SINGAPORE - Despite differences in its member states' interests, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is able to achieve meaningful outcomes that bring about tangible benefits for economies, businesses and people, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (June 17).
Writing about the negotiations that took place in a LinkedIn post, Mr Gan, who was in Geneva, Switzerland for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, said: "Discussions among delegates had been intense and often impassioned as each sought to preserve their national interests while seeking common grounds for international cooperation."
At the conference from June 12 to 16, the 164 WTO members agreed on a series of trade agreements, including the extension of a moratorium on applying customs duties to electronic transmissions, which refers to digital goods and services, such as music streaming, e-books and financial transactions.
Mr Gan said the continued freeze on duties would lend predictability to businesses and further enable the digital economy's growth.
Several developing countries, such as India and South Africa, had been in favour of ending the moratorium. Others, such as America and the European Union, had raised concerns that doing so would dent the global economy's prospects of recovery.
The WTO also agreed to a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines.
"(This) will enhance equitable vaccine access and lay the foundation to tackle future global health crises and emergencies," Mr Gan said.
Countries also agreed not to apply export restrictions to food purchased by the World Food Programme for humanitarian purposes, which the minister added will help alleviate the growing food security crisis.
The United Nations, which runs the programme, had asked the WTO to do so, saying that Russia's war in Ukraine was increasing the risk of hunger and famine for tens of millions of people, many of whom already face food insecurity.
Mr Gan also said a move to limit fisheries subsidies - which have been pinpointed as contributing to over-fishing - was a laudable achievement for sustainable fishing.
On Monday, he met China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao on the sidelines of the WTO conference.
The countries signed two agreements on the green economy and digital economy. These aim to deepen collaboration between both countries through various means, including by getting businesses to work together.