November 25, 2020
Foreign Trade

Ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group held to follow up the Action Plan on COVID-19 and the agenda for WTO reform

Ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group held to follow up the Action Plan on COVID-19 and the agenda for WTO reform
International Economic Relations Undersecretary (SUBREI), Rodrigo Yáñez, took part in the ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group convened by the Canadian Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Mary Ng.

At the start of the meeting, WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff delivered a structured speech in which he thanked the Ottawa Group for the work they are doing to reinvigorate the WTO. He highlighted a number of areas in which the Group members and the WTO Secretariat could cooperate to ensure that the organization remains an important force in international trade.

Subsequently, the Ottawa Group members discussed the progress made in the Action Plan on COVID-19, with particular reference to commitments on agriculture and medical supplies. The meeting also addressed the elements in the current agenda for WTO reform and other important initiatives promoted within the Group.

On medical supplies, Group members agreed to send a communication to the WTO proposing a series of actions in areas like export restrictions, exchange of experiences in facilitating trade and customs procedures, tariffs, transparency, cooperation, etc. Based on these actions, multilateral negotiations will be launched early in 2021 to provide a trade-oriented response to the current pandemic and similar future events, in order to avoid trade restrictions and maintain the supply chains of medical supplies considered essential for dealing with a health crisis.

On the subject of agriculture, the ministers concurred on the importance of avoiding restrictions on food exports, and agreed to present a proposal with the object of not imposing export restrictions or prohibitions on foodstuff purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the WFP. They also agreed on the need to strengthen efforts on transparency, by creating a list of measures affecting agriculture imposed in response to COVID-19, in order to improve the predictability of agricultural markets.

On the WTO reform agenda, ministers stressed the need to continue working on the objectives initially proposed within the Group. In this context, a special appeal was made to achieve substantial results in the negotiations on fishing subsidies by the end of December 2020, as indicated by the mandate on Sustainable Development Goals. The meeting's attention was also drawn to the importance of reaching a prompt solution to the impasse affecting the WTO Appellate Body (AB), of concluding the selection of a new WTO Director-General, and of making concrete progress in negotiations on the so-called Joint Statement Initiatives on E­-commerce, Investment Facilitation, and Services Domestic Regulation. The recent creation of the working group on trade and sustainability was also noted; the members hope to start a structured dialogue on the link between trade and the environment, and some members have expressed interest in opening negotiations on trade and climate change.

Undersecretary Yáñez reiterated Chile's support for the timely and substantial initiative on medical supplies, as being a concrete response to the challenges currently facing trade in essential products for dealing with COVID-19.

In agriculture, he stressed Chile's adherence to the commitment to not impose export restrictions or prohibitions on foodstuff purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the WFP, noting the laudable efforts of that organization to support the world's neediest, which were recognized this year by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. On transparency, Chile highlighted the need and the importance of initiating more committed work, together with the WTO Secretariat, to follow up more closely on the nature and impact of the commercial measures applied by WTO members in the international market for agricultural products.

On the subject of the WTO reform agenda, Undersecretary Yáñez stressed the importance of a return by the Ottawa Group to its original objective, which is WTO reform. He pointed out that the markets and the players will not wait for the members to define the playing field; if the members do not provide solutions, then the players will. He also noted that the agenda for negotiations needs to be updated, calling for concrete results on fishing subsidies and e-commerce. As the chairman of the negotiations on facilitating investment, he reported that he would soon be able to circulate a new draft of the consolidated text to accelerate negotiations at the start of next year. Finally, he noted the importance of more concentrated work on gender and MSMEs.

On the conclusion of the meeting, Minister Ng thanked all the participants for their work and reported that the Business Advisory Group of Canada is organizing two events: one on the reform of the dispute settlement system and the other on the importance for the private sector of a rules-based multilateral trade system. She cordially invited the other group members to attend these events.