Investment facilitation talks set sights on WTO MC12 outcome, prepare for negotiations

The 99 WTO members involved in structured discussions on a possible multilateral framework on investment facilitation are slated to transition into negotiating mode from March 2020 onward in a bid to announce a “concrete outcome” at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference.

The group co-sponsoring this “Joint Statement Initiative” has expanded significantly since its launch in December 2017. The most recent addition was the Philippines, which formally joined during an informal ministerial-level meeting on the subject. That event took place in parallel to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on January 23.

The structured discussions in the later months of 2019 were devoted to streamlining an extensive working document that set out, in seven sections, possible provisions that could feature in the planned framework, without prejudging what participating WTO Members’ positions might be once negotiations begin. According to a summary of the December 2019 stocktaking meeting by the group’s coordinator, talks in the early weeks of 2020 will aim to set the stage for negotiations in March, with subsequent meetings planned before the ministerial.

Those talks will be based on a new, streamlined text, circulated by the group’s coordinator in January 2020 to WTO members. The text remains a restricted document on the WTO website. As the participants prepare to transition to a new mode of work, various questions remain on the planned framework’s scope, development provisions and other issues. It also remains unclear at this stage what institutional arrangements may apply to such a framework, if completed, given the rules for incorporating new agreements into the WTO architecture, as well as past ministerial decisions that have said that consensus is required by the WTO membership to negotiate on issues that were not already under the Doha Round agenda.

A detailed history of the investment facilitation talks and the July 2019 working document that served as the basis of the September–December 2019 discussions is available online in the IISD library in English and French. (Editor’s note: The publication was prepared under the TAF2+ Umbrella Grant on New WTO issues, funded by the UK Government and implemented jointly by IISD, CUTS International, BKP Economic Advisors and InterAnalysis at the University of Sussex. Its views reflect those of the authors and not necessarily those of TAF or the UK Government.)