NAIROBI (Sputnik) — The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO. It meets every two years and can take decisions in every aspect of WTO competence.
MC10, taking place in Africa for the first time, is expected to come up with a number of important initiatives and legally binding decisions, potentially making a step forward from the stalled Doha round of talks.
All the recently-concluded regional and mega-regional free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are expected to be at the table, as WTO needs to find the way to incorporate them in its system.
WELCOMING NEW MEMBERS
MC10 will show increased attention to the least developed countries (LDCs) not only by the mere fact of taking place in Africa, but also by welcoming two new members from LDCs — Liberia and Afghanistan.
The decisions on the two countries' accession were made by WTO members in October and November correspondingly.
Liberia and Afghanistan will bring the total number of LDCs who joined the WTO since 1995 to 9.
Agriculture, as always, is going to be one of the most important and sensitive issues on the WTO agenda. So-called "export competition" issues can become part of the Nairobi conference outcome, with the removal of export subsidies being the main possible breakthrough.
MC10 can introduce legally binding commitments to fully eliminate export subsidies. The question remains how fast they can be removed and whether the developing countries will get any preferential treatment.
MC10 is also expected to focus on assistance to farmers, as some states have already submitted proposals for fisheries subsidies outcomes in an eventual Nairobi package. They include measures to raise transparency, prevent unreported and unregulated fishing, as well as to provide some special differential treatment to the industry, as promoted by the African, Caribbean and Pacific group and Peru.
HELPING COTTON PRODUCERS
WTO ministers are expected to take steps to help the developing nations at the global cotton market. Under the draft text prepared in the run-up to MC10, they will reaffirm their commitment to reform policies that have distorting effects on the world cotton market.
The main advocates here are the "Cotton Four" — Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, who want greater access to the markets of the developed countries and support for their domestic cotton industries.
BUILDING UP TRANSPARENCY
Parties to MC10 can take steps to increase transparency in WTO, as such proposals have already been submitted. Specifically, a mechanism to review the anti-dumping practices of the WTO member states can be set up, as suggested by the European Union.
Russia has also submitted a proposal calling for the adoption of non-binding guidelines at MC10 and a commitment to agree on a specific anti-dumping process and transparency issues after Nairobi.
GOING TARIFF-FREE ON IT
One of the most far-reaching decision at MC10 can be finalizing the conclusion of an agreement on removing barriers in IT trade. The breakthrough agreement was prepared in July by 54 states, representing the major IT exporters. It seeks to eliminate tariffs on 201 IT goods, accounting to seven percent of the global trade today, according to WTO data.
Countries are expected to set a phase-out schedule. Most tariffs will be removed in three-years time, but some states will have a longer transition period.
On e-commerce, no new decisions are expected, and the ministers will most likely extend the existing e-commerce moratorium until the next MC in 2017.
The moratorium is the established practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions.
TAKING CARE OF ENVIRONMENT
WTO obligations to protect the environment may come to the fore this year as MC10 takes place right after a a historic agreement on climate change struck at COP21 in Paris on Sunday.
Promoting market opening to favor environmentally friendly goods and services, 17 WTO members have been negotiating the Environmental Goods Agreement with binding tariff concessions to be taken by the parties.
In case it is concluded, all WTO members will enjoy tariff concessions on a most-favoured-nation basis.
Most-favoured-nation treatment is a method, which establishes the sovereign equality of states with respect to trading policy.