Nigeria anticipates positive outcomes at WTO 13th Ministerial Conference

Doris Uzoka-Anite

By Doris Uzoka-Anite

As the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) approaches, Nigeria stands poised and actively ready to contribute to global dialogue and negotiations. With a commitment to fostering international trade, cooperation, and inclusivity, under the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration, Nigeria looks forward to playing a key role in shaping positive outcomes for MC13.

The MC13 scheduled to hold from 26-29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), will convene trade ministers and delegations from around the world, to update the WTO’s agreements on trade policy, review the functions of the multilateral trading system (MTS), and define the agenda for the WTO’s future work.

The Ministerial Conference (MC) of the WTO is an international meeting of the organization’s 164 member governments, directed to make decisions on the multilateral rules underpinning the international trading system. The Ministerial Conference is the highest-level decision-making body of the WTO, and under the Marrakesh Agreement the group is obliged to meet every two years.

This year’s conference presents a crucial opportunity for Nigeria to participate in negotiations for, among other issues, Special and Differential Treatment (SDT) that developing country members can receive in trade agreements. Notably, the agenda of the ministerial conference includes discussions focused on both the environment and inclusivity in trade policy. The fact that these issues are squarely on the agenda is a positive step in how the multilateral trading system defines its role in the world, and Nigeria is dedicated towards contributing constructively to discussions that will impact the future of global trade.

While Nigeria continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks collective solutions for sustainable development, digital trade and food security continue to stand out as top priorities. Our participation at the MC13 paves the way for us to achieve concrete positive outcomes in the WTO agriculture trade reforms negotiations which we believe should be approached from a food security and livelihood perspective.

We call for the continued review of the trading rules for agriculture with a view to achieving equitable rules that enhance food security, by providing the necessary policy space for augmenting production and productivity and protecting livelihoods in developing countries, along with diversifying and stabilizing the global supply of food products by achieving reductions in inequitable trade-distorting subsidies.

In this regard, the MC 13 work programme must pave the way for the adoption of decisions on critical food security instruments of public stockholding for food security purposes (PSH), and special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for Developing Countries. In addition, it must foster negotiations on modalities to address trade-distorting domestic support especially with regards to levelling of the playing field.

Regarding digital trade, we continue to call for the E-Commerce Work Programme and Moratorium to be approached from a development perspective. This will enable us to explore the appropriate policy instruments within the WTO toolbox that could be deployed to foster the development of e-commerce ecosystems in Developing Countries. On the Moratorium, we believe that issues regarding the scope and the definition of the moratorium should be taken up post-MC13 and clarified so Members can understand the scope of their commitment.

Furthermore, with respect to the moratorium on Imposing Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions, Nigeria is of the view that it should be extended temporarily. Nigeria holds this view for two important reasons. First, the non-renewal of the moratorium would undermine the predictability of the global e-commerce environment, and this would negatively affect businesses and consumers. Next, it will undermine the competitiveness and growth of our MSMEs who would be unable to access intermediate content at cheaper prices.

Moreover, another priority for Nigeria at MC13 is finding an amicable solution to matters relating to Fisheries Subsidies, we welcome the increasing number of ratifications of the MC12 Fisheries Subsidies Agreement (FSA) and encourage members who are yet to conclude this process to expedite action.

We also welcome the WTO Fisheries Funding Mechanism and call for it to be made easily accessible for Developing Countries to invest in their fisheries management systems. We are optimistic that MC13 would deliver an SDG14.6 consistent agreement on the outstanding issues, including overcapacity and overfishing (OCOF) that focuses on the most harmful subsidies with effective special and differential treatment for developing countries that are not responsible for OCOF and exemption for small players whose share of global marine capture is below 0.8%. In addition, artisanal and small-scale fishing should be excluded from the scope of application of the discipline.

Nigeria seeks a result-oriented MC13 where ongoing reforms within the multilateral trading system will be adapted to avail developing countries the policy space to support sustainable industrialization, economic diversification, and structural transformations, including through enhancing domestic production and value addition.

We therefore call on Members to prioritize reforms that would address simultaneously the longstanding development issues on the negotiating agenda of the WTO, together with issues of commercial significance that foster inclusive growth, create jobs, and widen the circle of prosperity.

In preparation for MC13, Nigeria has conducted extensive consultations with various stakeholders, including other WTO state members, government agencies, private sector representatives, and civil society organizations. These collaborative efforts aim to ensure that Nigeria’s positions are reflective of diverse perspectives and contribute to the collective goals of the WTO.

As the world gathers for MC13, Nigeria looks forward to fostering meaningful discussions, building consensus, and working towards a positive outcome that benefits all members of the global community. We are of the view that MC13 must build on the success of MC12 and deliver outcomes that proffer solutions to the food, livelihood and development challenges of WTO Members as well as respond to the challenges of the ever-changing global economic landscape. Consequently, all hands must be on deck in the collective effort to revitalise the WTO and enhance its role in global economic policymaking.

Uzoka-Anite is Nigeria’s minister of industry, trade and investment