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World Trade Organization General Council May 2024: UK Statements

Item 2: Report by the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee and Report by the Director General and Item 3: Follow-Up to Outcomes of Ministerial Conferences

Congratulations, Chair. Thank you to all our departing colleagues. Welcome, good luck and good fortune to all our new colleagues. Let me first of all welcome all the changes you are making, Chair, to the handling of this General Council. I know your new, marvellous Singaporean bell ring changes within this organisation. In the spirit of trying to focus on that work, I am going to deal with agenda Items 2 and 3 at the same time.

I have three priorities. First of all, on fisheries, we came remarkably close in Abu Dhabi, and it was frustrating that we did not deliver that agreement there and then. But we do need to use every instrument at our disposal, so we do need to make progress. As we saw last night, a fabulous image of what MC14 is going to be like – singing, dancing, great food. We can and should make progress at MC14. We can and should make progress before the summer break. So, let us do the deal on fisheries before the European summer kicks in.

Secondly, E-Commerce. As you say DG, the future of this organisation, the future of global trade, is digital. It is services, it is inclusive, it is green. Let us bring home this agreement on the JI on E-Commerce and gavel an initial deal, both before and after the summer. We need to do everything we can to bring it home in the interests of businesses and consumers across the developing and developed world.

Lastly, IFD, one of the great achievements, if I may say so, of Abu Dhabi; the finalisation of that agreement, by and for and with developing nations. We talk about how this organisation can deliver for the developing world; IFD is a means of doing exactly that. We now need to move from finalisation to incorporation and we need to do it before the summer break.

Thank you very much.

Agenda Item 6: Preserving the Current Practice of Consensus-Based Decision-Making in the WTO. Communication from the ACP Group (WT/GC/W/932) and Agenda Item 7: Responsible Consensus. Communication from Singapore et al. (WT/GC/W/933)

Thank you very much Chair. Let me start by thanking Samoa, Barbados and Members of the African Caribbean and Pacific for bringing these two excellent papers to our attention. It has provoked a real debate here, and the debate, as others have said, is an important one to have. It does spring from some of the frustrations that many of us felt. We came so close in Abu Dhabi to taking some really important decisions. We want to come back and take decisions by the end of July. The number, and passion, of interventions, underlines how important this issue of consensus is to us. Not just in this organisation, but in many international organisations as well. It has served us well, multilaterally. As the EU has said, consensus is not the same as unanimity and I’m afraid that, on too many occasions in this house, those two principals have been conflated, to the detriment to all of us – developed or developing, large or small. While we all have our interests to defend, all have our principals to promote, if we want consensus to survive and flourish, and this organisation to survive and flourish – in the interest of our countries, our businesses, our consumers, our workers – then yes, we need to exercise that principal of consensus in a responsible manner across the work of this organisation. That includes, as the US stated, explaining properly the character of the objections or problems that we may have. It also means listening – active listening. Genuinely listening to the views of every Member of this organisation, but also striving, whatever our interests or principals we may have on a particular issue or dossier, to work towards the common ground. We need to identify what is the outcome that can best deliver for this organisation, consumers, business. And in the case of fisheries, for example, our planet. So let’s try and do that.

Item 8: Reinvigoration of the Work Programme on E-Commerce. Discussion in all mandated WTO bodies, including General Council Dedicated Sessions. Statement by India

I spoke about the importance of digital trade and the Joint Initiative yesterday, but not about the moratorium. We think that the moratorium should be rendered permanent. I wanted to pay tribute to the terrific work that Usha has done on this file. Dispute Settlement’s gain is definitely E-Commerce’s loss. Clearly, we need to find someone equally talented and hard working to pick up on she leaves. This is so important to us all: to our businesses, to our consumers, whether developed or developing. We therefore need a new facilitator, a plan and a timetable (F,P,T).

Thank you very much, Chair.

Item 9: 30 Years of WTO: How Has Development Dimension Progressed? A Way Forward. Communication from India (WT/GC/W/934)  and Item 10: Reflections on Approaches to Development Issues. Communication from China (WT/GC/W/935)

It was great to have this discussion to talk about the importance of trade and development, and development and trade. That is something very much shared by the UK, as set out in our White Paper which includes a quotation from the WTO Director General. We also demonstrated our practical support for Least Developed Countries (LDC) to participate in Ministerial Conferences. There were really positive development outcomes at MC13 that we should be proud of. We were targeted, we were practical, and we were willing to compromise in the interest of ‘responsible consensus’. We delivered on LDC Graduation, on a Sanitary and Phytosanitary / Technical Barriers to Trade declaration on Special and Differential Treatment. We finalised negotiations on a ground-breaking Investment for Facilitation for Development (IFD) agreement. Like others here, we remain disappointed that we did not do even more for developing countries. Whether that be on agriculture, fisheries, or incorporating IFD into the WTO framework. It is a shame that we were so close to consensus on so many of these issues. We could have made a real difference. We can still make a real difference for developing Members. So let us really try our best over the next few weeks to deliver on those unfinished areas of work from MC13. We need to build on those MC13 development outcomes, and deliver on them without losing momentum. We do not need instructions, we need new commitment, new energy to take forward the work. Let us take one step back. Sometimes I hear that we have had no effect as an organisation. I just do not believe that is true. I do not believe that the data shows that. The data shows real advantages through the sort of open trade framework that the WTO has provided over decades for developing countries. It is shown by the eagerness of countries wanting to join this organisation, manifest in those two new accessions in Abu Dhabi. So, let us be proud of what we have achieved, and let us be committed to making sure that this organisation continues to develop the sort of sustainable growth that the developing world and the developed world needs.

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