Investment facilitation: WTO members involved take stock of progress, look to intensify work

The 70 WTO members participating in the structured discussions on a possible multilateral framework on investment facilitation concluded their current phase of work in late July and are reportedly looking to “intensify” their efforts after the organization’s annual August hiatus.

At a stocktaking session on July 18, Colombian Ambassador to the WTO Juan Carlos González, in his capacity as the group’s coordinator, outlined the discussions’ state of play and potential next steps, particularly given the interest that several participants have expressed in having an outcome in time for the next WTO ministerial conference in June 2020. González has now finished serving as coordinator, with the role going to Chilean Ambassador to the WTO Eduardo Gálvez.

The joint initiative’s participants have been meeting on a near-monthly basis since January to examine various country-level examples that could inform the “elements” of this planned multilateral framework.

Those meetings were held in January, March, April, May and June, and were devoted to “improving the transparency and predictability of investment measures,” “streamlining and speeding up administrative procedures and requirements,” “enhancing international cooperation, information sharing and the exchange of best practices, and [the] development dimension.” These areas were those listed in the joint statement that formally launched this initiative in December 2017.

According to a summary by González, participants have circulated 40 written submissions that outline examples from different participants, which linked back to the “checklist” of issues that came from last year’s discussions. There have also been examples that González has submitted in his capacity as coordinator, namely for the discussions on cross-cutting issues. While these written submissions are listed on the WTO’s online documents portal, most are restricted to member access only. These submissions have been discussed by participants, along with other “suggestions,” and now form part of a “compendium of text-based examples” designed to collect the input received to date.

González noted that participants have different views over the level of convergence on certain items, and therefore whether they are ready to move to text-based discussions from September onward. The work program for the rest of the year will be determined during an organizational meeting taking place after August. He reported that participants are now looking to discuss the framework itself, given the focus to date on what elements might go inside that framework. They have asked the coordinator to prepare a working document that will facilitate that effort, as well as making it clearer where participants have common ground and where there are areas of divergence.

An earlier summary by the coordinator on the March discussions had indicated that participants were generally of the view that this example-driven discussion from January to July 2019 could help inform future obligations that they may take on under such a framework.

“There was broad agreement that the concrete examples presented helped visualize how the different elements contained in the checklist could be converted into operational commitments. While some of the submitted examples were already adapted to a multilateral investment facilitation context, many of them needed to be specifically customized,” the summary said.