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

EU Statements at the General Council Meeting, 05-06 May 2021

Geneva, 06/05/2021 - 00:00, UNIQUE ID: 210506_10
Local Statements

Statements delivered by Ambassador João Aguiar Machado

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

I would like to welcome your report and make a few comments.

On the Nairobi Decision on export competition, the European Union continues to urge the remaining members to submit the necessary schedule modifications to eliminate export subsidy commitments as soon as possible and indeed in time for MC12.

The 2021 Export Competition Questionnaire will be the first occasion on which developing countries are required to submit replies. The European Union encourages all developing members to do so. This is particularly important for those who are active exporters.

The European Union also looks forward to the discussion in the Committee on Agriculture Regular meetings on the triennial review of the Nairobi Decision. The European Union counts on members’ active participation on how to enhance disciplines and ensure no circumvention of commitments.

On the Bali Ministerial Decision on Public Stockholding, the European Union notes that India has invoked the Bali Ministerial Decision on public stockholding for the second time in its DS:1 notification submitted on 8 April 2021. This will be examined in the Regular meeting of the Committee on Agriculture together with the remaining questions to India from last year. The European Union hopes that we can count on India’s constructive engagement with the membership during this examination and that the information still to be provided be supplied in time for the Committee.

Finally, on the Bali Ministerial Decision on Tariff Rate Quota administration, we continue to regret that it was not possible to reach an agreement on widening the scope of the underfill mechanism, in order to ensure that all WTO members take on equivalent commitments under the Decision.

Rolling over the timeframe in 2021 will not be acceptable to the European Union. We take note of the recent discussions and constructive ideas put forward by the Chair of the regular Committee on Agriculture. We urge the membership to engage on this issue and work constructively in the Committee on Agriculture Regular meetings. We consider that this issue should be taken up by our ministers at MC12.

4. TRIPS COUNCIL MATTERS

STATUS REPORT ON THE CONSIDERATIONS BY THE TRIPS COUNCIL ON THE "PROPOSAL FOR A WAIVER FROM CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE TRIPS AGREEMENT FOR THE PREVENTION, CONTAINMENT AND TREATMENT OF COVID-19" (IP/C/W/669) – STATEMENT BY THE CHAIR OF THE COUNCIL FOR TRIPS

More than one year after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still in the midst of it. In many parts of the world the situation is getting worse, especially in India. All our thoughts and efforts will be in assisting the people of India that is suffering greatly in these times. We all share the same objective: to rapidly develop safe and effective therapeutics and vaccines, to manufacture them in required quantities as soon as possible and to distribute them equitably across the world.

With several vaccines developed and approved in record time, the next challenge that we are facing is how to achieve an increase in the global manufacturing of COVID vaccines in the shortest time possible.

The global production of vaccines is rapidly increasing, so the efforts are paying off. It is estimated that 10 billion doses of COVID vaccines will be produced in 2021, while the total global output of all vaccines combined before COVID was only 5 billion doses.

Vaccine production is a highly complex process, which requires adequate facilities, trained personnel, raw materials and other inputs. Setting this up takes time.

Under the leadership of DG Okonjo-Iweala, the WTO is now actively exploring its role in the common goal of equitable access to COVID vaccines and therapies.

The European Union considers that there are many promising avenues and actions that the WTO can and must take in order to contribute to this goal. One set of such actions are disciplines on transparency of production and supply chains as well as trade facilitation measures that can be further developed in the context of the Trade and Health initiative that will be discussed later today.

Another element is the collaboration with industry - given the urgency and technical complexity of manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines, governments should facilitate broad co-operation between vaccine developers and manufacturers, based on transfers of technology and know-how. We consider that vaccine developers should be ready to enter into arrangements that facilitate the supply at cost of vaccines to low and middle income countries. This is the best way to speed up supply in the European Union and globally. It is also the best way to tackle new variants of the virus.

Finally, as we have stated many times in this debate, the European Union considers that the TRIPS Agreement and the principles of the Doha Declaration can play a role in addressing this crisis. They reflect a careful balance between protecting intellectual property on one hand, which is a crucial incentive to innovation, and promoting widespread access to medicines and health care, on the other.

The flexibilities offered by the TRIPS Agreement, including compulsory licensing, are absolutely legitimate tools in the times of the pandemic.

