On the occasion of WTO Public Forum, representatives from GBC members chose to lead a workshop dedicated to identifying the effects of WTO blockades and suggesting ways to move forward. Along with Iana DREYER, fonder of Borderlex, Mohamed Kassem (Federation of Egyptian Industries), Fernando Landa (Unión Industrial Argentina), John G Murphy (US Chamber of Commerce) and Álvaro Enciso Schweinfurth (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales) discussed the topic for a large and enthusiastic audience.

Here are the outlines of the discussion:

The business community is deeply concerned about the future of the multilateral trading system regarding its three main pillars: rule making, monitoring and dispute settlement worldwide-synchronized slowdown as a result of the unresolved tensions is leading towards the slowest pace of growth since the financial crisis. Work must be accelerated to preserve our collective economic well-being

  • The Appellate body crisis and the risk of paralysis by the end of December raises a lot of uncertainties that are clearly not good for businesses, that require predictability to expand and invest
  • To ensure open and fair trade without competitive distortions WTO members need to address industrial subsidies and non-market practices where existing rules are not effective. An estimated 22% of the world largest companies are under State control. Recognizing the important role these enterprises play in certain economies, how do we create the appropriate environment for constructive discussions?
  • The evolution of market access for services is clearly not satisfying. How to overcome the blockades and open markets to what has been identified as a major source of growth for the future?
  • We are already very late in the digital rules discussion. How to make Digital a beneficiary opportunity for all businesses, especially small & medium ones?

All those issues exemplify political stalemates that turn into struggling complexities for business. What are the solutions to these blockades? Is it possible to reshape existing rules at a time when political will for multilateral solutions can be questioned?


How to help stabilize WTO crisis?

Panelists concluded that there could be a way to resolve the appellate body crisis if leaders show further commitment to resolve the issues that the main trading partners have pointed at while focusing on existing proposals with renewed interest.

At the same time, the Appellate Body crisis may have highjacked attention away from other functions of WTO that are equally essential for the development of international trade and global growth. Fixing the Appellate body crisis is obviously a top urgent priority but it remains fundamental to evolve in all three pillars of the multilateral trading system.


Priorities for the future of business

In order to achieve a level playing field, we believe the principle of Competitive neutrality needs to be pursued. Competitive neutrality is the recognition that significant government business activities which are in competition with the private sector should not have a competitive advantage or disadvantage simply by virtue of government ownership. This discussion, particularly in terms of the range of tools it may activate, needs to get started despite its difficulties

Given the importance of MSME´s in job creation and economic growth,  further work on TBTs and SPS measures, with focus on the elimination of  unnecessary restrictive and protectionist measures that may impede access to global  Value Chains also needs to be set as a  fundamental priority  

Multilateral rules bodies have not kept up with the changes that digital technology has brought on the international trade landscape. Data is both a product itself and an enabler to improve international trade transactions that rely on the free movement of data across borders using interoperable systems. Therefore it is of outmost importance to accelerate global cooperation on data stewardship

We generally recognize that plurilateral agreements, despite their limitations are also a way to move forward in a changing global context. The example of the negotiations for a TISA (Trade in Services Agreement), gathering 23 Members of WTO plus Switzerland and Canada, can be regarded as a case study

How about e-commerce in this context?

E-commerce is clearly a worldwide issue no State nor company can ignore. E-commerce is widely regarded as a way to democratize business and boost growth in every part of the world.

A strong engagement is still awaited from political powers and WTO Members in order to build a strong consensus likely to ensure a fair development of e-commerce, respectful of its values (level-playing field, market openness…)

Avoiding market fragmentation is also a major issue in e-commerce management if we want to make it a leverage for all companies interested in developing their activities abroad. The related data stewardshipquestion requires to be fully addressed simultaneously as it is clearly the basis for a fair e-commerce


Concluding remarks

Leaders need to find smart ways to restore confidence and dialogue within WTO in order to fix the main blockades and concentrate on key issues for the future of trade (e-commerce, digitalization, inclusiveness, consistent elimination of competitive distortions)

We Encourage WTO members to regain confidence in the system and focus on the substance of the questions to address within the Organization