WTO Officials Meeting Delayed Until Fall


Amid significant opposition, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proposed an October meeting of senior officials instead of her earlier suggestion of July, according to our correspondent.

"Following feedback from more than 100 delegations, I suggest we hold the Senior Officials Meeting in October," Okonjo-Iweala said at an informal Heads of Delegations gathering. The July 20 meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee and heads of delegation will be rescheduled if members agree to the October meeting.

Okonjo-Iweala proposed the July meeting to take stock and identify issues to address at the Senior Officials Meeting before the summer break. She believes this will focus the Geneva process from September until the senior officials convene in October.

Originally, the director-general suggested a July meeting for senior officials, but recent consultations indicated July might be premature for bringing senior officials to Geneva.

When referring to senior officials, Okonjo-Iweala implies individuals at the "Vice Minister or Minister of State level" with decision-making authority.

In a statement (Job/TNC/109) seen by WTD, the director-general put forth three questions to members during consultations: the appropriateness of a senior officials meeting, the timing for this, and the topics to be covered.

While members unanimously agreed to the idea of a Senior Officials Meeting, they expressed differing views on the timing. Okonjo-Iweala's initial suggestion was to schedule a two-day Senior Officials Meeting late in July instead of the tentative July TNC. She proposed July because, in her two-year tenure, she observed the trend of postponing work until the last possible moment.

However, according to the director-general's statement, most members preferred an autumn meeting. Some members questioned the productivity of a Senior Officials Meeting in July that ambassadors couldn't accomplish.

Several members also queried the level of ambition and purpose for a July meeting, as it was challenging to identify the agenda. Many expressed concerns about a July meeting, suggesting that the work should be allowed to progress so that by fall, senior officials would have concrete areas to engage with.

Okonjo-Iweala warned against waiting until the end of July to set a meeting date. She hoped to agree on a date in today's meeting, giving senior officials advance notice and preparation time for a fruitful meeting.

As for the topics, members proposed a wide variety of ideas, including low-hanging fruits for senior officials to address, issues requiring political guidance for further work until MC13, and unresolved issues from MC12.

The director-general was silent on the mandated issues in agriculture, such as the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and special safeguard mechanism for developing countries.

Regarding the structure of the SOs meeting, Okonjo-Iweala suggested three possible options. Each was based on the topics to be taken up, but final modalities would depend on these topics.

During the consultations, many delegations requested financial assistance and the possibility of virtual participation to ensure all members can fully participate in the Senior Officials Meeting. Okonjo-Iweala assured members she would consider the funding request.


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