Delegation of the European Union to the

UN and other international organisations in Geneva

EU Statement at the Trade Negotiations Committee/Heads of Delegation meeting, 02 December 2021

Geneva, 02/12/2021 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 211202_16
Local Statements

Statement delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

As disappointing as it may be, the decision to postpone the Ministerial Conference was a rational one and was inevitable once the Swiss authorities introduced travel restrictions last Friday.

We now need to assess how to take the Organisation forwards, within the constraints the pandemic continues to impose on us.

On the eve of the Ministerial last Friday, I think it is fair to say that the chances of success of the Conference were highly uncertain, even though the WTO agenda was concentrated on a small handful of topics and we had deployed significant efforts here in Geneva and at the political level to do the necessary groundwork. We will need to assess what made this level of unpredictability possible, be it on the side of negotiating process or with regard to upstream political engagement. Of course, the sanitary conditions and other situational challenges have certainly not helped. But pending more thorough considerations, last week’s uncertain outlook suggests it is becoming ever more difficult to prepare the WTO for success. We need to enquire whether this is a temporary phenomenon or caused by structural factors that will continue to handicap the Organisation until they are addressed.

Where does the postponement of MC12 leave us? We would see two groups of issues, some, where Members are committed to agree outcomes with urgency, and others, where Members would agree to work with outcomes at a later date.

Expectations for short-term outcomes are high, first and foremost, on Covid-related subjects. The WTO will remain in the spotlight on these issues for as long as the pandemic continues to spread around us. The pressure to deliver a holistic response to the pandemic, including on intellectual property, will therefore continue unabated over the next months. In some areas, we can make progress here in Geneva. But we also have to recognise that on some key questions only more political engagement can provide the solution, and that the Geneva work will depend on the impulses from the political level.

The European Union agrees with those who have said that work on the Covid response should not be delayed, and we will be reaching out to key partners in the coming days and weeks to conduct political level conversations in appropriate configurations. In keeping with the core objective to promote the continued flow of vital medical supplies and vaccines, the European Union is however also taking tangible action on the ground. We decided two weeks ago, ahead of MC12, that the European Union’s export transparency authorisation mechanism on vaccines will expire on 31 December 2021, and not be renewed. It will be replaced by a simple data collection mechanism. This means that, as of 1 January 2022, vaccine producers will no longer have to request an authorisation for the export of vaccines outside the European Union. We are thereby acting in accordance with our G20 commitment to keep emergency measures targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and consistent with WTO rules.

Second, we can acknowledge the good progress that has been made over the last months in the fisheries negotiations. We are now down to a stable draft final text that includes a manageable number of brackets. I do not in any way want to minimize the difficulty of outstanding questions but we should also recognise that real progress has been made. We must now work out what the pathway is to the conclusion of the agreement, in a manner that meets the objectives of sustainability.

Agriculture and WTO reform also stand out as core areas where we need to seek further convergence.

As regards agriculture, the European Union remains ready to engage over the next weeks if this can help reduce gaps in positions and bring a positive outcome, while ensuring a credible contribution to food security challenges. The past small group processes have been useful in clarifying Members’ positions. We hope that a resumption of such informal processes, coupled with by sessions of the CoASS, can lead to improvements of the current situation. If our collective reply is yes, then the European Union is ready to re-start work. But if there is a risk that the difficult positioning will continue and lead to further degrading the negotiating situation, then we will need to reflect on alternative approaches to make progress. The European Union appreciates the Chair’s works and efforts. Obviously further work is needed.

The slow progress of the Organisation in identifying priority work areas provides further evidence that this Organisation is in need of reform. There is no shortage of ideas, but it is extremely challenging to get a diversified membership behind shared projects. We are of the view that there is no reason to delay the conversation on the functioning of the WTO. Everybody should be invited to join the debate and everything should be on the table. We cannot afford to wait until the next Ministerial Conference to give thorough consideration to and find a path forward on this fundamental issue.

We take note of a March Ministerial as a working hypothesis. That said the dates and modalities of the Ministerial will need to be reassessed in January in light of the epidemiological situation and the state of advancement on MC12 files.

The European Union remains committed to engage meaningfully with all our partners, at the appropriate political, senior official and technical levels, in order to make real progress in core areas where WTO action is needed.  

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