Geneva – Albeit the challenges and criticisms facing the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the multilateral trading system, Ministers, representatives, and delegations from the 164 members of the WTO delivered concrete outcomes at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (WTO MC12) which are vital in addressing the adverse effects of the pandemic, economic recovery efforts, food security, public health, and illegal fish subsidies.

“What we have delivered in the MC 12 this week is just a result of a long process of consultation and deliberation both at the national level and at the multilateral level. We thank our principals especially Secretary Ramon Lopez and Secretary William Dar for their guidance in this whole exercise”, said Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo, Head of Philippine Delegation at the WTO MC12.

Touted as the MC12 Geneva Package, Undersecretary Rodolfo stressed that the decisions made by the Ministers addressed the country’s interests especially in the areas of fisheries subsidies, agriculture, food security, trade, public health, e-commerce and WTO reforms.

WTO MC12 Chair Timur Suleimenov of Kazakhstan and WTO Director General Okonjo Iweala-Ngozi at the Closing Session of MC12.

On Fisheries Subsidies, the prohibition of subsidies will not only help ensure global fish stocks but also address those harmful subsidies contributing to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. This agreement is also consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.

Under the agreement members are prohibited from providing subsidies to fishing or fishing related activities outside of the jurisdiction of a coastal Member or a coastal non-Member and outside the competence of a relevant Regional Fisheries Management Organization or Arrangement.

“We also made sure in this agreement that assistance given to our artisanal fishers are secured, and that our rights and obligations under international law, including the law of the sea are preserved”, said Rodolfo.

On Public Health, the WTO response to the pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics which, among others, include commitment to restraint in imposing export restrictions and transparency, ensures the smooth flow of essential goods.  A policy that the Philippines has been pushing even at the regional level.

The waiver under the TRIPS Agreement involving patents on vaccines as well as some procedural obligations in licensing is also another milestone necessary in paving the way for an enhanced and affordable access to the vaccine requirements of the region.

“While the Philippines envision a comprehensive and forward-looking framework that will help us to effectively respond to seasonal surges, the emergence of new variants, or new pathogens, the decision reached on TRIPS is nonetheless a big step forward in achieving this goal”, explained Rodolfo.

“In the meantime, we will work closely with our local pharmaceutical industry to further intensify our Vaccine Self-Reliance Program (VSRP),” added Rodolfo.

For his part, Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, Philippine Permanent Representative to the WTO, stressed that “The Philippines will still continue pursuing all avenues that will allow or enhance the decentralized and increased production of therapeutics and vaccines, including through voluntary technology transfer.”

Philippine Delegation to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference
at the Philippine Permanent Mission in Geneva

On food security, the Philippines welcome the commitment to avoid unjustified export restrictions on food and enhanced transparency on any export restrictions. The decision to completely exempt humanitarian purchases for the World Food Programme from export restrictions is also another milestone on the food sovereignty agenda.

On E-commerce, the extension of the moratorium is viewed to sustain the momentum of the Philippines as we strengthen our niche in the Services sector particularly those dependent on digital and online platform.

According to Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty, “[T]the opportunities provided for by the digital environment is actually one great equalizer for businesses and economies, thus, as we maintain the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions, we have to intensify our efforts in coming up with a set of rules and disciplines governing e-commerce activities.”

In an earlier statement, Undersecretary Rodolfo stressed that “[A]nother important advantage of a stable and predictable online environment is that it would further strengthen the positioning of the country as an innovation hub, and an ideal location for hyperscale data center. Thus, we support initiatives that contribute to this objective.”

Asked for comment, Secretary Ramon Lopez expressed satisfaction with the outcomes of the MC12. “This is indeed historic for the WTO. With the diverse priorities and positions of the Member States on various areas, it is good to note that we were able to push for our interests within the context of a rules-based system. Indeed, the outcomes show that the WTO remains relevant and responsive. The next step is for us to be vigilant in ensuring that these commitments are made good.” Lopez added. ♦

Date of Release: 23 June 2022