New Zealand leadership contributes to significant progress at the WTO

Trade and Export Growth

New Zealand’s leadership has contributed to a number of significant outcomes and progress at the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which concluded in the early hours of Friday morning after a week of intense negotiations between its 164 members.

A major outcome is a new Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies following negotiations this week facilitated by Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor.

“New Zealand has been at the forefront of calling for an agreement on fisheries subsidies for over twenty years, so this is a significant milestone,” Damien O’Connor said.

“I was very proud to assist the WTO Director-General as Facilitator for the fisheries negotiation. What we agreed this week will have a meaningful impact on the sustainability of our fisheries resources and the livelihoods of the world’s fishers.”

The agreement includes important prohibitions on subsidies related to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; subsidies regarding over-fished stocks; and subsidies provided to fishing taking place on the unregulated high seas. 

“While negotiators were unable to find agreement on all disciplines, WTO Members have agreed to continue negotiations on these outstanding and very important issues ahead of the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference, which is expected to be held in 2023,” Damien O’Connor said.

“This has been a hugely significant meeting, and has happened at a very difficult time.  Just as the world is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, we face growing geo-political tensions including Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression against Ukraine.

“At times like these, multilateral organisations like the WTO are more important than ever for small, globally connected countries like New Zealand."

Another significant outcome from MC12 is that the Members have agreed a package of responses to future emergencies including pandemics, to build on the lessons from our respective experiences in responding to COVID-19.  This includes the “TRIPS waiver” on COVID-19 vaccines, which is designed to facilitate the production and distribution of vaccines in developing countries.

“New Zealand was an early supporter of the TRIPS waiver, as we strongly support developing countries being able to better access vaccine IP and increase the supply of vaccines” Damien O’Connor said.

Ministers also agreed a Declaration on the WTO Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Preparedness for Future Pandemics, covering issues like transparency and the value of timely and accurate information.

“I am also pleased to say that WTO Members have renewed the E-commerce Moratorium until the next Ministerial Conference. This continues the long standing practice of not applying tariffs or duties to electronic transmissions. We know that this is a key enabler for predictable global digital trade for businesses,” Damien O’Connor said. 

“It’s been a gruelling week, and we didn’t get everything we wanted. There is still an urgent need for further substantial, meaningful progress on agricultural trade reform, including on domestic subsidies, to help feed the world’s population at a time of increased food insecurity.

“There is also still considerable work to do to improve the functioning of the WTO to be able to respond more rapidly to the kinds of crises we have seen in the past two years. These are things that we will continue to work on ahead of the 13th Ministerial Conference,” Damien O’Connor said. 

Ministerial conferences are the highest decision making body of the WTO. They are traditionally scheduled to occur every two years, but due to COVID-19, the MC12 was the first one to occur in five years.

Damien O’Connor returns to New Zealand today from Europe.