WTO members discussed initiatives aimed at advancing integration of developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) into the global trading system, including in electronic commerce, at a meeting of the Committee on Trade and Development on 5 April. Members also reviewed two regional trade agreements among developing countries and were updated on the status of factual presentations on preferential trade arrangements at separate meetings of the Committee.
Implementing MC12 decision on WTO response to pandemics
Members discussed the Committee’s contribution to implementing the Ministerial Declaration adopted at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) on the WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics.
Some ideas were shared on work for the Committee under this declaration. The chair, Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, encouraged members to submit written proposals to take these ideas forward.
Proposal by the African Group on industrial development
Members discussed a proposal by the WTO’s African Group on providing developing countries and LDCs with flexibility to pursue policies that promote industrial and digital development and address emerging challenges, such as climate change. Examples include policies that protect infant industries and those that diversify production.
Members expressed their commitment to helping developing countries and LDCs integrate more fully into the global trading system. Some warned against duplicating work undertaken in other WTO forums.
Special and differential treatment
The Committee was updated on the Secretariat’s latest compilation of special and differential treatment provisions contained in WTO agreements and decisions. The total number of provisions in WTO agreements is currently 157. The document can be found here.
WTO members discussed a revised version of a paper by India and South Africa entitled “Global Electronic Commerce for Inclusive Development”.
The revised paper follows from the decision adopted at MC12 in June 2022 to reinvigorate the development aspect of the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce. The MC12 decision also extends the current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until the 13th Ministerial Conference scheduled to take place in February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.
The WTO Secretariat presented the revamped e-Learning platform launched in December, which offers improved navigation, an updated course catalogue and new services that will keep learners apprised of WTO training news and events. More information about the WTO e-Learning courses is available here.
An update was also provided on the recently revamped technical assistance dashboards and on the technical assistance and training portal. The dashboards present data on technical assistance activities by subject, language and level of activity, among other things, in the WTO’s three official languages. The portal allows government officials and others, such as parliamentarians, to apply online for trade-related technical assistance and training activities.
As part of the drafting process for the biennial Technical Assistance Plan for 2024 and 2025, the Secretariat recently asked beneficiaries of technical assistance activities about their needs and priorities. Regarding areas covered by WTO agreements, government officials identified their top three priorities as sanitary and phytosanitary measures, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights and technical barriers to trade. The top three topics of interest under discussion at the WTO were identified as e-commerce, trade and environment, and investment. Beneficiaries expressed a strong preference for face-to-face activities or activities combining face-to-face and virtual components.
The Technical Assistance Plan outlines the framework under which technical activities will be managed. It will be submitted to the Committee for approval following consultations.
The Committee elected Ambassador Sánchez-Fung from the Dominican Republic as the new chair at the end of the meeting. Ambassador Erik Brøgger Rasmussen from Denmark was elected as chair of the Sub-Committee on LDCs.
Regional trade agreements
At a meeting of the Committee’s Dedicated Session on Regional Trade Agreements held the same day, members of the Latin American Integration Association reported 26 notifications of agreements concluded under the Association’s umbrella in 2021.
WTO members considered the Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between India and Bhutan related to goods and the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) between India and Mauritius on goods. The consideration of the agreements is based on factual presentations prepared by the WTO Secretariat as required under the Transparency Mechanism for RTAs.
Preferential trade arrangements
An update was provided to members on the status of the preparation of the status of the preparation of factual presentations of preferential trade arrangements (PTAs) at the Committee’s Dedicated Session on Preferential Trade Arrangements also held on 5 April. Preferential trade arrangements are trade preferences, such as lower or zero tariffs, which a member may, under WTO rules, offer to imports from developing countries or least-developed countries through non-reciprocal preferential schemes. Factual presentations of PTAs by the WTO Secretariat are required under the Transparency Mechanism for PTAs. Information on the Generalized System of Preferences schemes and other non-reciprocal preferential schemes of WTO members is available here.
The next meetings of the Committee and its dedicated sessions are scheduled for July.