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WTO Trade Negotiations Committee (September 2021): UK Statement

The UK's Permanent Representative to the WTO in Geneva, Simon Manley, yesterday addressed WTO Heads of Delegation during the Trade Negotiations Committee.

Thank you Chair. We meet today in this private session alongside the WTO’s much more public face, in the shape of the Public Forum. This was my first Forum, and I have to say I was really impressed with the enthusiasm, the expertise and the energy that I encountered.

Whatever the topic – from green trade, to digitalisation and development, MSMEs, gender, telecommunications, and many more – it’s clear to me that business and civil society remain genuinely invested in having the WTO at the heart of rebuilding the global economy after this pandemic. And that we have much to learn from business as we do that.

And those business voices are also important because they remind us all of who we are sent here to serve, and of what matters to those stakeholders outside the walls of this building. So I don’t think we need to apologise to ourselves for holding these meetings simultaneously, even if it has increased our stress levels a little bit over the past couple of days.

Madam Chair, those business voices have a clear expectation - and hope - that we will deliver multilateral outcomes at MC12: both in terms of the hard detail of the policy, as well restoring broader credibility of this organisation.

For our own part, I have been clear that, as the UK, we are prioritising multilateral outcomes on fisheries subsidies - and let me join the tributes to Ambassador Wills on that – and on our collective response to the pandemic, and we recognise the importance of finding a path forward on agriculture. Let me pay tribute there to the work of Ambassador Peralta and Ambassador Walker.

Most of those businesses I spoke to this week are also eager to see progress on the various member-led initiatives that we have on the table right now.

Look at the major milestone we have just reached in the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, effectively closing that text. That was delivered not just through determination and perseverance and compromise, but with the consistent support and encouragement of global business. And it’s an outcome will make a real, measurable difference to global trade as we build back better.

And likewise the good news from the MSME group – and congratulations to Ambassador Cancela - who followed up on their package in December 2020 through further demonstrating the political will around a draft text for MC12.

We are also really pleased with the momentum behind the e-commerce discussions.

So strong support for a successful, substantive MC12 was a message I heard loud and clear this week from our business stakeholders.

But equally loud and clear was the sense that this Ministerial Conference is an opportunity to start a process of building back better and making this organisation fit for the challenges for the third decade of the 21st century.

That means, for us, that we need to have a clear message about the path forward on WTO reform, which makes space for progress on the different elements that matter to different delegations in this organisation – whether that be dispute settlement, transparency and monitoring, and the negotiating function, including the role of Special and Differential Treatment.

But we also need a path forward, beyond MC12, on issues that matter to our societies and businesses today – whether that be health, the climate crisis and the environment, gender equality, and market-distorting practices, including industrial subsidies.

So, my colleagues are of course quite right to say that we have to stay focussed on a limited number of substantive deliverables for this conference. But we do believe – here in my delegation – that we can be slightly less restrained in framing MC12 as a launch pad for future deliverables. That means locking in progress on issues at the heart of creating a greener, more sustainable, more equitable global economy post-pandemic, and challenging ourselves when we come back in January – after our Christmas festivities - to take that forward with renewed momentum.

Madam Chair, it also comes down to remaining relevant, and keeping up with the real world outside these walls. And that means we should rightly be kept on our toes by global business and civil society, and we should be rising to the challenge they set us.

Showing those pathways forward… showing that the WTO can work flexibly, and nimbly, in different configurations, on issues that matter to society at large, is part of the important foundation that we can build at MC12 for the future success of this organisation.

And Madam Chair, as the clock ticks down - and we’ve been reminded how little time we have left and how we are we still absent on an agreement on many of these important issues - I call for inspiration from the other big event of today…this year’s most hotly anticipated cinematic moment…courtesy of perhaps the UK’s greatest export, who goes by the name of Bond, James Bond… And say that, for the WTO this is certainly No Time to Die. Indeed, it is time for us to give fresh life to the WTO, not just in words, but in deeds.

Thank you very much.


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