WTO Ministerial conference: no breakthroughs, but moving forward

© AP Photo / Anja NiedringhausШтаб-apartment world Trade Organization. Archival photoWTO Ministerial conference: no breakthroughs, but moving forward© AP Photo / Anja Niedringhaus

The eleventh Ministerial conference of the WTO was a breakthrough — at its end was not even signed the traditional Declaration. After four days of work the participants are unable to come to consensus on any of the agenda items, except for the beginning of negotiations to reduce fisheries subsidies.

A number of Ministers signed four separate agreements on the continuation of further work on electronic Commerce, investment promotion, domestic regulation of services and support for small and medium businesses. The Russian delegation was one of the initiators of the adoption of these issues at the conference and put a lot of effort to ensure that the agreement was signed.

«One set of documents — those are taken by consensus, all 164 countries of the WTO. The second set of documents — this agreement, adopted only part of the participants. It does not split the WTO is an adequate reaction to what is happening and indicates that WTO is strong, and one or five countries cannot slow down their development because other countries can start negotiations on their own,» — told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, the Director of the Department of trade negotiations Ministry of economic development of Russia Maxim Medvedkov.

«The results of the big conference brought no results, but for Russia that we improve their role and status in the WTO is the main result», — said the head of the Ministry and the Russian delegation in Buenos Aires Maxim Oreshkin.

The lack of a breakthrough at the conference, he explained that the dynamics of the global economy and trade is now positive, so many countries don’t want to concede the position, as there is no need to work together to overcome problems.

Flexibility, wisdom and protection

Opening the conference on Sunday, December 10, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo urged the participating countries, primarily the United States, to show flexibility in the negotiations. Closing the conference on Thursday, he thanked all for their wisdom, noting that the results would be more efficient.

«It may be noted at the conference that the WTO has learned to adapt to difficult situations. And the situation that was before the conference, when all countries looked a completely different side and was a serious chance that there will be no agreements, still was overcome. Because agreements exist, and they define the fabric of the future WTO work on issues that Russia is fundamentally important,» — shared this position Medvedkov.

Reform of the WTO itself have been voiced by many participants at the plenary meeting but no decision was taken.

«The United States in the course of the conference, in my opinion, began to move in the right direction, very slowly and heavily. If at the beginning they just said «no» and offered nothing in return, now they either offer something in return, or explain why not. Not always again, it is slow going, but progress is obvious», — said Medvedkov.

On the eve of the conference have expressed the opinion that the growing US protectionism will be one of the topics for discussion in Buenos Aires, but this issue was not raised. On the contrary, in the conference USA, the EU and Japan signed a trilateral statement on joint efforts to fight protectionism. Who will fight these major markets — are not yet available. According to Oreshkin, their goal is not Russia, first and foremost they are directed at India and China.

The main disappointment

For many years agriculture was the stumbling block of the WTO. In Argentina, the Ministers also unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a continued decline in support for agriculture.

«Agriculture, perhaps, be called the most serious failure of the conference. During the negotiations WTO members have consistently reduced the level of their ambitions and expectations as to possible results,» — said Oreshkin.

According to him, at first, it became clear that it would be impossible to reach concrete agreements on any of the issues – from a reduction of agricultural support to the repeal of discriminatory protective measures.

After that, all focused on how to establish reference points for negotiations for the next two years.

«However, even this task failed because of fundamental disagreements around the issue of the amount of benefits which insist the developing countries. Thus for agriculture, the conference was unable to make any decisions», — stated the Russian Minister.

About 70 participants, including Russia, the US and the EU, signed a separate document, according to which in the first quarter of 2018 will begin big negotiations on the agreement on the regulation of electronic Commerce.

The start of negotiations on electronic Commerce is an important step, because many countries have no regulation in this sphere, including its security. «This is absolutely a historic event because it is a fundamentally new direction in the negotiating activities of the WTO», — said Medvedkov.

However, China, one of the leaders of online trading that has not signed this statement. «China came from the fact that it should be multilateral rules of the WTO. The absence of China in these negotiations does not invalidate them, it just means that the rules will be developed by another part of the world, but it will be a standard that all will follow» — said the Russian official. In the future, these talks will be open to all WTO countries.

WTO Ministerial conference: no breakthroughs, but moving forward© AP Photo / Martial TrezziniКитай urged the United States to meet its international obligations under the WTO»a Large number of countries joining the initiative is the result of our efforts, which we will continue after the Ministerial conference. Participation in negotiations will allow Russia to consolidate at the multilateral level, comfortable with the principles and rules regulating electronic Commerce», — says Oreshkin.

Focus what you say on the development of rules on safety of online consumers, development of national Internet sites, involving small and medium-sized businesses in online trade and the protection of intellectual property on the Internet.

The investment promotion

WTO Ministerial conference: no breakthroughs, but moving forward© RIA Novosti / Evgeny to Betemporary in photobacteria SCO will speak with one voice on the development of the WTO, said Oresciption agreement, which was signed by about 70 countries in the WTO, for the elaboration of unified rules for investment promotion. «Agreed to start consultations on the comprehensive agreement on investment promotion», — said the Director of the Department of economic development of Russia.

However, this topic will not be questions that are all concerned: market access, court procedures, nationalization and expropriation — the parts are pre-excluded from future negotiations.

«These consultations will begin in early 2018, so that by the next Ministerial conference in two years to do something. This agreement was signed, in particular, Russia, China, the EU, but has not signed USA, India and South Africa,» — said Medvedkov.

«Russia was actually the first country to initiate in 2016 and discussions on investment facilitation in the WTO. The prospect of multilateral agreements in this area have involved us not only the opportunity to form a beneficial for our investors, the conditions of work abroad, but also enhance their own positions in the rating of investment attractiveness. Unfortunately, so far failed to reach consensus on this issue in the WTO», — said Oreshkin.

On the subject of regulation in the domestic service market is also significant results were achieved, the signatories only agreed to continue discussion of this issue.

Help to small business

WTO Ministerial conference: no breakthroughs, but moving forward© 2017 by AFP / Vietnam News Agency/ StringerСтраны APEC agreed to help improve Todeclaration to establish a working group on small and medium businesses to the WTO was signed by 60 participants, including the EU, China and Japan. The parties stressed the important role of small and medium enterprises in national economies, although it is insignificant in international trade.

«We need to involve the subjects of micro, small and medium enterprises in the multilateral trading system and to pay special attention to the problems of SMEs in the framework of the WTO», — stated in the Declaration.

According to Oreshkin, strengthening the foreign trade capacity of small and medium enterprises will contribute to the diversification of the Russian economy and increasing non-oil exports, as well as to identify barriers hampering their integration into international trade.

«The document was adopted with the active assistance of Russia… Russia’s Role as a participant in different kinds of negotiations during the last years increased, and now we groups in key areas will play an important role from the very beginning to create the conditions for the existence of the world trading system. And very important for Russia to participate in these discussions at the earliest stages to control the agenda, and not to be a country, which then will make this agenda», concluded the Minister.