WTO General Council Considers Reforms


The World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council convened Monday to discuss various proposals for reforming the organization, a process met with mixed reviews due to the unconventional method adopted by the new chair, Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana.

Molokomme allotted individual members three minutes and coordinators of different groups five minutes to present their views. While Singapore and Japan welcomed the new method, several developing and least-developed countries expressed difficulty in articulating their assessment on the range of proposals within the limited time frame.

Ambassador Molokomme, who plans to host a reform retreat soon, shared updates from her recent meetings with select members on WTO reforms. However, confusion arose when she mentioned convening high-level discussions without specifying the participants.

During the meeting, Molokomme expressed optimism towards the demonstrated interest and engagement on WTO reforms. "I believe that we are already on the right path," she said. "Members are fueling the reform discussions. Several ideas which had been put forward informally have now been translated into formal written proposals, as is reflected in the current agenda."

Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, highlighted the need to address development issues in the context of WTO reform. Okonjo-Iweala urged members to expedite their work on this front, emphasizing that "the eyes of Africa are on us, specifically on special and differential treatment."

She also encouraged African countries to expedite domestic processes towards the acceptance of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement, revealing that African government officials expressed significant concern over illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

Due to the time constraint imposed by Molokomme, the six reform proposals discussed briefly included

  • improving inclusiveness by reviewing and evaluating external engagement,
  • improving the operation of WTO bodies to revitalize the WTO's monitoring and deliberative function,
  • reinforcing the deliberative function,
  • making the Committee on Trade Development a focal point for consideration and coordination of work on development in the WTO,
  • India's "30-for-30" incremental changes, and
  • maximizing the value of ministerial conferences.

However, Brazil's proposal for hosting annual ministerial conferences did not gain traction. Additionally, the U.S.'s proposal for improving the operation of the General Council and Heads of Delegation/Trade Negotiations Committee, circulated on April 26, was not included in the discussion.

China welcomed the proposals, saying it is "really encouraging to see that the momentum of reform is gaining, and members are practicing the approach of 'reform by doing.'" China's statement suggested its support for the first channel of dispute settlement reform and the second channel of improving the WTO's functions.


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