Permanent Mission of the European Union to
the World Trade Organization (WTO)

EU Statements at the WTO General Council, on 16 and 17 December 2020

Geneva , 18/12/2020 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 201218_28
Local Statements

WTO General Council meeting, statements by the EU on 16-17 December 2020

Item 2 - IMPLEMENTATION OF THE BALI, NAIROBI AND BUENOS AIRES OUTCOMES – STATEMENT BY THE CHAIRMAN

On the Bali Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding, the EU notes that India has invoked the Bali Ministerial Decision on public stockholding for the first time. The notification was reviewed during the 93rd Committee on Agriculture meeting on 28 of July this year. However, there are still at least six questions which India has not answered in substance, despite two Committee meetings having been held since then and the issue having being raised in the October General Council. The EU calls on India to fulfil its transparency obligations and upload substantive answers in the AGIMS system to allow other members be able to assess conformity with the Bali decision.

Indeed, the EU is currently far from convinced that India has respected the decision. For example, point 3(c) of the decision requires that information be submitted for each public stockholding programme. According to India’s notification, India has public stockholding programmes for rice, wheat, coarse grains and pulses. While India has submitted data covering rice in annex to its notification, it has not provided so far the required information for the programmes for wheat, coarse grains and pulses.

On the Nairobi Decision on export competition, the Nairobi Ministerial Decision on Export Competition was adopted in December 2015. This required sixteen WTO members to submit schedule modifications. Two members have not yet done so – including one who co-sponsored the proposal which lead to the decision The EU would urge the members concerned to submit the necessary schedule modifications as soon as possible.

And finally, on the Bali Ministerial Decision on Tariff Rate Quota administration. The EU continues to regret that it was not possible to reach agreement on the application of the TRQ underfill mechanism, in order to ensure that all WTO members take on equivalent commitments. In 2019, the General Council rolled over the deadline for the review of this decision to 2021. Doing so again in 2021 will not be acceptable to the EU. We urge the membership to engage on this issue and we consider that it should be taken up by our ministers at MC12 if it is not possible to resolve it in the Committee on Agriculture.

Item 4 - THE DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE ASPECTS OF COTTON

The EU thanks Burkina Faso and the other C4 countries, and Côte d'Ivoire for presenting this draft declaration on an action plan to enhance support for cotton by-product development.

Following the Nairobi Decision on cotton, the EU has continued to actively support efforts and contributions to enhance the production, productivity and competitiveness of the cotton sector in developing country Members, especially the LDCs.

The EU has been an engaged partner at WTO level, at regional level and also at national level in partner countries where cotton has been identified as a priority sector. We continue to support cotton projects through a number of our aid for trade interventions, including through our support to the EIF.

The EU has also recognised the importance of cotton by-products specifically in our programming. For example, the EU’s 2020-2023 programme in West Africa on competitiveness specifically includes a focus on the cottonseed oil sector.

The EU’s objectives in supporting sustainable and inclusive cotton by-product value chains are to ensure an income to smallholder farmers but also a decent life and improved resilience for thousands of small producers in developing countries and especially in LDCs.

The EU looks forward to continuing the discussion on the text in the new year with a view to finalising a text on a subsequent occasion.

 

Item 6 - WORK PROGRAMME ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE

The European Union would like to thank the Chairs of the Council for Trade in Goods and the Council for Trade in Services for their comprehensive and factual reports.

We also appreciate the rich discussions that have taken place regarding the e-commerce Work Programme during 2020.

The EU welcomes Members’ interest in advancing our work in the context of the Work Programme on e-commerce including on the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of electronic commerce. We are pleased with the useful exchanges on the development dimension of e-commerce, for example that took place in the CTS in the course of the year.

The EU would like to stress that the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions provides the predictability and security that our consumers and businesses need – both in developed and developing countries – when engaging or planning to engage in e-commerce activities.

We would also like to recall the recent economic studies that provided scientifically solid new evidence on the positive economic implications of the moratorium.

The EU remains committed to continue engaging in structured discussions on the moratorium in line with the General Council decision of December 2019, taking into account the new evidence that has been published over the last year on the multiple benefits of the moratorium for businesses and citizens.

While Members agreed to extend the moratorium until MC12, the EU hopes that our Ministers will be a position to consider a longer term extension at the next Ministerial Conference.

The EU also believes that the existing fora, such as informal dedicated General Council meetings and also structured discussions that the Members agreed to hold in the General Council Decision of December 2019 provide us with sufficient foundation for our work on these important issues.

