The World Trade Organization (WTO) needs to keep building on its successes and guard against complacency following a historic June meeting, according to its director general.
Speaking at a meeting of the General Council, the highest decision-making body of the WTO, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala this week called on the organisation’s members to build on the achievements from the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), held in Geneva in June 2022. She also urged members to step up efforts so that the organisation continues to respond to the challenges facing the global trading system.
Hard won victories
The Institute of Export & International Trade attended MC12 and its director general, Marco Forgione, echoed the WTO chief's clarion call. “The outcomes of MC12 were hard-won and it is vital that we continue to build upon these reforms without losing momentum,” he said.
The ministerial conference resulted in reform of the WTO’s dispute-settlement system, a food security agreement, and an extension of the E-commerce Moratorium.
The possibility of an end to the moratorium was a major concern for businesses, and would have resulted in the application of tariffs to digital trade in goods such as software, films and data, according to Reuters.
Forgione added: “now is the time to begin the hard work of implementing the commitments made last month in Geneva. Only by working together on these issues with consistent progress can we ensure the prosperity of international trade and sustainability of our planet.”
"Delivering results last month has generated expectations for more in the future," Okonjo-Iweala said.
The former Nigerian finance minister urged WTO members “not to be lulled into complacency” following the meeting and to begin carrying out the agreements as soon as possible.
Okonjo-Iweala noted “wide support” for the food security agreement, calling on members "to work together to ensure that the WTO continuously and effectively contributes to addressing the current food crisis”.
Referring to a 15 July joint statement, issued by herself and the heads of four other intergovernmental organisations, the WTO chief called for urgent action to address the global food security crisis by facilitating trade and supporting international supply chains.
Politico reports that Japan, the US, and Australia have all supported her idea of a September retreat to re-launch agricultural negotiations, after discussions at MC12 failed to produce any progress on agricultural trade reform.
Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Didier Chambovey of Switzerland, reported that work is continuing after MC12.
Some WTO bodies have already met and possible follow-up and implementation work on MC12 mandates for the second half of 2022 have been discussed. This includes the Committee on Agriculture, the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, the TRIPS Council and the Council for Trade in Goods.
"We should do what it takes to sustain the momentum," said Ambassador Chambovey. "I therefore would like to encourage relevant WTO bodies to establish work plans – where feasible – based on MC12 mandates that could serve as yet another useful tool in our implementation pursuit."
In an article co-authored with the heads of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) – the three organisations making up the so-called ‘Geneva trade hub’ – Okonjo-Iweala said they had a belief in “a deep commitment to trade-led prosperity”.
The three trade leaders called for policymakers to make global trade greener, more inclusive, and more connected; in particular, to focus on regional arrangements like the African Continental Free Trade Area, to ensure they become stepping-stones to trade-led growth.
About the IOE&IT and the WTO Public Forum
The IOE&IT is proud to play its part in shaping the future of international trade.
The Institute will partner with the Enterprise for Management, Economic Reform and Gender Equality (EMERGE) to host a panel discussion on gender equality in international trade at the WTO Public Forum in September.
The session will be titled ‘Engendering gender equality in international trade: a discussion on inclusive trade policies and initiatives’ and will take place Friday, 30 September 2022 in room S3 of the WTO.