Joint initiative on investment facilitation looks to “meaningful outcome” for WTO ministerial

The joint initiative being pursued by 92 WTO members on developing a multilateral framework on investment facilitation has reached a new phase, with various new participants involved and a push for significant progress ahead of a December stocktaking meeting. The group coordinator—who gave a public update in October about the results of the January–July 2019 meetings—has said that those involved are working toward some type of “meaningful outcome” by the global trade body’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The Friends of Investment Facilitation for Development (FIFD)—the group of some developing country WTO members that helped launch the joint initiative—held a session at the WTO Public Forum in October 2019 to provide an update on the discussions to date. The group’s new coordinator, Eduardo Gálvez of Chile, told audience members at the Public Forum that a “meaningful outcome” by June 2020 is the goal, without specifying further what that might entail. Gálvez added that there is interest from some WTO members that are not currently signatories to the joint initiative, some of whom have made substantive contributions to the discussions to date.

The subsequent “mini-ministerial” in Shanghai in November saw the addition of several WTO members to the joint initiative, bringing the number up from just over 70 to 92, with a Chinese official later telling participants at the UNCTAD IIA High-Level Conference that same month that four more additions were forthcoming. Gálvez had flagged both the Shanghai meeting as well as the December stocktaking meeting in Geneva as important milestones for gauging the shape of an MC12 outcome. The framework would involve binding disciplines for those involved.

The joint initiative was launched at the WTO’s Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference in December 2017. The group spent the first seven months of 2019 discussing various examples of investment facilitation measures and other steps that could potentially be applicable to this conversation, which resulted in a “Compendium of Text-Based Examples,” as well as a working document prepared by the group’s outgoing coordinator, Juan Carlos González, Colombia’s WTO Ambassador at the time. Both documents are currently restricted on the WTO’s online portal.

Examples considered include national-level legislation, certain aspects of bilateral investment treaties, provisions from the services chapters of regional and FTAs, and the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

In line with an agreed schedule, the group has held a series of thematic meetings devoted to the different sections of the working document. These include meetings held on October 17–18, October 31–November 1 and November 25–26, as well as the stocktaking meeting on December 12–13.

The working document that is guiding this next phase has seven sections, the first and last involving scope and general principles, as well as institutional arrangements and final provisions. The other five cover “transparency and predictability of investment measures; streamlining and speeding up administrative procedures and requirements; contact/focal point/ombudsperson types of mechanisms, arrangements to enhance domestic coordination and cross-border cooperation; special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed country members; and cross-cutting provisions,” according to a summary of the schedule.