 Mar 2024 12:38

WTO conference confirms intention to agree on dispute resolution reform in 2024

ABU DHABI. March 4 (Interfax) - The final declaration passed at the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Abu Dhabi includes a commitment to agree on reforms to the body's dispute resolution system in 2024.

Russia took part in the ministerial conference as a full-fledged member for the fifth time. The Russian delegation was led by Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov.

The conference was initially scheduled for February 26-29, but the final session was repeatedly postponed due to the lack of agreement on a number of issues, foremost over India's position on agricultural issues, so it ultimately only concluded on March 2.

"WTO members concluded the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi on 2 March with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration setting out a forward-looking, reform agenda for the organization. Ministers also took a number of ministerial decisions, including renewing the commitment to have a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system by 2024 [...]," the WTO said in a statement.

"On the joint ministerial declaration, we consider our objectives fulfilled. We prevented the attempts of our opponents to legalize the use of trade barriers under the watchwords of climate and environmental policy. This doesn't mean that the attempts will not continue. This matter will clearly become one of the main lines of tension in Geneva in the next two years," Reshetnikov told reporters.

He also said Russia managed to persuade opponents to extend the moratorium on imposing duties on electronic transmissions until the next conference, although in future this matter might need new approaches.

Another significant result of the conference was the conclusion of a plurilateral agreement on investment, with 123 of the WTO's 166 members signing on, including Russia. A number of countries still do not allow it to be formally included in the body of WTO rules.

"But the broad support shows that the emergence of standard multilateral rules in the area of investment is a matter of time," Reshetnikov said.

In addition, two new members joined the WTO, East Timor and the Comoros.

However, WTO members have not yet managed to reach a consensus on two of the most acute points on the agenda - the program for future negotiations in the agricultural sector and fishing subsidies.

"While on the first matter agreements were virtually unreachable at this conference, on the second we were close to success," Reshetnikov said. "Virtually the whole text was agreed. The sticking point was the amount of subsidies that developing countries were fighting for," he said.

Negotiations on both issues will continue in the next two years until MC14, but from different starting positions, he said.

"On fishing subsidies there is a text that is at a high degree of readiness. On agriculture, despite the fact that all problems are longstanding, the approaches to their resolution are so polar that common ground is not discernable," Reshetnikov said.