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UAE Foreign Trade Minister Seeks Political Guidance For Agriculture Negotiators Ahead Of MC13

At a virtual mini-ministerial gathering on agriculture on 28 November, the United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Trade Minister, Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, urged ministers to provide political guidance to agriculture negotiators in the run-up to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) scheduled for February 2024 in Abu Dhabi. This call was echoed by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. At the end of the meeting, Minister Al Zeyoudi thanked ministers for their full support and clear guidance and committed to issue a summary report under his own responsibility as Chair of the meeting.

The ministerial gathering was hosted by the UAE Government, also the host of MC13, with the support of the Director-General and the WTO Secretariat. In an invitation letter to ministers, Minister Al Zeyoudi and DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the Senior Officials Meeting held at the WTO on 23-24 October clearly recognized that the ongoing agriculture negotiations have failed to achieve the progress members have called for.

“We are at a crossroads,” Minister Al Zeyoudi, the Chair of the meeting, said at the beginning of the meeting, emphasizing the urgent need for agricultural reform. The sector faces numerous challenges, including growing food insecurity due to adverse weather events, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts, he said.

He continued: “The food security package achieved at MC12 constituted a significant emergency response, but far more remains to be done to structurally address the expected devastating impacts of climate change and how to feed sustainably and equitably a growing world population which is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050. The sector also has to adapt as it is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Minister Al Zeyoudi emphasized that clear political guidance from ministers would assist negotiators in Geneva in overcoming stumbling blocks in the negotiations and bridging fundamental gaps in their positions.

DG Okonjo-Iweala echoed Minister Al Zeyoudi’s comments on the urgency of advancing the negotiations. She said: “I’m hopeful that the exercise of flexibility, where appropriate, will enable us to reach outcomes [at MC13] that would eventually constitute a meaningful step towards strengthening the multilateral trading system. More importantly, these steps would allow agriculture to address the contemporary challenges that we face today.”

In reference to the Uruguay Round, which established the existing Agreement on Agriculture almost 30 years ago, she said: “Members have done it before [to reach a comprehensive agreement on agriculture]. I believe they can do it again with a constructive mindset, bearing in mind the importance of the agricultural sector to all members.”

“Reaching a reasonable outcome on agriculture at MC13 would not only be good for the agriculture sector, but for the entire multilateral trading system,” she continued.

The General Council Chair, Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme, thanked Minister Al Zeyoudi for organizing the meeting. She emphasized that “higher-level political guidance is imperative to inject decisive momentum into [agriculture] negotiations and untangle the thorniest issues, particularly public stockholding for food security purposes and domestic support, given the high level of political sensitivity around them.”

At the meeting, about two dozen ministers participated in the discussions, focusing on two key questions: how to reconcile different views on the approach to the negotiations and how to achieve a meaningful outcome on agriculture at MC13.

The Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Alparslan Acarsoy of Türkiye, welcomed the discussions among ministers. “The positions expressed and the political guidance provided will undoubtedly assist negotiators in their efforts to narrow the gaps in negotiating positions and address the thorniest issues,” he said.

Summarizing the discussion, Minister Al Zeyoudi thanked participants for a rich exchange of views and for providing negotiators with “the full support of ministers” as they work towards achieving positive outcomes at MC13 and beyond.

He said he would circulate to members a summary of the main points made at the meeting in due course.


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