WTO Ministerial Conference: UK pushes for fairness and freedom in global trade

Tue 14 Jun 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

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Freedom and fairness must be “front and centre of the global trade agenda”, according to UK secretary of state for international trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan in a much-anticipated speech to delegates at this week’s 12th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Geneva.

Trevelyan said a push towards more equal global trade rules is needed – on everything from food security to tariff-free electronic trade.

She added: “Freedom and fairness are now more important than ever if we wish to use global trade to grow our economies, deliver better living standards for communities at home and abroad, and to address some of the world’s most significant challenges.”

Ranil Jayawardena, the UK’s minister for international trade, echoed these comments in his own speech, stating: “Britain believes that free, fair and open trade can prevent yet more lives being destroyed through developing a more sustainable, efficient and resilient food supply chain for the future."

Ukraine solidarity

Trevelyan also urged delegates to come together to show solidarity with Ukraine, and asked members not to let Russia’s invasion weaken the rules-based international system.

She said trade officials must now push for reforms “that will reduce our economic dependency on aggressors”.

In her plenary session speech, Trevelyan set out three specific principles that would guide the UK’s trade policy today and in the future:

  • to adhere to the concept that trade is open, and free
  • that there is now a new need to “fight for fairness”
  • that there was a need to make sure global trade rules “truly address people’s and businesses’ modern-day issues.”

E-commerce moratorium

Specifically, she called for a renewal of the WTO’s e-commerce moratorium, whereby countries do not currently impose customs duty on cross-border internet transactions.

Trevelyan urged delegates to come up with a “reinvigorated approach to services and digital trade through the WTO, just as the UK has done through its free trade agreements.”

Trevelyan added: “Trade rules created in the pre-internet age need to move with the times.”

In calling for greater fairness though, she also added that “fairness cuts both ways,” and that “every country should shoulder is responsibility.”

Food export fears

Trevelyan’s comments follow calls by WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to have governments end export restrictions on food to alleviate the growing problem of foodstuff shortages brought about by Russia’s invasion on Ukraine.

Country delegations meeting at the conference this week are trying to reach a consensus on global food security after the Russian invasion and blocking of Ukrainian food exports heightened concerns.

The UN urged WTO members not to impose restrictions on food, as reported in Barron’s.

The conference is the first in-person high-level WTO meeting for five years.