By Bimbola Oyesola, [email protected]
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has charged governments across the globe to respond to growing fragmentation by strengthening multilateralism.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos at the weekend, WTO director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, urged governments to equally make a success of the WTO’s upcoming 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), building on the unprecedented package of trade outcomes achieved at MC12.
“Let’s get to delivering results,” she said to trade ministers at the close of the week at an informal ministerial gathering on WTO issues hosted by the Swiss government.
Okonjo-Iweala commended Switzerland for its leadership. She also lauded the launch of the Trade Ministers for Climate Coalition by dozens of members seeking to make trade a stronger instrument for climate mitigation and adaptation.
After congratulating ministers for the important results they delivered at MC12, the WTO director-general turned her sights to the next ministerial conference, which will take place in Abu Dhabi in February 2024, and outlined areas she believes need to be tackled between now and that gathering.
The informal gathering took place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting held under the theme “Cooperation in a Fragmented World” at a time when the global economy is still struggling with the effects of the pandemic, the impact of the war in Ukraine, a spike in inflation, and food security concerns.
During the weeklong event, DG Okonjo-Iweala met heads of state and government, high-level government officials, business leaders, academics and others, delivering the message that trade has to be part of the solution to the global poly-crisis, and that there will be no recovery from the current economic weakness without trade.
She also called for bolstering global cooperation and working towards “re-globalization”, as opposed to trade fragmentation and “friend-shoring,” or seeking trade primarily with only a small set of allies.
“A friend today may not be a friend tomorrow”, she said at a session entitled Relaunching Trade, Growth and Investment.
“In order to allow growth to recover, we have to strengthen multilateralism. We have to strengthen cooperation. When you’re building resilience, use it to bring in those who were at the margins of the global value chains, decentralize and diversify your supply chains to these areas.”
The DG shared her assessment about the prospects of the global economy: “While there is still a lot of uncertainty on the horizon, there is the possibility of a soft landing,” she said. “For 2023, we are projecting 1% growth in the volume of merchandise trade compared to 3.5% last year.” Citing the WTO’s trade forecast released in October, she noted that trade could even contract this year if downside risks materialize. “But if we have a soft landing, if things work out well, we could see a situation in which trade grows even more,” she added.
The Director-General also stressed the importance of digital trade and the need for rules for this important area. “We have an e-commerce initiative that is being negotiated at the WTO. We hope that soon we can come up with rules that underpin global trade and that is where we can be helpful on the digital side,” she said during the Trade-tech Meets Fintech event on 18 January.
In a statement issued on the sidelines of the meeting, the Co-convenors reaffirmed the participants’ commitment to establishing a set of high-standard rules to govern the global digital economy.
The ministers added that participants are committed to intensifying negotiations moving forward while making sure the initiative remains balanced, inclusive and meaningful to consumers and businesses alike.
The ministers said they were working with stakeholders to promote digital inclusion under the E-Commerce Capacity Building Framework to support developing and least developed countries.