WTO Ministerial concludes – Anything to cheer for LDCs?

by Matthias Bruckner*

The 11th WTO Ministerial Conference concluded in Buenos Aires on 13 December. Overall, the Ministerial highlighted the current difficulties faced by the multilateral trading system, and multilateralism in general. The WTO Secretary-General afterwards noted “We can’t deliver at every Ministerial”, as WTO Members closed without agreeing on a joint Declaration.

Expectations were low already before the Ministerial started, but LDCs still hoped to make progress in key areas of interest to them. For example, the LDC group was trying to reinvigorate talks about making special and differential treatment (SDT) for LDCs and developing countries effective. Together with other developing countries, LDCs proposed negotiating SDTs in ten priority areas (e.g., technology transfer, LDC accession and investment measures), but discussions ended without any agreement on a way forward. LDCs, in particular the “Cotton 4” (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali) had also aimed for progress in imposing disciplines on subsidies by other cotton producing countries that could prevent LDCs to access markets fairly. However, as for all other aspects of agricultural trade, there is not even agreement on future work in the area.

A third area of key interest for LDCs was fishery subsidies. In many LDCs, fisheries are critical for food security, livelihoods and economic activity. Effective regulations addressing subsidies to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing as well as overfishing in general could be highly beneficial for LDCs, if they take the need and capacities of LDCs into account. While many had hoped the Ministerial would lead already to tangible results, Members at least decided to remain active at the negotiating table and to conclude these negotiations by 2019.

The Ministerial also set up a working party to negotiate the accession of South Sudan to the WTO, raising to eight the number of LDCs in the process of accession to the WTO. Overall, though, there is hardly anything to cheer for LDCs. Trade still promises to be key in moving LDCs towards sustainable development. But with the multilateral system under threat and domestic productive capacities often lacking, fulfilling this promise may become increasingly difficult.

*The content, findings, interpretations, and conclusions as expressed in this article reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations.

Additional information

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