WTO must contribute solutions to global economic challenges: DG

World Trade Organisation (WTO) members need to do more to boost global trade growth by investing in multilateral cooperation and contributing solutions to the economic challenges the world is facing, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Wednesday.

In remarks delivered to a meeting of the WTO’s Trade Negotiations Committee, which she chairs, the Director-General noted that the slowdown in global trade which WTO economists projected in their recent annual forecast “should be a cause for concern for all of us.”

WTO economists said on April 5, that the volume of world merchandise trade is expected to grow by 1.7 per cent this year following 2.7 per cent growth in 2022.

“Slower economic growth will, over the long-term, mean lower living standards and opportunities for people around the world,” she told members. “It is important to internalize digital trade as a new source of growth and ensure we’re providing the enabling environment, the level playing ground and the rules for this to thrive.”

“We should also ensure we play a role as a multilateral arena for global cooperation that can deliver for people. We did this at MC12 (the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in June 2022) and I know we can do it again.”

“As the multilateral organisation providing the framework for trade relations among 164 members, it is our responsibility to contribute solutions to economic challenges the world is confronting.”

With regards to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) set to take place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in February 2024, the Director-General said MC13 “is an important opportunity on the horizon.”

Given the current global situation, “we cannot afford to have MC13 without any deliverables,” she warned. “The world is counting on the WTO. To deliver results, it is essential to find the right balance between ambition and pragmatism.”

“Having back-to-back successes from MCs is crucial to show that we have restored the WTO as a place for action. It is also our responsibility to the people whose lives and livelihoods have been severely battered by the poly-crisis.”

The Director-General’s intervention was preceded by reports from the chairs of the WTO negotiations on agriculture, fisheries subsidies, services and development delivered by Ambassador Alparslan Acarsoy of Turkiye, Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland, Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan and Ambassador Kadra Hassan of Djibouti respectively.

Members also received a report from the chair of the General Council, Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme of Botswana, on her recent consultations relating to MC13 and the way forward on WTO reform.

Commenting on the reports of the chairs, the Director-General said there is a “real need for a greater sense of urgency” in the substance and pace of negotiations.

“While it is good that we have an uptick of activities in WTO bodies, we should not let ourselves slip into a pattern of simply continuing technical work ad infinitum,” she warned. “From today’s reports, frankly speaking, we have to get moving. If we want to succeed at MC13, we have to genuinely start negotiating on substance.”

Noting that the Trade Negotiations Committee will next meet in July, the Director-General encouraged members to make the most of the two and a half months before the subsequent gathering.

“Consensus cannot be built overnight and if we do not dramatize our work in Geneva, we cannot de-dramatize the work of the ministers,” she declared. “I do not want to have to report in July that, despite hard work from all sides, we are still far apart. So, the onus is on you to deliver.”



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