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Making a smooth, sustainable graduation for LDCs

A view of the opening session of the WTO MC13 in Abu Dhabi on Monday- WTO Photo
A view of the opening session of the WTO MC13 in Abu Dhabi on Monday- WTO Photo

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We are meeting at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) at a time when the world is facing multidimensional challenges in the form of post-pandemic shocks, economic volatility, food insecurity, rising inequality, increasing unemployment, and climate disaster, all accentuated by ongoing international crises. In such a situation, strong multilateral cooperation among countries is highly needed. Bangladesh has always been a strong supporter of multilateralism and expects the same from the member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It is often said that trade is the most effective engine for economic growth and development. We fully subscribe to this view. However, our experience suggests that Least Developed Countries (LDCs), small economies, and other developing countries face significant difficulties in their endeavours to integrate with the process of globalisation from a position of strength and benefit from the potential of international trade.

Regrettably, we are witnessing a resurgence of nationalism and protectionism worldwide, impeding collective endeavours to advance our common interests. Distrust among countries paralyzes progress in multilateral cooperation. The multilateral trade system has been no exception. We are yet to conclude the negotiations of the Doha Agenda, the development dimensions of which could have been an effective tool to further integrate developing countries and LDCs into the world trading system. This would have ensured that trade can only be free if it is fair.

We are ready to discuss WTO reforms. Such reforms, however, must strengthen this body to bring welfare to all of our member states. We emphasise that the reform exercise should be inclusive, and transparent, and reaffirm the founding principles of the WTO. More affirmative actions are required for the developing countries, particularly for the LDCs, including those on the track of graduation.

Ahasanul Islam Titu, State Minister of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh

The WTO dispute settlement system is currently incapacitated, leading to an erosion of trust in multilateral trade. Apart from its negotiating and norm-setting weaknesses, its ability to respond to pressing trade-related challenges of our time is under question. While we are open to improvements in some aspects of operations in the dispute settlement system, we want a two-tier, fully functional dispute settlement system and an immediate restoration of the Appellate Body.

On the fisheries subsidies regarding overcapacity and overfishing (OCOF) negotiation, Bangladesh strongly urges targeting the largest subsidisers that have historical responsibility and contributed significantly to OCOF as well as distance water fishing. It is also important to bring Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) and polluters pay principle for the marine fisheries damage, caused by those subsidising members. LDCs graduated LDCs for at least some years after graduation, and small-scale and artisanal fisheries must be outside the discipline as they were never part of the problem.

It is rather disappointing that the TRIPS Council has failed to reach a consensus to extend the MC12 TRIPS Waiver to therapeutics and diagnostics. We hope WTO members will not fail to take the necessary calls to better prepare for future pandemics.

We need clarity on the definition and scope of e-commerce. Bangladesh is in favour of an e-commerce moratorium on a temporary basis. Before further extension of the moratorium for a longer time, the economic loss of importing members should be taken into consideration. Decisions on agriculture, particularly for food security purposes and a permanent solution to public stockholding, remain a major target for all of us.

In this connection, we call upon Members to implement the MC12 Declaration on the Emergency Response to Food Insecurity and, given the critical necessity of food security in LDCs, to refrain from imposing export restrictions on food imports by LDCs for domestic consumption. LDCs need an environment of predictability and continued support for a smooth and sustainable transition.

We appreciate the General Council decision in October last year regarding unilateral tariff or Duty-Free Quota-Free (DFQF) programmes in Annex-1 of the LDC graduation proposal. However, Annex-2 is still pending.

We sincerely hope that members will make a decision in favour of a transitional arrangement regarding LDC-specific provisions for the LDCs after graduation. Special and differential treatment was at the heart of the Marrakesh package of the mid-1990s.

The G-90 proposal on elaboration and operationalisation of S&DTs is a long pending issue. It is important to build convergence and make progress on this important topic mandated by ministers in Doha in 2001.

We are well aware of the climate crisis and LDCs are the victims of the climate vulnerabilities. While Members' trade-related measures to protect the environment are well understood, at the same time, it is expected that Members' measures do not serve as disguised barriers to trade, especially the trade of LDCs. All countries, including LDCs, do their level best to create employment opportunities through trade, with a focus on vulnerable segments of society, in particular women and the climate vulnerable.

As a graduating LDC, we would like to particularly remind all of us that the Doha Programme of Action adopted at the LDC-5 Summit in March 2023 make a pledge to help the graduating LDCs towards smooth and sustainable graduation and support their smooth transition plans.

We believe that MC13 of the WTO could play an important role in realising the commitment of the global community.

Ahasanul Islam Titu is the State Minister of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh. The piece is his written statement presented at the WTO MC13 (February 26–29) in Abu Dhabi.

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