Belgian FM: WTO meet in UAE is opportunity to uphold rules-based global order

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The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi is an opportunity to uphold the rules-based global order, according to Hadja Lahbib, Belgium’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, and the Federal Cultural Institutions.

“Given the geopolitical and geoeconomics challenges we are all facing, it is more important than ever to send out a strong and positive message that a rules-based global order still works,” she told the Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an email interview from Brussels.

The UAE will host MC13 from 26th to 29th February 2024 in Abu Dhabi, after successfully organising COP28, the UN Climate Conference in Dubai in December 2023. Around 164 nations and trading blocs will participate in the Ministerial Conference, the WTO’s top decision-making body, which meets usually every two years.

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The Belgian Minister said, “We are looking forward to working together with the UAE Chair during the Conference and believe we are in good hands to deliver ambitious outcomes at the MC13.” The Conference is, of course, a perfect opportunity to further strengthen Belgium’s ties with the UAE and the region, and work together for a stronger rules-based international trading system, she stressed.

As open economies, both the UAE and Belgium have a great interest in cooperating at the bilateral and multilateral levels, Lahbib emphasised.

Belgium coordinates EU position

MC13 is taking place during the six months that Belgium holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the minister pointed out. “This implies that we will be coordinating the EU’s position among the 27 Member States, and with the European Commission which is negotiating in name of the EU and its Member States.”

The EU’s main political priority is to re-establish a fully and well-functioning Dispute Settlement Body, she said. Any outcome should include the possibility for an appeal procedure, Lahbib added. Other important priorities are the extension of the e-commerce moratorium as well as an ambitious agreement regarding fisheries subsidies, building on what was achieved at MC12, Lahbib explained.

Welcoming new members, WTO reforms

“We welcome the accession of the Comoros and Timor-Leste. This shows the continuing appeal and staying power of the WTO as a multilateral organisation,” the Belgian minister said. Strengthening the multilateral system, with the WTO at its core, will allow it to function as a guardrail against an increasingly fragmented economic order, she affirmed.

At MC12, Lahbib noted, members took already some initial steps towards reform of the WTO. “We are committed to continue this reform process at MC13 and look ahead towards MC14.” In this context, she explained, the EU has proposed to enhance the deliberative function of the WTO by creating a platform within the WTO framework to discuss 21st century challenges.

The EU proposal focuses on trade and industrial policy, trade and environment, and trade and inclusiveness, the minister added.