WTO members discuss Kazakhstan’s offer to host 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2021

At a virtual meeting of the General Council on May 29, WTO members discussed Kazakhstan’s offer to host the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Nur-Sultan in June 2021.

The General Council chair, Ambassador David Walker (New Zealand), said that all delegations he consulted with welcomed Kazakhstan’s proposal. At the same time, many delegations stressed that, given the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, any date set would be considered a “working hypothesis” and that an ongoing evaluation and review would be needed as circumstances become clearer.

Ambassador Walker said he would continue consulting with members on setting a precise date for MC12.

MC12 was originally scheduled to take place in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on June 8 – 11, 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Kazakhstan informed WTO members in late April that it remained ready to host MC12 in June 2021 in Nur-Sultan and asked the General Council chair to consult with WTO members on its proposal.

Ambassador Walker said that a formal decision about the new date for MC12 will need to be taken by the General Council and that he would aim to continue to consult with a view to setting a precise date for MC12 at the General Council’s next meeting in July.

WTO members also discussed the timetable proposed by the General Council chair for the appointment of the next WTO Director-General. On 14 May, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo informed members that he intended to step down on August 31, 2020, a year before his term was to have expired.

Under the process set out by the chair, nominations for the post will be accepted from June 8 until July 8, 2020. After that, the candidates will have a period of time to make themselves known to members, including a special General Council meeting where the candidates will be invited to make presentations, followed by the consensus-building phase devoted to selecting and appointing one of the candidates.

Ambassador Walker said that he will be consulting with members in order to establish expedited deadlines for the post-nomination phases so that members may have clarity on the timeline for the appointment process by the end of the nomination period. Both candidates and the membership needed to know the expected timelines for the entire process, he added.

Further information on the process is available here.

In his role as chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, DG Azevêdo reported to members on the ongoing efforts of the chairs of the negotiations on fisheries subsidies, agriculture, and special and differential treatment to explore options for allowing dialogue to continue.

DG Azevêdo also reported on his own recent activities. In addition to two prior reports to members on trade and COVID-19, he participated in a virtual meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board as well as a discussion hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the heads of four other international organizations, where the economic and social impacts of the pandemic featured prominently.

He also participated in a Trade Dialogues event at the request of the International Chamber of Commerce and B20 Saudi Arabia.

“ Ensuring that businesses and households have the confidence to invest and consume will be a very important part of our economic recovery,” DG Azevêdo told members. “ And, it is why the multilateral trading system has an important role to play in all of these efforts.”

“ All members must intensify efforts to do what they can – at home, and collectively – to foster a strong rebound. In our activities here at the WTO – on monitoring and transparency, implementation of commitments, negotiations and broader reform efforts –  we must work to ensure that our organization emerges out of this crisis more resilient than ever, and even more responsive to members’ changing needs.”

WTO members also discussed a statement issued by trade ministers from Australia, Canada, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore on 1 May regarding action plans to facilitate the flow of goods and services as well as the essential movement of people. The ministers pledged to identify concrete actions that could help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 and work with other countries to develop these actions.

Members also reviewed a report from the chair of the dedicated session of the Committee on Trade and Development regarding the work programme on small economies and received updates from the General Council chair on implementation of the outcomes from the WTO’s 2013 Bali, 2015 Nairobi and 2017 Buenos Aires Ministerial Conferences.

Under other business, Ambassador Walker informed members he would begin consultations on the selection of a new chair for the WTO’s agriculture negotiations. The current chair, Ambassador John Deep Ford of Guyana, announced on May 25 that he would be stepping down from the chair post at the end of June.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.