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Trade Minister attends 12th WTO Ministerial Conference 2022-06-15

Trade Minister Ahn Duk-geun attended the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC12) through June 12-15 (local time) in Geneva, Switzerland. As the highest decision-making body of the WTO for 164 member states’ trade ministers, the ministerial conference is generally held on a biennial basis, and this meeting has finally broken a 5-year hiatus after being delayed twice by COVID-19.

The 164 trade ministers will have discussed food crisis, farming, pandemic, WTO reform and other major trade issues over the four-day program. With the trade landscape more volatile than ever before, this conference is deemed a most critical opportunity to assess the relevance of WTO in light of the organization’s duty of stabilizing food security and supply chain and solidifying member states’ varying viewpoints on digital and climate change.

Moreover, as major countries are rising to meet the changing environment through local-centered, multilateral systems like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), WTO is under international scrutiny on whether it will suffice as the core platform of the multilateral trade system.

Key agenda items are as follows.

First, amid the Russia-Ukraine situation and rising agricultural goods’ prices (wheat, corn, barely, etc.), the call for WTO to stabilize the agriculture supply chain is growing stronger. Accordingly, allowing export restrictions for “humanitarian” purposes while removing unnecessary bans and bolstering transparency are some countermeasures under consideration.

Second, WTO-level measures to end COVID-19 and recover the global economy are also under consideration. Resolving bottlenecks of medical supplies and enhancing transparency are some candidate plans. In particular, developing nations have been aggressively requesting the vaccine patent waiver, and efforts will be made to find a compromise.

Third, fisheries subsidies are another critical matter to settle. Negotiations began 21 years ago in 2001, but the point of agreement has yet to be reached. The reason is that the matter is tied to both trade and environment issues, and the WTO is a multilateral negotiation venue where all 164 member states’ interests come into play.

The last agenda for consideration is a joint declaration on WTO reform that would empower WTO’s execution of rules negotiation, implementation monitoring and dispute settlement.

Trade Minister Ahn stated that “this ministerial conference is an important chance for WTO to normalize its functions” and emphasized that “the Ministry will put all efforts into contributing to reinstating the WTO multilateral trade order while also maximizing national interest.”