Even if voluntary arrangements are the most promising avenue to ramp up vaccine production, it is important for each Member to ensure that its legal framework on compulsory licensing is effective. For instance, to ensure that in the context of national emergency such as this pandemic, certain requirements - such as the obligation to negotiate with patent holders - can be waived. Not all Members of the WTO foresee that possibility in their domestic laws. Several Members have not yet implemented the TRIPS amendments concerning compulsory licences for export. An effective legal framework is the key for a swift reaction and should be available in all Members.

The European Union is ready to discuss how to facilitate the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement flexibilities. We are ready to support a statement that reaffirms the TRIPS flexibilities, confirming that during a pandemic the obligation to negotiate with the right-holder can be waived and that a compulsory license can cover exports to all countries that lack manufacturing capacity.

We remain committed to an open and comprehensive dialogue with all WTO Members and with the Director-General Okonjo-Iweala, to explore how the multilateral rules-based trading system can best support universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

5. TRADE RELATED CHALLENGES OF THE LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES AND WAY FORWARD: A DRAFT FOR MC DECISION (WT/GC/W/807)

The European Union understands fully the challenges that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) face in integrating in the global trading system. The European Union also recognises that while graduation is a positive and remarkable milestone to be celebrated, most graduated LDCs have not, at the time of their graduation, achieved the same level of capacity and integration in the global economy of most other developing countries. A smooth transition after graduation may therefore be needed.

The European Union believes that there should be support and flexibilities for WTO members, commensurate with their needs and capacity constraints, beyond the group of LDCs.

This is established in the European Union’s trade and cooperation policies that provide support for LDCs, for countries that have recently graduated from the LDC status, as well as other developing countries.

In the trade area specifically, the aim of the European Union is to focus on how to facilitate and enhance the capacity of countries to assume commitments that foster integration in the global economy. In our view that is the best way that the WTO can effectively contribute to sustainable development.

In that spirit, the European Union will continue to support constructive initiatives to better integrate members with capacity constraints into the multilateral trading system, and to take into account in that connection the specific situation of graduating LDCs. We especially encourage discussions on the basis of analysis that shows where specific difficulties exist.

The European Union has previously put forward a number of questions regarding this proposal, and will continue to assess the text. We look forward to hearing the views of other members and we thank in particular the LDC group for their continued and constructive engagement in this matter.

6. SUPPORTING THE CONCLUSION OF FISHERIES SUBSIDIES NEGOTIATIONS FOR THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE OCEAN AND FISHING COMMUNITIES - DRAFT MINISTERIAL DECISION - COMMUNICATION FROM BRAZIL (WT/GC/W/815)

The European Union would like to thank Brazil for presenting this proposal. These negotiations are determinant for the credibility of the WTO and the whole SDG agenda.

The mandate that we have, both SDG 14.6 and of MC11, is clear: we should address certain forms of harmful subsidies leading to overfishing and overcapacity and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing while ensuring for appropriate and effective special and differential treatment. This mandate is addressed to all of us; it is not a mandate only for a certain category of Members (largest subsidisers) or fleets (large-scale industrial fishing) but for all WTO Members. Our mandate does not introduce concepts like “polluter pays”. And this is because ensuring healthy oceans and sustainable fish stocks is a responsibility of us all.

The only way to address food security and growing the fisheries sector in the future is by ensuring that fishing is sustainable.

We are already late and indeed on borrowed time. The European Union fully supports the Chair’s and DG efforts and ambition to have an outcome in July.

8. PAPER TITLED "THE LEGAL STATUS OF 'JOINT STATEMENT INITIATIVES' AND THEIR NEGOTIATED OUTCOMES" – REQUEST FROM INDIA AND SOUTH AFRICA (WT/GC/W/819)

Plurilateral agreements have been a driving force under the GATT and beyond and paved the way for many of the multilateral agreements that are today an integral part of the WTO Agreement. They are not antithetical to multilateralism; on the contrary, they pave the way towards it.

Beyond these agreements, the WTO’s negotiating arm has not been able to deliver many of the significant improvements in the multilateral trade rulebook that are needed to respond to important trade issues. It is clear that modernising WTO rules cannot be achieved only through multilateral agreements based on a single undertaking.

