MEPs call for urgent and substantive reform of the WTO 

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On Thursday, MEPs backed a resolution urging for comprehensive institutional reform package ahead of the WTO's next biennial Ministerial Conference on 26-29 February in Abu Dhabi.

MEPs adopted a resolution calling on World Trade Organization (WTO) members to “restore a fully functioning dispute-settlement system as swiftly as possible” at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), the meeting of the global trade organisation’s highest governing body. Since 2019, the system has been at an impasse as the WTO's highest court, the Appellate Body, has been unable to hear new appeals. WTO members have committed to agreeing on a fully functioning system by 2024.

In the resolution, adopted by show of hands, MEPs urge the Conference to “adopt a comprehensive package on institutional reform”, adding that the “rules-based multilateral trading system is currently under a great deal of pressure”. MEPs argue that it is “a matter of urgency to proceed to a substantive reform,” and that a “multilateral system to govern trade is essential”.

MEPs also call on WTO members to conclude the second phase of the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, addressing issues related to overfishing and overcapacity. The text also supports efforts to find a “fair and permanent” solution for the e-commerce moratorium on customs duties on online deliveries, including music, e-books, films, and software, for example.

During the plenary debate on Thursday, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, told MEPs that according to the Commission, a package for MC13 should include, among other things, substantial progress on dispute settlement reform, concluding phase two of the fisheries subsidies negotiations, the extension of the e-commerce moratorium, making the WTO a forum to discuss trade and industrial policy.

Quotes

Bernd Lange (S&D, DE), Chair of the International Trade Committee (INTA) and Co-chair of the Steering Group of Parliamentary Conference on the WTO (PCWTO), said: “People always say about the WTO that nothing is moving there, it is yesterday's way of doing things, but that is not right. 75% of global trade continues to be conducted according to WTO rules. The EU is highly enmeshed in imports and exports. Without stable WTO rules, our economic development would be jeopardised, which is why it is worth fighting for to ensure that the WTO has a future. Our resolution looks at the central tasks of the WTO, both in the interest of the industrial and developing countries. We must ensure MC13 is just as much of success as MC12 was!”

Jörgen Warborn (EPP, SE), Co-chair of the Steering Group of PCWTO, said: “We are constantly reminded how vulnerable our trade routes are. People are demanding security and predictability, and that must be achieved at global level. We need a functioning trading system, that is more important than ever. The WTO needs to be reformed, and we need to, in particular, put in place a dispute resolution mechanism to resolve conflicts. It's important that the EU plays a leading role, pushes for a world that facilitates a rules-based free trade and counters protectionism.”

Next steps

The MC13 will be held between 26 and 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi. A delegation of MEPs, led by INTA Chair Bernd Lange, will travel to Abu Dhabi at the end of February for the session of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO (PCWTO), a meeting of deputies co-organised by the European Parliament, ahead of the MC13.

Background

The WTO Ministerial Conference, which meets every two years, brings together all 164-members, and takes decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements. The European Parliament has been calling for the reform of the functioning of the WTO already since 2008.