The WTO agreements cover goods, services and intellectual property, spelling out the principles of liberalization of their trade and the permitted exceptions, including individual countries’ commitments to lower customs tariffs and other trade barriers and to open their services markets.
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda specifically:
- Commits to promptly conclude the negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda and reiterates development concerns as integral to the Agenda
- Calls on WTO Members to accelerate accession of developing countries in negotiations for WTO membership
- Commits to combat protectionism in all its forms
WTO members have started working on strengthening mechanisms of cooperation and building confidence in the trading system, through reforms aimed at updating the WTO rulebook and the ways the organization operates. These efforts for reform cover all the main functions of the organization. The first is the dispute settlement and addressing the impasse in the appointments to the Appellate Body. The dispute settlement mechanism suffered a setback at the end of 2019 when members could not agree on reforms for the Appellate Body. Since then, consultations with members have started to identify potential solutions. At the same time, many members are weighing an array of creative interim options to keep two-stage dispute settlement operational while a permanent arrangement is found. In particular, a group of WTO members agreed in January 2020 to work together to put in place a transitional mechanism for appeals of WTO panel reports in disputes among themselves. The second area of focus is on improving the regular work of the WTO councils and committees. These bodies monitor how members observe the current rules of the WTO. Several members have insisted on the need to improve transparency among the membership’s trade policies. Clearly, it is vital that members meet their obligations on transparency and notifications—although some members say they need assistance to do so.
The third area of focus is advancing negotiations at the WTO. In the short term, the key multilateral test is the negotiations on fisheries subsidies. At the end of 2019, there was a reset in these negotiations. This is not just a trade issue; it is a sustainable development issue as well. Failing to successfully conclude these negotiations will not just be bad for marine fish stocks, it will also affect the credibility of the WTO and cast doubt on the feasibility of multilateral rulemaking.