Trade ministers from close to 30 least-developed countries (LDCs) adopted a declaration outlining LDCs’ trade priorities in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) and beyond at a virtual meeting on 19 October where they also discussed the state of play in the WTO negotiations. “MC12 should respond adequately to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ali Djadda Kampard, Chad’s Minister for Trade and Industry and Coordinator of the WTO LDC Group.
In her opening address, WTO Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reiterated her commitment to working towards a substantive outcome for LDCs at MC12. She updated ministers on the latest progress in the negotiations on trade and health, fisheries subsidies, agriculture and development. She also underlined that trade must play a role in helping LDC economies rebound and urged WTO members to show realism and flexibility to achieve results at MC12 that will strengthen the multilateral trading system. The Director-General also praised members for agreeing, in June 2021, to extend the deadline for LDCs to protect intellectual property under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
LDC ministers said at that meeting that MC12 provides an opportunity to lay the groundwork for building a stronger and more inclusive global economy geared towards raising living standards and protecting the environment. LDC ministers commended DG Okonjo-Iweala for her efforts aimed at generating concrete results at MC12.
The need for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and expeditious distribution of these vaccines was emphasized in the trade ministers’ declaration. The document also stresses the need for effective implementation of decisions intended to increase LDCs’ integration into the global trading system. These include the decisions on preferential rules of origin, the LDC Services Waiver and duty-free and quota-free market access for LDC products.
The declaration also underlines the need for an outcome on LDC graduation at MC12 and calls for establishing a working group on WTO reforms. Other priority issues include reaching an agreement on cutting harmful fisheries subsidies at MC12 and the importance of the Aid for Trade initiative for building LDCs’ trade capacity.
The WTO LDC Group was established in 2001 to coordinate the positions of LDCs in the WTO. Currently, it is chaired by Chad and comprises 35 members and eight observers.
The group’s positions are guided by the declarations of the LDC trade ministers on WTO issues usually adopted on the margins of WTO ministerial conferences. The virtual meeting on 19 October 2021 was held with the assistance of the LDC Unit of the WTO’s Development Division.