It is therefore vital for the WTO’s relevance and credibility to maintain the option of developing rules that respond to the economic and trade realities of the 21st century through plurilateral agreements.

A very large number of WTO members are involved today in plurilateral negotiations under the Joint Statement Initiatives on services domestic regulation, e-commerce and investment facilitation for development. These initiatives bring many benefits and are essential to make global trade rules responsive to the digital transformation of the economy, the growing importance of services and the need to facilitate investment, which is key for development.

If no effective formula is found to integrate plurilaterals in the WTO, there would be no other option than developing such rules outside the WTO framework. This would increase the fragmentation created by the multitude of Regional Trade Agreements and risk to eventually condemn the WTO to irrelevance.

Meaningful WTO reform has to recognise this reality. The EU favours an inclusive approach to open, plurilateral agreements that facilitates participation by developing countries and allows them to decide whether they wish to join the agreement, leaving the door open for them to join in the future if they so wish.

There are various ways in which plurilaterals can be incorporated in the WTO. Some are included already in the WTO Agreement, such as in the GATS that provides that Members can inscribe additional commitments in their schedules, which is the legal architecture that the participants in the JSI on services domestic regulation have chosen.

Nobody can doubt the benefits of various types of plurilaterals. What matters is not their legal form, but that they bring undeniable benefits. Legal form should be a secondary consideration; the focus should be on how this Organization can remain relevant by developing rules to address pressing issues.

The European Union is in favour of having further discussions on this with members. We should seek to establish a Working Group on WTO reform at MC12 to serve as a forum for discussion around institutional aspects of WTO reform that are of systemic interest such as the issue of plurilaterals and how to better integrate them into the WTO architecture.

9. GENERAL COUNCIL DECLARATION, TRADE AND HEALTH: COVID-19 AND BEYOND (JOB/GC/251/REV.1) - UPDATE FROM AUSTRALIA; BRAZIL; CANADA; CHILE; CHINA; THE EUROPEAN UNION; HONG KONG, CHINA; ICELAND; JAPAN; KENYA; REPUBLIC OF KOREA; MEXICO; REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA; MONTENEGRO; NEW ZEALAND; NORTH MACEDONIA; NORWAY; SINGAPORE; SWITZERLAND AND THE UNITED KINGDOM

Statement delivered by Canada on behalf of co-sponsors, including the EU

On behalf of the forty-six (46) cosponsors (counting the EU as 27) of the draft General Council declaration on “Trade and Health – Covid19 and beyond”, Canada would like to provide our common views on how the WTO should contribute to the fight against current as well as possible future pandemics.

Developments around the world over the last few months and weeks have shown how pressing the need remains for a coordinated response to the Covid19 crisis. International organizations need to take action.

Global cooperation is imperative to ensure access to essential goods including therapeutics and vaccines. Such cooperation is needed at all levels – from the industry and governments to international organisations working together.

In this global cooperation, the WTO has a role to play, as the event on vaccine equity organised by the Director General on 14 April has shown us. Vaccine production needs to be scaled up and vaccine distribution needs to be made more equitable. There are several avenues to achieve this, and they include increasing transparency of supply chains to tackle bottlenecks, streamlining customs procedures and eliminating export restrictions, among others. Transparency is certainly one area where the WTO can contribute. Under the leadership of the WTO Director General, we support the pooling of expertise of the different Geneva-based Organisations to facilitate access to information, so crucial in the event of crisis, and increase legal certainty.

In addition to these inter-institutional cooperation efforts, the WTO has also a lot to do on its own. We already made concrete proposal for a Declaration entitled “Covid19 and beyond” that was circulated on 22 April (JOB/GC/251/Rev1). The draft Declaration includes various dimensions that we believe should constitute a basis for further work and agreement among Members, but let me recall some of them:

First, we should make sure that governments do not introduce unnecessary restrictions to trade in essential goods. In line with G20 declarations, we consider that restrictive measures, if necessary, should remain targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary to avoid disruption of global supply chains.

Second, as we strive towards ensuring equitable access to vaccines across the globe, we must also make sure that the COVAX facility can operate unimpeded by trade-restricting measures.

Third, we should intensify the work in the different WTO Committees to seek solutions for the challenges posed by the pandemic. For instance, the work already underway in the Trade Facilitation Committee is a good example. We should accelerate the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and share best practices on measures taken during this pandemic. We should build on that.

