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WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference

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November 26, 2021

Why in news?

The World Trade Organization's 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), a forum to ensure trade rules will take place from 30 November to 3 December 2021.

What is the WTO Conference (MC12)?

  • The WTO is an inter-governmental organization for negotiating trade agreements, settling trade disputes, monitoring trade policies and delivering technical assistance on trade to developing countries.
  • The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision making body of the WTO.
  • Trade ministers generally meet at the Ministerial Conference every two years, but MC12 was postponed due to COVID-19.
  • MC12 will be chaired by Timur Suleimenov, the Kazakhstan President’s Envoy for International Trade.

What will happen at the WTO Conference in December?

MC12 Multilateral Discussions

  • Vaccines and other critical supplies - Vaccine distribution, export restrictions, trade facilitation and improved transparency in medical supply chains needs to be discussed.
  • Temporary intellectual property (IP) waivers have been debated.
  • Saving fish stocks - Negotiations have been ongoing since 2001 to eliminate harmful fishing subsidies and a revised text is being discussed ahead of MC12.
  • Food and Agriculture - Developing countries are keen to see a permanent solution preventing challenges to government food purchase programmes when these breach certain trade-distorting limits.
  • Some countries are also pushing to reduce farming subsidies and some for new market access talks.
  • Electronic tariffs - A temporary prohibition on customs duties on electronic transmissions is up for debate again.

MC12 Plurilateral Discussions

  • Services trade - 65 WTO members accounting of 90% of global services trade have agreed to cut red tape in the way they regulate services.
  • Its implementation could result in small businesses benefiting from an additional 2-3% cost reduction compared to large firms.
  • Sustainable trade - Three sustainable trade coalitions will be launched on environmental sustainability, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and on tackling plastic pollution.
  • Boosting investment - Negotiations are looking at issues like streamlining the administrative procedures to make an investment in a country.
  • Going digital - Talks on digital trade continue with text finalized on spam, e-signatures, e-contracts, consumer protection and open government data and paperless trading.
  • Addressing gender inequalities - A group of WTO members will issue a joint declaration on improving gender-disaggregated data for better trade policymaking and ensuring gender-mainstreaming in the WTO’s development work.

In which issues does India have major stake?

  • WTO reforms on special and differentiated treatment  (S&DT) of developing countries
  • Public procurement for food security
  • Response to Covid-19
  • A patent waiver proposal floated by India and South Africa to fight the pandemic

What is India’s stand on S&DT?

  • India is concerned that developed nations are pushing on reforms that would dilute provisions on S&DT (special and differential treatment) for developing countries
  • S&DT allows developing and less developed countries to enjoy certain benefits such as longer time periods for implementing agreements and binding commitments, measures to increase trading opportunities, etc.
  • Currently, any WTO member can designate itself as a developing country and avail these benefits but developed countries believe that self-declaration will put the WTO on a path to failed negotiations and institutional irrelevance.
  • However, India is open to discussions on classification of developing countries.
  • India’s best strategy at the ministerial is to make constructive suggestions on strengthening WTO as it has vital interests in a rules-based multilateral trading order while firmly standing up for the developing world.



  1. https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/wtos-12th-ministerial-conference-the-road-to-geneva/2374688/
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/11/what-to-expect-from-the-wto-conference-in-december/

Quick Facts

World Trade Organisation (WTO)

  • WTO is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations
  • It was created in 1995 superseding the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
  • Headquarters – Geneva, Switzerland
  • WTO has over 160 members representing 98 per cent of world trade
  • Ministerial Conference – It is the topmost decision-making body of WTO which usually meets every two years
  • General Council - It is the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body that has representatives from all member governments and meets regularly to carry out the functions of the WTO
  • The General Council also meets under different rules as the Dispute Settlement Body and as the Trade Policy Review Body.


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