The World Trade Organization’s 11th ministerial meeting concluded Dec. 13 with a commitment from members to secure a deal by the end of 2019 on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. This commitment is in line with a September 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goal that sets a 2020 deadline for eliminating IUU subsidies and prohibiting certain forms of fisheries subsidies, with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries.

The ministers also agreed to extend for two more years the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions as well as the practice that prevents WTO members from pursuing non-violation cases under the WTO’s intellectual property agreement. However, the WTO indicates that no agreement was possible in a number of substantive issues, including public stockholding for food security purposes. WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo expressed disappointment at the lack of final substantive agreements at the conference but was optimistic about the future, observing that members have “the seed of an organization which can work better” and be “vibrant, flexible and nimble.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the Buenos Aires ministerial “will be remembered as the moment when the impasse at the WTO was broken,” as he reiterated the willingness of the U.S. to work with like-minded members on e-commerce, scientific standards for agricultural products, and the challenges of unfair trade practices that distort world markets.


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