This sums up the marching order of President Marcos to the Philippine delegation that will negotiate with over 160 countries during the high-level World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in the United Arab Emirates this week.

'(To) get the best possible deal for our country,' Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. told The STAR when asked about Marcos' marching order to him,

a few days before he flew to Abu Dhabi for the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13) scheduled from Feb. 26 to 29.

The MC is the WTO's highest policy-making body, comprising all its 164 member-states, that could influence the trajectory of the global trade environment.

In particular, the MC13 is being described by international observers as a 'make or break' for the WTO as the multilateral trading system faces a slew of challenges - from geopolitical tensions to deepening divergence - on its importance today.

The Philippines is expected to advance its interests in key agricultural and fisheries issues during the biennial meet of the ministers of the 164 member-countries of the WTO, sources familiar with the matter told The STAR.

The country could be prioritizing three areas in the agriculture and fisheries negotiations: state procurement of food stocks for food security or public stockholding; a new special safeguard mechanism (SSM), which is a trade remedy tool that allows countries to raise tariffs when import surges affect domestic farmers; and additional rules on curbing state subsidies that lead to illegal, unreported and underreported fishing as well as overfishing.

These three areas in agriculture and fisheries have been the sticking points for the Philippines in previous WTO MCs, especially in the two most recent ones MC11 in Buenos Aires, Argentina (2017) and MC12 in Geneva, Switzerland (2022).

The draft ministerial text put forward ahead of the MC13 indicated that ministers would attempt to have a permanent solution on public stockholding by MC14. However, for SSM, the best thing that WTO members would be able to achieve by MC14 would be the adoption of its modalities, or the policy direction that would guide further negotiations on the matter.

Former agriculture undersecretary Ernesto Ordoñez said he expects the negotiations to yield a 'better' outcome for the Philippines as Tiu Laurel 'knows' the issues of the farmers and fishermen 'very well' since he came from the private sector.

Ordoñez currently serves as the chairperson of the National Sectoral Committee on International Trade (NSC-CIT) of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries, the private-sector led consultative body of the DA. The NSC-CIT, through its Working Group on Trade Negotiations, conducted a dialogue between DA officials and industry stakeholders about the upcoming MC13 recently.

'Each country thinks for itself. We must throw away this idea that we must be holier than the Pope. We must do what is good for our country,' Ordonez told The STAR.

Tiu Laurel is co-leading the Philippine negotiating team for the MC13 together with Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual.

Tiu Laurel's group from the agriculture department is composed of seasoned and returning officials including undersecretary for fisheries Drusila Bayate and recently appointed undersecretary for policy, planning and regulations Asis Perez.

Both Perez and Bayate are former officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, with the former serving as director and the latter as assistant director.

Also joining the delegation is Policy Research Service director Jerome Bunyi, who spent over a decade as the country's agriculture attaché to the WTO and has been part of negotiating teams to previous MCs.

Reforms in dispute settlement

At the same time, the Philippines will advocate reforms in enhancing the WTO's function as well as work with fellow member countries in resolving the impasse in the organization's appellate body.

Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual will lead the Philippine delegation composed of officials from the House of Representatives and various government agencies such as the DA, Department of Foreign Affairs, Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines and Philippine Mission to the WTO in Geneva,

'For the MC13, the Philippines is working with other members to resolve the impasse in the WTO Appellate Body (AB) or come up with a functioning dispute settlement system by 2024,' the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

The WTO's appellate body is an independent seven-person body that considers appeals on dispute settlement cases in the organization. When one or more two parties to the dispute settlement cases appeal, the appellate body reviews the findings and conclusion of a panel.

The appellate body ceased to function since the last AB member's term ended in November 2020. Interim solutions like the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement (MPIA) and the Non-Appeal Agreement have been implemented to compensate for this

'We hope to see concrete and positive outcomes on WTO reforms, non-violation complaint, e-commerce, investment facilitation, and substantial progress in agriculture and fisheries subsidies negotiations,' Trade Undersecretary Allan Gepty said in a preparatory workshop for the MC13.

Apart from resolving the appellate body issues, the Philippines will also champion reforms enhancing the WTO's functions, notification, and transparency mechanism, as well as achieve meaningful outcomes on agriculture negotiations.

'The Philippines sees the importance of the second wave of fisheries subsidies negotiations,'the DTI said.

'Through these, the country targets to establish a balanced approach on the disciplines on overcapacity and overfishing including an effective and appropriate special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed members,' it added.

Meanwhile, significant progress and outcomes are also expected by the end of the discussions on electronic commerce, investment facilitation for development, trade and environment, as well as the integration of micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the global value chain

Copyright © 2022 PhilSTAR Daily, Inc Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (