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Time to demonstrate multilateralism works: WTO Director-General

Time to demonstrate multilateralism works: WTO Director-General

Geneva(June 12)-- 

Director-General of World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said that the world is grappling with uncertainty and crises on multiple fronts.

Addressing the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference that began in Geneva on June 12,  she further added that the war in Ukraine and the inherent international security crisis that comes with it, the health, economic, environmental, and geopolitical crises.

This is a time to demonstrate that multilateralism works. A time to demonstrate that the WTO can deliver for the international community, and the people we serve, she said. 

 The meeting attended by more than 100 trade ministers is deliberating multiple issues relating to the world trade system. The Ministerial-level meeting has taken place after the five years.

The WTO director-general said while many members took some important steps forward in Buenos Aires – for example on using trade as a vehicle for women's economic empowerment – that meeting didn't really deliver.

 Stressing the value of the multilateral trading system as a global public good which over the past 75 years has delivered more prosperity than every international economic order that came before it, DG Okonjo-Iweala noted that at a time when the multilateral system is seemingly fragile “this is the time to invest in it, not to retreat; this is the time to summon the much-needed political will to show that the WTO can be part of the solution to the multiple crises of the global commons we face.”

Now, more than ever, the world needs WTO members to come together and deliver, she said. 

Citing WTO economists' estimations of real global GDP lowering by about 5 percent if the world economy decouples into self-contained trading blocs, she stressed the substantial costs for governments and constituents in a scenario where WTO members are unable to deliver results and where they allow or even embrace, economic and regulatory fragmentation.

To put this in perspective, the financial crisis of 2008-09 is estimated to have lowered rich countries' long-run potential output by 3.5 percent, she further added,  and the 5 percent estimate represents just the start of the economic damage. Additional losses would come from reduced scale economies, transition costs for businesses and workers, disorderly resource allocation, and financial distress, she said. 

Also, trade decoupling would entrench the development setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it much harder for poor countries to catch up with richer ones. “This would be a world of diminished opportunities, even greater political anger and social unrest, and intense migratory pressures as people leave in search of better lives elsewhere,” she added.

Various thematic sessions will take place during the Ministerial Conference to respond to ongoing emergencies, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the food crisis.  Ministers will also have the opportunity to engage in other thematic sessions on fisheries, agriculture, WTO reform, and the e-commerce work program and moratorium.