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Published: Sat 2 Mar 2024 02:27 PM
Despite its overwhelming importance at the heart of the international trade system, members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have concluded their Ministerial in Abu Dhabi (“MC13”) with only a meagre outcome.
NZ International Business Forum Executive Director Stephen Jacobi said a lot of effort had been expended by delegates, including the New Zealand team led by Trade Minister Todd McClay, who served as a Vice Chair of the Ministerial, to ensure the WTO remained relevant, fit for purpose and fully able to confront the challenges of the global economy.
“The WTO is its (now) 166 members. Too many of them are so focused on their own interests that they overlook the bigger picture. This outcome reflects less on the WTO as an institution than the geo-political fault-lines that are dividing the world today.”
The most significant decision at MC13was the hard-won agreement, in which Minister McClay played a key role, to extend the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions, supported by over 200 global business associations including NZIBF and the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC).
“We welcome this decision, albeit another temporary fix until the next Ministerial in two years’ time. To introduce tariffs on digital services trade would have been an appalling and retrograde step in introducing new barriers in the digital economy and a potentially fatal blow to the WTO’s credibility. The moratorium should be permanent – we should strive for nothing less.”
Decisions on domestic agriculture subsidies, of key interest to New Zealand producers, have also been deferred until 2026.
“Once again the can has been kicked down the road. Discussions will continue – and New Zealand must play a part in them. Research recently published by the Dairy Companies’ Association shows the extent to which these subsidies depress world prices received by NZ farmers. For the sake of global food security we need new rules as soon as possible.”
On dispute settlement little was achieved, beyond an agreement to extend discussions with the aim of reaching agreement before year end.
“The WTO dispute settlement system is a vital underpinning for global trade. New Zealand has made use of it several times to overturn unjustified and illegal trade barriers. Today the system remains without an effective appeal mechanism and other procedural modifications that would facilitate more effective resolution of disputes. This can only be achieved through more active engagement by all members, including the United States.”
Mr Jacobi extended the thanks of NZIBF to the New Zealand team who worked tirelessly in Abu Dhabi for a more robust outcome.
“The WTO lives on to fight another day. We have no option but to try to make the WTO work better to ensure it lives up to its promise and for the benefit of all stakeholders,” concluded Mr Jacobi.
Note:
The global industry statement can be found here.
The ABAC statement can be found here.
The DCANZ research can be found here.

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