Trade: WTO conference “narrowly missed failure”

Compared to expectations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi ended with few concrete results.

Trade: WTO conference “narrowly missed failure”

Compared to expectations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Abu Dhabi ended with few concrete results. “The 13th WTO Ministerial Conference narrowly missed failure,” complained the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) about the result.

Ministers extended the conference by 30 hours, worked two night shifts and fought for results until late Friday evening - largely without success. According to a network of organizations critical of globalization, developing countries defended themselves against industrialized countries that only wanted to advance business interests with the help of new WTO rules. Decisions in the WTO are unanimous. Each of the 166 member states effectively has a veto.

One tangible result is the extension of the WTO moratorium on tariffs on cross-border data transfers. However, an expiry date was given at the last second: the moratorium should end on March 31, 2026 at the latest. The German economy had hoped that the practice without tariffs, which has been common since 1998, would be set as the standard. A new decision must be made at the next WTO ministerial conference in Cameroon in 2026.

Countries like India argue that they are losing out on important revenue if, for example, books on which customs duties are collected are downloaded electronically and therefore remain duty-free. The Our World is not for Sale network calls the rule a "tax giveaway for the global operations of the world's most powerful companies, Big Tech."

Dispute over fishing

New fisheries rules designed to curb all subsidies that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity failed, as did fundamental reforms of the WTO rulebook and the restoration of full functionality of the dispute settlement system. “More than half of our non-European exports are based solely on WTO rules,” said the DIHK. "An update of this set of rules was and is necessary: ​​the rules were largely created in the 1990s and have not been able to keep pace with the technological and global economic changes since then."

The fisheries agreement was about better protection of fish stocks. Worldwide, a third of commercially fished waters are considered overfished. “Unfortunately, there was no happy ending in the poker between industrialized and developing countries,” said Anna Holl-Buhl, a fishing expert at the WWF Environmental Foundation. "The result of the negotiations is de facto a license to continue the overexploitation of the seas."

The negotiations are to continue in Geneva. WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala expressed the hope in Abu Dhabi that at least one fisheries agreement from 2022 could come into force this year. This only concerns the most important subsidies. Around 70 countries have joined, including the entire EU. About 40 are still missing for it to take effect.

Dispute resolution paralyzed

The Dispute Settlement Committee (DSB) is partially paralyzed. Countries can lodge complaints there if they believe that trading partners are violating WTO rules. Arbitrators decide on the cases. Anyone who loses can appeal to an appeal body. But this does not currently exist because the USA is blocking the appointment of appeals judges. They want to fundamentally change the system and have not yet found a majority for it. 31 cases are therefore up in the air. The EU is also affected by this. She had won a case against Indonesia involving a ban on the export of certain raw materials. Indonesia appealed, effectively putting the case on ice.

Critics of globalization, who have been fighting the WTO since its founding in 1995, complain that the concerns of developing countries are hardly taken into account there. For example, they needed rules to strengthen food security. But the WTO is about profits from companies in wealthier countries. People in poorer countries and exploited workers around the world paid the price.