WTO Ministerial Prep: Argentine FM Makes Case for Multilateralism in Geneva Visit

27 April 2017

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra stressed the value of multilateralism during a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, this week, months before her country is due to host the WTO’s Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11).

Her trip to the Swiss lakeside city included meeting with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo and the chairs of the global trade body’s negotiating groups on Tuesday 24 April.

“Minister Malcorra’s presence here today is a strong sign of Argentina’s commitment to our work and to a successful Ministerial Conference in December,” said Azevêdo following the meeting with her and the group chairs.

“I have no doubt that all WTO members will be grateful for this, and that the opportunity for the host of the Conference to be briefed in full by the chairs of the negotiating groups will prove to be an important step in our preparations,” he added.

WTO members are still working out which items might form a potential “package” of deliverables for the end-of-year meeting, which is scheduled for 11-14 December in Buenos Aires. Among the topics being looked at are domestic support in agriculture; disciplining harmful fisheries subsidies; trade in services, such as services facilitation; and e-commerce.

Malcorra also took part in a ministerial meeting of the “Friends of E-commerce for Development” – the first such event of its kind – which came in the middle of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) annual E-commerce week.

Malcorra on MC11, G20

Speaking at the Graduate Institute on Monday 24 April, Malcorra told an audience of trade policymakers, journalists, academics, and students that her country is working to be a “new, energetic voice” in the multilateral system, noting that doing so is part of Argentina’s larger strategy under President Mauricio Macri to reintegrate back into the world after years of inward-looking policies under the previous Kirchner administrations.

“We believe, coming from the south, that having a system that brings all of us together, that is rules-based, that prescribes how we need to connect with each other, is the best way to defend our views, our rights, our space, our capacity to participate,” she said.

She noted also that the years of relatively isolationist policies under the previous administration – collaborating with “just a few that thought in identical terms” – has had painful effects on her country, with now one-third of the population under the poverty line. This was why Buenos Aires has lately invested so much “in coming back to the world, in all possible configurations.”

Along with hosting this December’s WTO ministerial conference, Argentina is also due to take on the G20 presidency, following Germany’s turn. This year’s G20 leaders’ summit will be held on 7-8 July in Hamburg. Malcorra said on Monday that hosting the WTO gathering had been planned partly as a way to facilitate preparations for a successful G20 leaders’ summit next year.

“We felt that this was a way to really create a virtuous path to a good G20. Now we’ve learned that the world is changing and now facing the challenge of hosting the ministerial conference in Buenos Aires and how to make it a successful one,” said the Argentine official.

Among the issues flagged by Malcorra as areas that may have promise for an MC11 outcome were agriculture, services facilitation, and e-commerce, noting also the value of supporting micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises’ efforts to integrate into the global marketplace (MSMEs).

All of these “should increase the pie of opportunities. We have to move away from the zero-sum game,” she said, pledging that Argentina will push in the WTO discussions for stepping “backward from this brinkmanship that takes us, in our view, nowhere.”

“We still have a long way to go with some of the pending issues, but we also have some new issues that will help us, if well-defined, build an agenda going forward that will be a 21st century agenda,” she said.

She also referred to the debate over finding “creative” ways to negotiate multilaterally, given the difficulties seen in the past to reach deals at the global level. “Unless we put all of our energy into this and we really engage, and we overcome the incredible frustration which comes from trying to arrive to a consensus agreement – unless we overcome that, we run the risk of a world that goes backwards, and we know what it is to go backward.”

Meanwhile, although Argentina is still determining which issues will formally be part of next year’s G20 priorities, she did suggest that “jobs and education will be at the center,” in light of the global context on trade, development, and inclusiveness, and said that Buenos Aires will work to bring in the “perspective from the south” to make the G20 discussion even broader.

ICTSD reporting.

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