Amid continuing opposition from India and South Africa, 123 member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have proposed an Investment Facilitation for Development (IFD) Agreement for the approval of the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC13), taking place in Abu Dhabi from February 26 to 29.

The proponents of the agreement state that its purpose is to improve the transparency of measures, streamline administrative procedures, adopt other investment facilitation measures and promote international cooperation, as a means of facilitating the flow of foreign direct investment between member countries, particularly to developing and least-developed countries, with the aim of sustainable development.

The suggestion is to adopt it as a plurilateral agreement, which will be binding only on those members that accept it. However, the adoption of the proposal has to be a consensus decision.

Commenting on the proposed agreement, MC13 Chair, Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Trade, stated the finalisation of the IFD Agreement is the result of more than six years of work, dedication and vision of more than 120 members. “This agreement is proof of the power of collaboration and compromise and the shared vision of an open and rule-based trade,” he said.

The co-coordinators of the IFD negotiations, the Vice-Minister of Trade of Chile Claudia Sanhueza and the Minister of Trade of the Republic of Korea Inkyo Cheong in their opening remarks at the ministerial highlighted that the IFD Agreement showed the WTO can deliver for global trade and development and address current economic challenges by facilitating investment flows, a key driver of economic growth and sustainable development.

Civil society groups have opposed the move by stating that WTO Members have explicitly rejected attempts to get an investment agreement ever since 1996. A decision in 2004 said no discussion of investment negotiations in the WTO until the Doha round was over, which has not happened. In the 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference, WTO Members agreed that any such new issues will only be addressed if agreed by all members, they point out.

“Not only is there no mandate for these negotiations, there is a negative mandate. Countries who are trying to push this through at the MC13 are breaching fundamental WTO rules”, Deborah James, facilitator of the Our World is Not for Sale network said.

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