The 101 WTO members discussing a proposed multilateral framework on investment facilitation are now considering a new “consolidated text,” which is meant to be a stepping stone for formal negotiations once these begin.
The informal consolidated text, prepared by the group’s coordinator under his own responsibility, was circulated in April 2020 this year. Building on the streamlined text circulated this past January, the updated text brings in textual proposals and suggestions from some WTO members, including multiple language alternatives for various provisions. Among the many areas for further discussion include how to address proposals on temporary entry of investment persons, or varying definitions of investment being considered and what they mean for the framework’s scope. Also unclear are institutional questions, such as how this might eventually fit into the WTO framework.
While the consolidated text reflects another milestone in the investment facilitation “structured discussions” launched in December 2017, the talks themselves have slowed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTO Members involved in this initiative had previously aimed to launch negotiations in March and announce a “concrete outcome” at the Twelfth Ministerial Conference, which until recently had been planned for June 2020 in Kazakhstan.
The June event has since been postponed until at least mid-2021. Meanwhile, WTO Members in both the multilateral negotiating tracks and the “joint initiatives” on investment facilitation, electronic commerce, and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) have, to varying degrees, continued meeting virtually. However, some WTO Members have been reluctant to agree to any binding decisions or negotiating advances by virtual means.