WTO Members examine deliberative functions, institutional matters on WTO reform agenda

WTO members on June 16, 2023, held an informal meeting on WTO reform which focused on the deliberative function of the organization and institutional matters. The meeting was the third such informal gathering since the reform discussions were launched at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2022.

Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana, the Chairperson of the General Council, said the discussions on the deliberative functions and institutional matters — which included the functioning of the General Council, Trade Negotiations Committee and the conduct of Ministerial Conferences — were aimed at better harnessing the potential of these bodies.

The informal meeting “is a further important opportunity for confidence and trust-building which can enable us to continue working on a good footing on these issues and overall on WTO reform,” she told members.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the discussions were part of better harnessing the potential of all WTO bodies to address pressing global trade matters and concerns and deliver meaningful results for the benefit of people around the world.

“Process improvements matter for keeping this institution fit for purpose,” the Director-General told members in her opening remarks.  “When WTO bodies work more efficiently, and facilitate full and informed participation by all members, it creates a more conducive atmosphere for effective substantive reform.”

WTO members agreed at MC12 to work towards reform of the WTO with the aim of improving all its functions. They agreed the work would address the interests of all members, including development issues.

The General Council and its subsidiary bodies have been tasked with conducting the work, reviewing progress and considering decisions, as appropriate, to be submitted to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) due to take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February 2024.

The informal meeting opened with a plenary session that focused on facilitating members’ participation in WTO bodies.  Members then split into four groups to brainstorm in breakout sessions on two issues:  engagement on cross-cutting issues and other trade-related matters; and effective oversight and decision-making in the Ministerial Conference and the General Council and ensuring that the Trade Negotiations Committee effectively plays its supervising role for the overall conduct of the negotiations.

In her concluding remarks at the end of the meeting, Ambassador Molokomme said:  “The deliberations today have demonstrated yet again members’ commitment to work towards necessary reforms and ensuring that we choose proper functioning. I hope that we will continue working in this pragmatic and cooperative spirit so that we can once again deliver meaningful WTO reforms for the benefit of our members and our respective stakeholders.”

On the way forward, Ambassador Molokomme noted that she was considering holding consultations with interested members before the next General Council meeting on 24-25 July with a view to finalizing what seems to be an emerging roadmap for MC13 on the deliberative function.

In her reflections on the discussions, DG Okonjo-Iweala said: “Today’s meeting has given impetus to WTO reform work and I hope will help clarify the roadmap towards MC13.”

“Members today have provided practical ideas to move our work forward,” she added. “Your inputs will help us ensure we have the necessary solutions-oriented conversations in the weeks and months ahead to lay the groundwork for ministers to make decisions … Making our meetings more meaningful is part of ensuring that the WTO remains fit for purpose.”