Q&A with Natalia Patternot, Solomon Islands Head of Delegation to the WTO-MC13, Director of External Trade, Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.

This is my third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation. When it comes to multilateral trade, it is so important with regards to providing predictability and transparency for our private sector, with trade rules and our trading environment. I think the WTO monitoring mechanisms are particularly important, as well as its negotiating function in developing trade rules. And as I mentioned, it gives us a sense of predictability and transparency.

Q: In the WTO context, the Solomon Islands as a small island, large ocean states is also one of the least developed economies of the world, does it feel overwhelming to be in the global WTO room?

A: I think with regards to being alongside our fellow Pacific Island countries, it does not feel intimidating at all. We feel empowered to be alongside our Pacific countries, and as you mentioned – we are large ocean states. At the 12th Ministerial Conference in 2022, the Pacific Group showed that although we are small, our voice was mighty. It was absolutely mighty. And we were heard. When it came to the fisheries subsidies agreement, we as the Pacific collectively pursued an outcome that captures the interests of our people and our communities.

Q: And then, of course, the unfinished details in the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement (Fish 2) which are a big agenda item this week.

A: Absolutely. And this is a priority for Solomon Islands, it is where we see the outcome of 2022 ministerial as a partial agreement. A priority for Solomon Islands is this second wave of negotiations. What Solomon Islands wants to see achieved is elimination of harmful subsidies applied on fisheries that contribute to overfishing and overcapacity. We want to see effective and appropriate special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries. And this is in acknowledging the basic and obvious fact that as a World Trade Organisation, we are not on the same level of development, and there is a proactive way this must be addressed. The Solomon Islands is a least developed country transitioning and we do face challenges—a whole multi-layered environment of challenges, of integrating into the global trading system. So, there are areas where we are looking for those avenues, or that recognition of our special circumstances, and where we still need that opportunity to also integrate into the global trading economy.

Q: What does success look like for you come the end of this week?

A: For fisheries subsidies, especially, this is a priority for Solomon Islands and success would be achieving a comprehensive fishery subsidies agreement, which includes either a standstill or a rollback on those harmful subsidies to overcapacity and overfishing.

Q: For many people these issues and talks are very technical, and Abu Dhabi is a long way away. How do you link it all back to those moments when you’re sitting with family or friends, and talking about the benefits and impacts of these WTO talks to their lives.?

A: Well, we’ve seen how the shocks of the past four years have been challenging for us multilaterally. It only takes a natural disaster or a global crisis of any magnitude to affect our development efforts and it reverses the progress that we have made. It also reverses our efforts in achieving our own and the global sustainable development goals. So, ultimately, you know, we are here to ensure and see that all these discussions, rules and ministerial outcomes effectively show that our World Trade Organisation is still relevant. At the end of the day this multilateral system can deliver sustainable development for our people. Ultimately, it must improve the livelihoods of all peoples in and beyond our own islands.