The EU is always ready to discuss issues at the request of a Member, based on their submission and interest.

Finally, regarding the periodic review, our view is that such regular review is already ensured once a year based on the reports of the chairs of regular bodies to the General Council. The EU considers that we should continue with that the regular practice.

Item 7 - TRADE RELATED CHALLENGES OF THE LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES AND WAY FORWARD: A DRAFT FOR MC DECISION – COMMUNICATIONS FROM CHAD ON BEHALF OF THE LDC GROUP (WT/GC/W/806, WT/GC/W/807)

First, the EU congratulates Vanuatu on having recently graduated from least developed country) status. This is an important and positive milestone in country’s development path, one worthy of recognition and celebration.

The EU would like also to thank Chad acting on behalf of the LDC group for the communication. We support constructive initiatives to better integrate LDCs into the multilateral trading system and we encourage discussing any trade-related challenges of the LDCs on the basis of the analysis showing their specific difficulties.

The EU is mindful of the challenges that graduating LDCs face. This is recognised and reflected in our existing trade and development policies.

For example, in the EU General Scheme of Preferences (GSP), transition periods are already provided for the benefit of developing countries, particularly for recently graduated LDCs and other countries most in need.

The EU has also launched a series of trade agreements with developing countries, including Economic Partnership Agreements in order to maintain certain preferences.

We also engage bilaterally with LDCs with a view to graduation to be able to best support the countries during and after their graduation, taking account of their specific situation.

Furthermore, the EU and its Member States continue to provide the largest share of Aid for Trade, which also goes to supporting LDC graduation.

Turning now to the draft decision itself: The EU would first like to recall that procedures are already available to negotiate a waiver from any WTO obligation, to seek an extension of a transition period, or to adopt a specific decision by a WTO body to address specific difficulties.

We would also like to refer the recent report on "Trade impacts of LDC graduation" published jointly by the WTO and the Enhanced Integrated Framework. The study concludes that the impact of graduation will be different for each graduating LDC, both in scope and in magnitude, be it in participation in the WTO, market access opportunities or in terms of development cooperation. It also notes that this disparity among graduating LDCs suggests that support should be tailored to the needs and development strategy of each country.

Against this overall background, we would like to ask for the following clarifications from the LDC group: What is the reason that all support measures be extended for a period of 12 years? And secondly, what is the reason that support measures be maintained to all graduated LDCs?

The EU stands ready to engage further with the LDC group on these communications.

Item 8 - COVID-19 AND BEYOND: TRADE AND HEALTH – STATEMENT BY COSPONSORS OF WT/GC/223

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people’s health, well-being and economic prosperity. It has created unprecedented challenges for governments across the world. Most of us – and this includes the EU – have taken a range of trade-related actions with a view to ensuring that essential goods are available to our populations. It goes without saying that safeguarding the lives and health of their people is at the core of every government’s section.

But the crisis has also exposed the fragility or even a potential negative fallout of unilateral, uncoordinated trade-related actions. If every current exporter were to ban shipments of essential goods, a large portion of the world population would be denied access to the necessary life-saving supplies.

A global crisis requires global cooperation. With that in mind, the EU fully supports innovative cooperation developed under the Access to Covid Tools Accelerator, and the Covax Facility.  

Although the response to the pandemic is primarily in the sphere of health policy, trade policy can also contribute to this fight. With the long-awaited discovery of vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the operational and logistical challenges ahead of us will still be enormous.

To succeed in this fight, global cooperation is fundamental. The WTO has a valuable role to play, in particular to ensure that supply chains of essential products remain open, that goods can cross borders quickly, and that the trade environment is stable and transparent.

The time for WTO Members to take action is now. Through the Communication Covid19 and beyond, 13 Members, including the EU, invite all WTO Members to engage in a Trade and Health Initiative. At the heart of this Initiative lies the belief that each Member should be free at domestic level to take the trade policy actions needed to fight the pandemic in accordance with the WTO framework. But we are also convinced that in the interest of the common public good such actions should be coordinated and transparent. Ultimately, the objective is to create conditions for a more stable and predictable trade environment, which in turn would help to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Therefore we invite Members to proceed in two steps.

In the first step, we call on WTO Members to take immediate actions to address the current COVID-19 crisis.