We are ready to further engage and refine our thinking but it is the cosponsors’ collective view that such initiative could be combined with other efforts and provide realistic and reasonable means to contribute to the fight against the current pandemic and create the conditions for better addressing future ones.

Since the previous General Council meeting, seven (7) additional Members have decided to actively support this initiative, namely China; Hong-Kong, China; Iceland; Moldova; Montenegro; North Macedonia and the United Kingdom. We warmly thank them for joining this effort. Together, counting the EU as twenty-seven (27), we represent almost a third of the WTO membership, reflecting a variety of domestic situations.

The forty-six (46) cosponsors of the Trade and Health Initiative are calling on the rest of the WTO members to also join this effort for a successful outcome on trade and health as soon as possible. In that regard we welcome recent expressions of support. Members should grasp this opportunity to show the relevance and importance of the WTO doing what it can to support the global fight against the pandemic.

European Union Statement

The European Union thanks Canada for presenting the proposal (originally of the Ottawa Group) which the European Union cosponsors.

The challenges that we are facing are multiple and complex. The proposal addresses many of the issues that a number of the participants including those involved in producing or delivering vaccines have identified (at the event on vaccine equity of 14 April). There is high value in considering the different elements of the proposal.

The pandemic is unprecedented and will not be solved by addressing one single issue only. This is why the European Union also supports the third way that the DG is proposing, whose object is to work with companies to ramp up the production and distribution of vaccines.

The European Union takes note of the position that the United States has expressed on a TRIPS waiver. The European Union will be ready to assess how the US proposal could support ramping up the production of vaccines and their distribution. This is the biggest challenge that we need to address together. We need a holistic and collective approach.

10. PROCEDURAL GUIDELINES FOR WTO COUNCILS AND COMMITTEES ADDRESSING TRADE CONCERNS (WT/GC/W/777/REV.5) - UPDATE FROM CO-SPONSORS

On behalf of all 20 co-sponsors, the EU would like to provide an update about our work on the proposal for "Procedural Guidelines for WTO Councils and Committees Addressing Trade Concerns".

When addressing the General Council immediately after taking office on 1 March, Director-General Okonjo-Iweala stressed the need to do things differently. While the spotlight is understandably on negotiations, the WTO’s monitoring and deliberative function is in need of change, too – and that is maybe where we should start to do things differently.

The co-sponsors of this proposal share a joint and continued interest in improving how Members address each other’s trade concerns in regular WTO bodies. In fact, the composition of co-sponsors – big and small traders, at different levels of development – tells something about the proposal itself. Almost all co-sponsors find themselves both at the raising and the responding side of conversations on trade concerns, and often with each other. This, I believe, illustrates our genuine intention to make exchanges on trade concerns more effective and fruitful.

Because this should happen sooner rather than later, we have kept engaging with Members on the ideas in the proposal over the past months. Today, we do not intend to discuss possible revisions. But we would like to express our appreciation for the constructive comments we have received in our informal conversations with Members.

We are pleased to note that some ideas in the proposal, particularly those on meeting arrangements in part 1, have already been taken up and put into practice.

Examples include an indicative yearly schedule of meetings for the Goods Council and its subsidiary bodies; or more collaborative and advance preparation of agendas in some WTO bodies. We also witness an increased interest for bilateral engagement in the margins of formal meetings of some committees where such engagement has so far not been regular practice.

These steps are welcome and encouraging. But there is also demand for some other improvements we propose. Written questions, for example, are a very useful tool for structuring and focussing Members’ conversations on trade concerns. But there is currently no guidance on how to handle written questions, and more importantly, how to reply to them. Guidelines, namely voluntary best practices, would facilitate Members’ engagement, for example on when replies to written questions can be expected.

In these as well as other areas, co-sponsors are mindful of the constraints some Members are facing. The objective is to improve Members’ discussions, not to create undue burdens.

Similarly, a user-friendly repository, or database, of relevant documents on a particular trade concern could significantly facilitate Members’ understanding of and engagement in a conversation on a trade concern.

