The Road to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12)

November 12, 2021

First, MC12 is being seen as a crucial opportunity by developing countries to secure a waiver of TRIPS obligations that can facilitate an inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the U.S. has indicated some support for a temporary waiver, the EU proposes use of existing TRIPS flexibilities as an alternative.

Second, MC12 follows on the heels of a relatively successful UNFCCC COP-26 that was held in Glasgow, Scotland. The success of MC12 will also be measured by comparing how the WTO fares in formulating and revising international norms on new issues.

A perusal of recent developments shows an evident preference for plurilateral forms of negotiations through Joint Statement Initiatives or Informal Working Groups. On the other hand, legacy issues that primarily affect developing countries continue to hit roadblocks. On the plurilateral front, progress has been noticed in work related to Micro, Small and Mediumsized Enterprises (MSMEs); new disciplines for services domestic regulation that aim to facilitate services trade; and investment facilitation. Multilaterally, some consensus has emerged on the integration of small economies into the world trading system. Bridging divides in the negotiations on fisheries subsidies remains a challenge.

However, it remains to be seen if MC12 will act as the fork in the road, determining how pressing issues of e-commerce, services, digital goods, health access and environment sustainability will be addressed in the future. Will the future trade agenda be forged through broad based consensus or fragmentated paths? Any Ministerial Declaration at MC12 will be closely examined for its repercussions for the developing world, and for the future of the WTO.

This is the second edition of CUTS Occasional News Wrap (ONW) in the run-up to MC12, capturing diverse views expressed on the subject. This ONW is categorised into two sections:

  • News and developments at the WTO leading up to MC12
  • Perspectives on trade issues leading up to MC12