These actions are detailed in the Annex to the Communication and would consist in particular in:

1) exercising restraint when applying export restrictions on essential goods, ensuring that measures are targeted, transparent, proportionate, temporary and consistent with WTO obligations;

2) sharing experience and best practices in trade facilitating measures, including on services facilitating the frictionless movement of essential goods as well as in the area of technical regulations;

3) considering removing or reducing -tariffs on essential goods;

4) promoting transparency, including by engaging fully in the trade monitoring exercises;

5) encouraging the WTO Secretariat to cooperate with other international organisations in order to respond more effectively to the current and future pandemics.

We call on WTO Members to capture these actions in a declaration that should be issued as early as possible and, ideally, by the time of the next General Council Meeting. The agreement on the declaration would be without prejudice to the commitments, if any, that Members might take in the second step.

The second step is aimed at increasing our global preparedness for any future health emergencies. We propose to explore possible future commitments on the basis of the actions taken as a first step. Ideally, we should seek to achieve progress on this strand of work by the 12th Ministerial Conference.

We invite all WTO Members to join us in this endeavour and look forward to our successful cooperation.

Item 10 - IMPORTANCE OF MARKET-ORIENTED CONDITIONS TO THE WORLD TRADING SYSTEM – JOINT STATEMENT BY BRAZIL, JAPAN, AND THE UNITED STATES (WT/GC/W/803/REV.1)

As the EU stated at the previous meeting of General Council, market-oriented conditions are central to allowing a level-playing field. The EU has repeatedly expressed its concerns with non-market-oriented policies and practices that have resulted in distortions to the world trading system.

The role of the WTO – and therefore the role of all of us, as its Membership – is to ensure that there are effective rules in place to eliminate these distortions and to ensure a level-playing field. There are clearly gaps in the WTO rulebook that do not enable us to do so. These gaps must be addressed through the negotiation of new or updated rules to address the issues raised in the statement of the US and its co-sponsors. We look forward to discussing, in the coming months, how the rule-book can be supplemented and to work towards a negotiation of new rules to fill the gaps.

Item 11 - PROCEDURES TO STRENGTHEN THE NEGOTIATING FUNCTION OF THE WTO – STATEMENT BY THE UNITED STATES (WT/GC/W/757/REV.1 AND WT/GC/W/764/REV.1)

As already stated in the General Council, the current distinction between developed and developing countries no longer reflects the reality of the rapid economic growth in some developing countries. We should therefore continue to work on special and differential treatment  with a view to ensuring that flexibilities are made available to those members who actually need them to enable them to fully benefit from their membership to this Organisation.

The EU firmly believes that if this organisation is to prosper, special and differential treatment must become much more granular, in function of an individual Member's demonstrated needs and capacities. Future differentiation should be designed in terms of specific individual country needs at the sectoral or activity level rather than calling for a block exemption of a large category of Members. Furthermore, the EU considers that each developing country's need for SDT should be assessed on a case-by-case and be evidence-based. The notable exception should be the LDCs who deserve particular treatment.

We are open to looking into special and differential treatment (SDT) provisions in future agreements, such as in the ongoing negotiations. It is only where special and differential treatment responds to a specific need that it can be truly effective.

Item 12 - STRENGTHENING THE WTO TO PROMOTE DEVELOPMENT AND INCLUSIVITY – COMMUNICATION FROM THE AFRICAN GROUP, CUBA, AND INDIA (WT/GC/W/778/REV.3)

The EU appreciates the Members' engagement in exploring how to reform the WTO and thanks the delegates for their revised communication. We agree that Members should pursue their efforts in finding multilateral solutions.

We call on all WTO Members to engage constructively to reform WTO on the matters related to the three areas of negotiating function of the WTO; the dispute settlement function; and  the monitoring function of regular bodies.

Without departing from the objective of advancing multilateral rulemaking, the EU is supportive of an open plurilateral track of negotiations with a view to preparing multilateral outcomes. Thus, we welcome the active participation of both developed and developing Members in the e-commerce, domestic regulation in services and investment facilitation negotiations.

Integration of developing countries in the multilateral trading system is one of the central objectives of the sustainable development goals. We remain of the view that developing countries should be allowed assistance and flexibilities when justified. However, to grant open-ended block exemptions to 2/3 of the Membership is no longer a viable model.

The revised version of the communication also addresses COVID-19. To respond to the pandemic, we should continue to strive for reforms. The pandemic is impacting citizens across all parts of the world and all sectors of the economy. The WTO must be an essential tool in addressing the fall-out of the crisis. In the enormous effort that will be needed to ensure a global recovery and build resilience, we need global rules to maintain stability and predictability.

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