WTO members met on 2-3 February for focused discussions on the development dimension of the WTO’s reform agenda. The informal General Council meeting on WTO reform offered members an opportunity to kickstart an exchange on cross-cutting aspects of the development dimension with a view to finding mutually acceptable ways forward.
Following the opening session on 2 February, members had the opportunity to brainstorm in four smaller breakout groups. Members were asked how they view development in the WTO, how the opportunities in the WTO system can help members achieve their development objectives, and what challenges need to be addressed to ensure that all members are in the position to achieve these objectives.
Members regrouped on 3 February to hear reports from the facilitators of each of the breakout sessions on the discussions in the four groups. This was followed by a plenary session where 38 members took the floor to offer their views on the way forward.
“When developing countries prosper, this creates a huge opportunity for all, developing and developed, because you have more meaningful trade partnerships, and more meaningful strategic cooperation,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the members. “Let’s take this issue and let’s turn it into a positive that can help us move forward in this organization.”
WTO members agreed at the 12th Ministerial Conference last June to work towards reform of the WTO with the aim of improving all its functions. They agreed the work would address the interests of all members, including development issues.
The General Council and its subsidiary bodies will conduct the work, review progress, and consider decisions, as appropriate, to be submitted to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) due to take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February 2024.
In his concluding remarks, the General Council chair, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, welcomed the candid exchanges among members on the way forward.
“In my view, this has been a great start towards enabling development to permeate the WTO work and facilitate us in advancing in all areas,” he said. “Through your constructive participation, we have built good momentum in WTO reform work. My ask of you is to not let this momentum slip.”
“I think that we have made a significant step forward in our development discussions,” added Deputy Director-General Zhang, who moderated the plenary session.
“Amid the plethora of views shared today, I detect members’ commitment to build on these difficult but necessary discussions. There is a clear desire to advance together to enable the WTO to facilitate the achievement of members’ development objectives.”
At the opening session, the Director-General said the informal meeting marked a “significant step” in preparations for MC13 by addressing an issue that is “vital to unblocking many other areas of our negotiations.”
“Between now and MC13, we have an opportunity to deliver results that push back against fragmentation, boost the global economy, and assist all members, particularly the most vulnerable, to recover and build resilience for the future,” she said. “Finding workable solutions to the question of development is part of this parcel.