The UK spoke on a variety of agenda items at the World Trade Organization General Council on 6 – 7 March 2023.
Let me start by echoing many others who are paying tribute to those arriving and departing, particularly to Ambassador Spencer who is leaving us with typical eloquence. Kingston’s gain is very much Geneva’s loss. I think she has always kept her eyes on the prize and certainly has been moulding consensus in this organisation for her time here and she will be much missed.
Looking to our agenda, it’s absolutely right that, as we did at TNC [Trade Negotiations Committee] we look ahead to where we want to be in a year’s time, amidst the glories of the UAE, trying to have a successful MC13 and in doing so, have a sense of what we want to achieve at MC13 and the agenda which we wish to set. And we very much support the DG in looking to an agenda that is green, that’s digital, that services, and is inclusive. As our Chinese colleague reminded us earlier, in doing so, I think we have to be alive to what is happening outside of this organisation as well. And in that respect, let me welcome the Global Oceans Treaty agreed yesterday, which of course builds on what we achieved in this organisation just last June in the able hands of the gentleman up on the stage today [Santiago Wills, former Chair of the Fisheries negotiations, now Director TNC Division, WTO].
As we look ahead, we obviously have to build on those very successful retreats we’ve had including the development retreat. And as my good friend George [Amb. Australia] (who is about to follow me and probably take any of the good lines I would otherwise have used) said just last week, we have done a lot of retreating and now the time is for a little bit of advancing and to build on those discussions. So let me thank those who have put forward practical proposals, whether they be India or the LDCs or the Latin Americans, in terms of how we can actually reform by doing in this organisation; how we can improve the quality of our work, right across the piece.
Just on the Indian proposals I think we, like others, recognise the importance of them. We need to think about how we use the CTD [Committee on Trade for Development] that doesn’t duplicate or undermine other bodies in this organisation; and how we ensure that in the work of all the Committees of this organisation, we advance with a view to the development perspectives which we have in each and every body of this organisation.
Let me also pay tribute to our EU partners and friends for the proposals they have brought forward today. I think it’s a really important idea; there are a lot of really important themes we need to consider in this organisation. It is right that we need to think about the diverse and complex forms of state intervention that we now experience in the global economy and how we consider those within this organisation and with others. And there is some great work in the secretariat with the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD in this regard and, having consulted very carefully with the CTE [Committee for Trade and Environment] Chair, I think it is really noteworthy that we’ve got some very practical ideas here for taking forward the work of that organisation. Again, going back to where I started with the Global Ocean Treaty, there is really important work that is being done outside this organisation: this latest Treaty but also COP15 in Montreal in December, work which identifies things that we need to be taking forward in trade policy and trying to bring that back here into this House and work out how we can contribute to sustainable development. I think it’s a real key task for this organisation as we prepare for MC13.
“I would like to thank the facilitator for her work and the update just now. We welcome very much discussions under the Work Programme so far which are delivering on the mandate from MC12. We are pleased to see a high level of engagement from all Members, especially developing countries and LDCs. The UK has been pleased to share its experience on consumer protection and telecommunication policy issues in recent meetings. We think that the Work Programme is a valuable forum for exchanging information, experience and best practice on key Ecommerce policy issues. We should explore ways in which we could deepen discussions moving forward, and we very much support the facilitator in involving, as has been suggested, other international organisations and businesses into Work Programme discussions. We look forward, also, to discussions on the customs duty moratorium in April at the meeting of the Work Programme. And it’s well-known: the discussion must be focused on the need to move forwards and not backward at MC13.
The UK has indicated flexibility on the deadline for concluding negotiations on Paragraph 8 of the MC12 TRIPS decision and places high importance on the inclusive processes to resolve procedural ambiguity in Therapeutics and Diagnostics discussions. The UK supports robust, evidence-based policy making in TRIPS Council and encourages members to remain cognisant of the precedent which actions set now and for future negotiations, and the bearing outcomes will have on business confidence in the international system to innovate, invest and collaborate.
Small and Vulnerable Economies (SVEs)
Just to briefly say we really welcome Mauritius and Guatemala bringing this issue to our attention, and thanks to the many colleagues who have highlighted the particular issues that SVEs face. We are very keen on engaging on this issue and we recognise the particular trade challenges that SVEs, including SIDs, face and we need to take forward that work in the dedicated session later this month. I would just say, for those of you that have not spotted already, that in our own International Development Strategy we have set out an ambition, an ambition that by 2030 those Small Island Developing States, the SIDs, would have the economic and climate resilience not only to graduate from ODA with sustainable economies but also to withstand economic and climate shocks. And I think trade policy, including the work we do in this organisation, has a really crucial role to play in this respect.
Thank you very much for the report and for all the work that lies behind the efforts to bring Comoros and Timor Leste to accession. I think we should take some pride in the fact that quite so many countries wish to join this organisation. Which, I think, I hope, reflects the fact that by joining this organisation their trade will increase, their prosperity will increase. That is a good thing, and we occasionally tie ourselves up in knots about it but it’s a positive thing and let me just say, we are trying to help this process. We are providing technical assistance targeted at Uzbekistan’s accessions process and we are actively engaged with Tashkent on that. And we also held a really positive joint round table in Addis Ababa with the Economic Commission for Africa on Ethiopia’s accession, and I think out of that came a really strong commitment from everybody to restart that accession process and work to support Ethiopia’s accession. I think that is very positive, not only in of itself, but also as part of the broader peace effort in Ethiopia so thank you very much and I think this is a good news story.
I would like to start by thanking the Ambassador of Djibouti for the proposal and the Ambassador of Togo for presenting, and thank Bangladesh for their tireless work and flexibility to try and achieve an outcome on this proposal. As George reminded us, graduating out of LDC status is a success; it shows that your participation in this organisation is working and helping you develop as a country, but it is right, as we have been trying to work out how to do, that we ensure that that graduation process works properly for the countries concerned. I hesitate to use the words ‘quick wins’ in this organisation, but this does appear to be one of those things which should be a ‘quick win’. We just haven’t won it quickly enough. But it is certainly something that we should be trying to deliver before or at MC13, a low-hanging fruit which should be part of that harvest, that we hope to reap in Abu Dhabi. Obviously, as others have said, the primary issue here is where we discuss this. To be honest, for us, we don’t really mind, but we are very happy to support the LDC request to move this proposal to the LDC sub-committee and we very much hope that by doing so we will be able to come to a swift conclusion on this important issue.
We thank Cameroon for introducing the paper, and officials in capital are reading it with interest and an open mind, as many others are. We agree with many points in the paper, particularly around the importance of multilateralism and that the WTO as a multilateral institution has to be relevant and responsive to the problems faced by all Members, and we recognise that many of the areas raised in the paper are of high interest to Members in this room. We also recognise that this is one of a number of contributions that we are having in this debate, and we note, as others have, the parallels with the EU paper which we saw under Item 2. And in particular we saw the importance of making the WTO fit for purpose, avoiding unilateralism and subsidy races. So we look forward on engaging on this going forward. Thank you.