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 WTO Abu Dhabi agenda infographic
Graphic shows sticking points in the WTO’s agenda.


WTO reforms plagued by obstacles

By Duncan Mil

February 26, 2024 - Trade ministers from some 160 member countries are gathered in Abu Dhabi for the World Trade Organization’s biennial meeting amid issues that threaten global trade and economic growth.

The almost three-decade-old global watchdog, whose rules underpin 75% of international commerce, is trying to strike deals by consensus. Still, such efforts are becoming more difficult amid signs that the global economy is fragmenting into separate blocs.

“Let’s not pretend that any of this will be easy,” Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in her opening speech.

She called on ministers to “roll up their sleeves” and complete negotiations but seemed to rule out any deal in the United Arab Emirates on reforming the body’s mothballed appeals court. “We are not there yet,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala described the atmosphere as “tougher” than the WTO’s last 2022 meeting, citing wars, tensions and elections.

Outcomes from the four-day meeting include an agreement that could safeguard global fish stocks and protect fishermen by banning government subsidies of US $ 35 billion per year.

The accession of two new members to the WTO -- Comoros and East Timor -- is inevitable. Still, more challenging areas include extending a 25-year moratorium on applying tariffs on digital trade, which South Africa and India oppose, and an agreement on agriculture trade rules that has eluded negotiators for decades.

PUBLISHED: 26/02/2024; STORY: Graphic News