Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference: Switzerland committed to overcoming current challenges in trade policy

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva came to a successful close on 17 June. Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, head of the EAER, and SECO State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch led the Swiss delegation. The WTO ministers adopted decisions and declarations covering topics such as food security, the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic and harmful fisheries subsidies. In view of the current challenges facing the multilateral trading system, this result should be considered a success.

Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin

 

At the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, the 164 WTO members adopted concrete measures to overcome current trade challenges. In response to the looming food crisis, ministers adopted a declaration on trade and food security, and a decision banning export restrictions on supplies to the World Food Programme. As a contribution to the WTO’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, a declaration on trade policy measures and a decision to simplify the compulsory licensing of COVID-19 vaccines in order to facilitate access to these vaccines were adopted.

Ministers also adopted an agreement to prohibit harmful forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. After many years of negotiations, this agreement represents an important contribution to the sustainability of the world’s oceans. The moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions was also extended, which is an important multilateral framework condition for the development of digital trade.

Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin attended a meeting organised by New Zealand trade minister Damien O’Connor to discuss the state of negotiations on the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS), a plurilateral agreement that also includes Costa Rica, Fiji, Iceland and Norway. Ministers were pleased with the progress that had been made so far and instructed negotiators to continue their work with an eye to concluding the agreement in the near future.

At the beginning of the conference, the Swiss delegation invited representatives of the G10 countries (net-food importing countries) to a meeting where they set priorities for WTO agricultural topics.

The Ministerial Conference also provided Switzerland with a platform to discuss various initiatives with like-minded WTO members, relating to the role of trade policy in other policy areas such as the environment, climate change and gender.

Mr Parmelin took advantage of the opportunity to conduct bilateral discussions at the WTO Ministerial Conference. He spoke with colleagues including Mohamed Azmin Ali, the Malaysian trade minister; Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK secretary of state for international trade; and Mary Ng, Canadian trade minister.

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