Business leaders from around the world met at a virtual Trade Dialogues session on 23 June to discuss pressing issues to be taken up at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) and shared ideas and recommendations on what topics the organization should tackle in the future. Among the issues under discussion were how the WTO could address current and future challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders also expressed strong support for a conclusion of the various negotiations underway and called for an urgent resolution of the Appellate Body impasse.
The fourth Trade Dialogues session dedicated to the business community was organized jointly with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and brought together over 80 business representatives who discussed their priorities in the various areas of the WTO’s work. The Dialogues have been organised since 2016 and involve both the ICC and the B20, the business arm of the G20.
During the opening session, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was joined by General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo, ICC Chair Ajay Banga and B20 Italy Chair Emma Marcegaglia.
DG Okonjo-Iweala said: “I am very pleased to have facilitated another Trade Dialogues with the private sector. Our rules directly impact businesses’ ability to move goods and services across borders and tap into new markets. Because they deal with these realities every day, they can help us and the members understand what is working well, and more importantly, what is not. This is much needed input as we work to deliver results between now and our 12th Ministerial Conference in early December.”
General Council Chair Ambassador Castillo said : “I believe I speak on behalf of all WTO members when I express our appreciation for the continued support of the ICC and the B20 to the multilateral trading system. These yearly meetings allow us to connect the WTO with the needs, concerns and expectations of businesses, both new and long-established.”
ICC Chair Ajay Banga said: “Global trade is the foundation for global prosperity and global trust. Over the past decades, global trade has helped to close economic gaps, foster diversity, drive innovation and efficiencies. We have to be ready to make the most of this moment – and that will come not by talking about the future of the WTO, but by empowering and building the WTO of the future. The ICC stands ready to shape a more inclusive, sustainable global trading system that will benefit us all.”
B20 Chair Emma Marcegaglia said: “The B20 and the international business community look at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference as a milestone in the history of the WTO. We stand ready to support the modernization and the reform of the Organization, and we are committed to help it deliver, take again the centre stage in the multilateral trading scheme and regenerate its legitimacy for the benefit of all.”
After the opening session, participants engaged in three simultaneous breakout sessions with a number of WTO members on three main themes: the WTO response to COVID-19, MC12 deliverables, and the future work programme of the WTO.
Participants shared their ideas on how the WTO can facilitate the fight against the pandemic and what could be done differently at the WTO in order to support the response to COVID-19 and future health crises.
They voiced strong support for an early conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiations and urged members to make progress on agriculture at MC12. Business representatives expressed strong interest in the work of the so-called joint initiatives and hoped to see tangible outcomes in these areas.
Participants also discussed priorities for the future agenda of the WTO, which should take into consideration 21st century challenges related to the environment and sustainability. They made a strong plea for a clear and decisive work programme to resolve the ongoing Appellate Body impasse and to restore fully the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.