Further, I think we all agree that informal engagement between the Member raising and the Member responding to a trade concern can contribute to resolving the issue, in addition to raising it in official meetings. The proposal contains various suggestions on how to stimulate such informal engagement. In the course of our conversations with Members, we have understood that some consider that the proposed guidelines could, in certain cases, lead to unintended consequences, or that the guidelines might occasionally be burdensome for some Members. Assuming that we have a shared interest in making the exchanges on trade concerns more effective, we call on Members to come forward with concrete suggestions. We are open to both alternative ideas and textual suggestions to mitigate the risk of unintended consequences.

To sum up, the co-sponsors confirm that they are committed to advancing the proposal towards a concrete outcome by MC12. We look forward to stepping up outreach and informal exchanges with Members in the coming months.

STATEMENT BY COLOMBIA, COSTA RICA, ECUADOR, PANAMA AND PARAGUAY ON TRADE RESTRICTIONS THAT BLOCK EQUAL ACCESS TO COVID-19 VACCINES

The EU thanks the sponsors for their paper and comments.

We are sensitive to the dire situation that Latin American countries and others in other parts of the world are facing in combating the pandemic.

We hope that WTO members have since our last meeting seen the practical confirmation of our recent statements, in that the EU continues to be one of world’s largest exporters of vaccines both in absolute terms and relative to our overall production. This includes significant deliveries to the Covax facility.

We have extended our authorisation measure until the end of June, and it has been adjusted to take into account whether a destination country is equally open to sending vaccines to the EU and to take account of the epidemiological situation in that country. This was done in the spirit of ensuring fairness and equity in vaccine distribution.

The mechanism has been in operation already for three months. Until now, during the lifetime of the mechanism, we have exported more than 170 million doses of vaccines to the world. However, in total, since the introduction of the vaccines to the market in December, and counting also exports exempted from the mechanism, we have exported more than 210 million doses. This means that the EU is exporting half of its production. No other OECD member and vaccine producer has done that.

Let me assure you that vulnerable, low and middle-income countries continue to be exempted from the scope of the mechanism, as are any exports to the COVAX facility.

In the meantime, as all of us here, we continue to struggle with a speedy delivery of vaccines to our own citizens. We are all under enormous pressure to deliver. A question arises how to increase access to vaccines for those countries that are not vaccine producers and that do not have sufficient resources to set up production on their own.

The WTO event on equity of vaccine distribution of 14th of April has showed us very clearly that that the equitable access requires very close cooperation between governments, regulators, financial institutions and companies themselves to scale up production. To do that a scale-up must take place across the whole value chain. There is a need to have more information about markets and government measures.

The EU has taken a good note of the call of the WTO DG, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to reduce the number of export restrictions. We should however distinguish measures which operate as an effective ban on exports from measures which are intended to ensure some degree of fairness in distribution of scarce goods and which do not restrict exports more than absolutely necessary. As we have reiterated on numerous occasions in the past, the EU’s measure is not an exports ban.

We have also already explained that the EU has promptly and diligently reported all versions of the mechanism to the WTO’s monitoring of trade measures related to Covid-19 and notified them under relevant requirements, such as the CTG Decision on notification procedures for quantitative restrictions.

The EU is committed to ensuring the greatest degree of transparency and calls on other Members to do the same with respect to any measure that may have a trade-restricting effect.

We appreciate the efforts of WTO DG in this respect and we look forward to working with her on all the different strands of work relating to our joint fight against this pandemic.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE CENTRE UNCTAD/WTO - REPORT OF THE JOINT ADVISORY GROUP ON ITS 54TH SESSION (ITC/AG(LIV)/280)

The International Trade Centre (ITC) is a valued partner to the EU. The EU is very pleased with our cooperation to date and we hope to continue to work on projects and exchange information in response to emerging priorities and needs.

The EU would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the ITC on its work providing valuable support to global MSMEs hard hit by the impacts of COVID-19. MSMEs lie at the core of not only the EU economy, but indeed the global economy, and as such they must be placed front and centre in the global recovery effort.

Moreover, supporting MSMEs is not only about good jobs. The majority of female entrepreneurs around the world own a small or medium-sized company. Supporting these companies means guaranteeing a more inclusive and gender-equal recovery, while also supporting the objectives of the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade.

Lastly, the EU strongly supports the ITC’s “Green to Compete” strategy to support MSMEs in building back better and greener. The EU will continue supporting the ITC work. The ITC can continue counting on the EU to advance the work in making global supply chains greener and more sustainable.

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