With the next Ministerial Conference of the WTO in the pipelines, calls for a clear negotiating agenda for the WTO is coming in.
Inu Manak from CATO suggests in this piece that the negotiating agenda being a key component of one of its functions (including adjudicatory and monitoring), a clear negotiating framework is required:
The next crucial area for reform is in the WTO’s negotiating function. The WTO has not concluded any major negotiating ‘rounds’ since its founding, though it has completed other important negotiations such as the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). These stalled negotiations stem, in part, from disagreements over the level of commitment that developing countries should undertake.
Recent negotiations to eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as subsidies that lead to overcapacity and overfishing, are a case in point. China leads the top five providers of subsidies, followed by the European Union, the United States, South Korea and Japan. Together they make up 58 per cent of all global fisheries subsidies. And while nine out of fifteen of the largest marine capture fish producers are developing members, many continue to request special and differential treatment (SDT).
The fisheries talks are important because the subject best illustrates modern challenges to trade. This is not just about subsidies, but environmental sustainability and development as well. How we navigate the intersection of these issues will test the WTO’s ability to adapt to new circumstances.
Karl Sauvant argues that Investment facilitation should be on the agenda and it's importance should not be underestimated. A set of WTO members are pursuing the investment facilitation framework with these Ministerial declarations here and here. If you are not on the negotiating table, you will be part of the menu he warns! he also offers a number of additions to the investment facilitation agenda.
The purpose is to arrive at a binding multilateral agreement to facilitate FDI flows for development. The focus is entirely on concrete, technical investment facilitation measures, leaving aside the controversial issues of market access, investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement. Provisions for special and differential treatment of developing countries are being built in to assist implementation and capacity building, responsible business conduct and anti-corruption efforts.
The negotiations centre on raising the transparency of investment measures, streamlining and speeding up administrative procedures, creating focal points for investors, increasing domestic regulatory coherence and strengthening cross-border cooperation on investment facilitation.
These are measures that will make it easier for investors to establish themselves in host countries and operate within them, helping to increase FDI flows and advancing growth and development.
Any more agenda items? An amendment to the TRIPS Agreement for enabling waivers during a pandemic?