Excerpt from WTO Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard’s speech at the Vilnius Conference in Lithuania on September 8, 2023.
…Last year, we had a very successful Ministerial Conference (MC12), reaching outcomes on pressing issues related to the pandemic response, food security, and extension of the moratorium of customs duties on e-commerce. Most importantly, our Members added a new agreement to the WTO rulebook — the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, which is the first WTO agreement with environmental sustainability at its core and only our second new multilateral agreement since 1995. We are now actively working to have 2/3 of WTO Members deposit their instruments of acceptance of the Agreement to the WTO so that it can officially enter into force. I would like to thank the EU and its member States, including Lithuania, for being among the first to ratify this historic Agreement and deposit the instrument of acceptance.
The MC12 outcomes were achieved in the midst of a war, a global pandemic, and a food crisis. This success shows that consensus is still possible, even at times of deep geopolitical rifts, and that the WTO plays an essential role for its Members.
But the WTO must do more. All of our Members agree that we need to reform the WTO across all three of our functions — negotiating, monitoring, and particularly dispute settlement, as we approach our 30th anniversary. We need to arrive at a common understanding of what kind of reform we want to achieve and establish a plan to attain it, knowing that different areas of focus will require different action and timetables. Members are actively working on this goal in Geneva. The EU is an active participant, focusing the discussion on reforms to improve the WTO’s deliberative function and address trade-related environmental and inclusivity issues, as well as distortions caused by industrial subsidies and other practices.
Reform of the dispute settlement function is particularly vital to the future of the WTO. As you may know, our second level of review — the Appellate Body — is not functioning due to divergent views among our Members about its role. As a result, Members that lose at the initial panel stage can appeal into the void of a non-functioning Appellate Body, resulting in a lack of finality. But to give teeth to the WTO’s rulebook, we need strong enforcement tools, making the need for reform even more acute.
At MC12, our Members agreed “to conduct discussions with the view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all Members by 2024”. Our Members are engaged intensive and promising discussions to this end. All eyes are on our 13th Ministerial Conference, which will take place in February in Abu Dhabi, and we hope that Members can agree on meaningful outcomes in this area.