The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is currently being held here after being postponed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.
As the highest decision-making body of the WTO, the ministerial conference is generally held every two years. This MC12 event is regarded as an important opportunity to promote WTO reform, reach multilateral trade agreements in important areas and revitalize the multilateral trading system.
With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt the world economy, the global multilateral trading system is now facing many challenges. Seen as a positive force in reviving the global economy, the MC12 meeting will strive to reach multilateral agreements in four major areas: epidemic response, fisheries subsidies, agricultural reform and WTO reform.
WTO members have emphasized the positive role of international trade in the fight against the pandemic, with WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala now vigorously facilitating the negotiations on the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. It is hoped that this will enable developing countries to increase production, promote equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, address vaccine accessibility and affordability, and facilitate global immunization.
On fisheries subsidies, WTO members are actively working on a multilateral agreement that would bring to a close the 21-year-long negotiations and contribute to global sustainable development.
The WTO is also promoting the reduction of agricultural subsidies in various countries. However, as agricultural subsidies are related to farmers" livelihoods, especially in developing countries where smallholder production is common, countries are quite cautious in their stance, and it remains to be seen how much of a breakthrough this meeting will achieve.
As the three main functions of the WTO, namely trade rule negotiations, dispute settlement and trade policy deliberations, are all facing many challenges, WTO reform is also an important agenda of the MC12. WTO members will seek to reach a consensus on initiating reform discussions during this meeting and work on concrete proposals and decisions at the next ministerial meeting.
As a key meeting of the WTO at a "critical point" in history, the MC12 meeting is expected to have a profound impact on the future of international trade, global economic governance and the development of the WTO.