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WTO 12th Ministerial Conference begins

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WTO 12th Ministerial Conference begins

The 12th WTO Ministerial Conference begins today – Photo: East Asia Forum

The World Trade Organization (WTO) will hold its 12th four-day ministerial conference for its 164 member countries in Geneva today.

The agenda includes fisheries subsidies, agricultural food security, equitable vaccine distribution to developing countries and WTO reforms—mostly decades-long unresolved issues. Fisheries negotiations—ongoing for 20 years—only reached an agreement on the definition of “fish” in 2020.

No major deal is expected, though fisheries negotiators are hoping for one or two substantive outcomes. At issue is a key demand from environmentalists—the removal of fishing company subsidies that allow commercial fleets to fish non-stop—in a bid to replenish greatly diminished global fish stocks. China opposes subsidy removals and India wants major exemptions for itself and developing countries while African countries decry subsidies allowing foreign fleets major advantages in fishing its waters.

A big fishing deal is highly unlikely. However, certain key outcomes may be within reach, notable among them a Chinese proposal to limit exemptions to small fishing communities rather than big fishing industry companies. The success of this measure will depend on whether India softens its stance on broad exemptions—something it may consider should EU nations offer concessions on other issues, such as accepting wider vaccine patent waivers.

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