MC12: the last opportunity to strengthen, refresh and reform the World Trade Organisation?

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A Position Paper by SITTACE members in the wake of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference 

Introduction

We believe it would be difficult to find many SIITACE members who oppose the WTO and its precursor entities. This is why we are concerned about the WTO’s future, and we want MC12 to reaffirm its members’ commitment to the WTO and improve its institution. We would gladly assist Trade Ministers in finding creative answers to current difficulties. We all agree that the present collection of problems that the globe is experiencing is an emergency situation for the global trade system. We must move quickly to maintain its essential values, promote economic growth and development, and stay relevant in an increasingly digital world.

Is the WTO still relevant today?

That is something we often hear. But keep in mind that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is still the only global international organisation that controls international trade today. It is the leading organisation supporting free trade and fair-trade standards. Firms should expect comparable laws and low tariffs as a result of its promotion and international agreements, lowering costs and friction and enabling businesses to enter markets much more easily.

Experience and Reach

The WTO adds a wealth of experience. Countries have talked, bargained, and compromised since 1995. The WTO also pulls virtually the whole globe together: with 165 member nations, almost all global commerce is covered (about 98 percent). This is not something you give up lightly.

Key standing concerns

The major concerns addressed by the WTO in the past are as important now as they were then:

  • To guarantee that commerce flows smoothly between nations and that no country’s trade policies unjustly harm the economy of other countries.
  • Enforcing fair trade regulations to ensure that all nations follow the same set of norms.

Equality of nations

Furthermore, the following issues are critical for global commerce and peace, and they can only be adequately addressed at the WTO level:

  • How can we ensure emerging nations’ access to global markets?
  • What can we do to encourage innovation and competitiveness in our industries?
  • How should all nations be allowed to participate in global trade rules and decision-making procedures on an equal footing?

Lower-cost products and higher quality services 

Through its agreements on products, services, and intellectual property rights, the organisation also encourages global trade development (IPR). These rules enable businesses to enter new markets while offering customers with lower-cost products and higher-quality services.

Peace by tackling common challenges 

So, the WTO is important not only because it facilitates international trade between nations, but also because it fosters a peaceful environment in which nations can collaborate to solve common issues such as climate change or cross-border pollution caused by industries such as oil refineries or steel mills. In this way, conflict remains restricted to words, not weapons.

SMEs benefit

What’s more, the current system has been shown to deliver significant economic benefits for all countries, including those in developing countries. This is especially true for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who are able to take advantage of opportunities provided by global value chains (GVCs).

MC12: a solution to today’s problems or merely a talking shop?

Yet, even if we trust in the WTO, we must constantly examine whether it is suitable for purpose.

To be honest, in the wake of MC12, we have reservations.

The MC12 summit of trade ministers from all member nations takes place at a critical juncture in history. We implore all decision-makers not to squander this chance. We are at a perilous period in which the global community is confronted with several problems and dangers. Just to mention the top five

  1. Russia’s assault on Ukraine
  2. Covid-19
  3. Inflation
  4. Food scarcity
  5. Global warming

Clearly, a robust global trade reaction is required. The WTO must utilise MC 12 to answer questions about what the WTO can do to help solve these difficulties. What is the use of the WTO if we can’t see what it can do to address the world’s issues at the moment they arise? If the WTO cannot properly describe how it would assist, it will be relegated to a talking shop with no tangible significance for companies or people.

Expectation

SIITACE members should look at MC12:

  • A multilateral food security package in the face of a Russian-caused emergency, in which food and grain are being utilised as a weapon of war.
  • We need a Ministerial Declaration on Trade and Health that equips us to deal with the existing COVID19 epidemic as well as future pandemics.
  • We are hoping for progress toward a reasonable conclusion on the role that intellectual property can provide.
  • The global trade system must do its share to safeguard the environment. We demand a strong agreement on global fisheries sustainability at MC12.
  • We also want to see agricultural reform focused on addressing trade-distorting practises.
  • Renewing an extension of the Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions
  • Finally, we wish to extend the ecommerce embargo in the digital sphere.

Unblock and Reform

When a rules-based system and a working global body on world trade are not in place, the repercussions are aggression, extortion, and violence. Global commerce becomes stalled or becomes a pinball as a result of individual country trade or real warfare. As a consequence, people and companies suffer needlessly. As SIITACE members, we are experts in customs and global trade, as well as specialists in growing exports across the globe. This is why we urge all nations to guarantee that the WTO is unblocked, reformed, and modernised. We need the WTO to guarantee economic stability. However, we need a strong and meaningful WTO that will defend the standards we have established for ourselves. The ruleset is now out of date, based on 1990s reality. It cannot aspire to be relevant or accomplish results until it undergoes comprehensive change. That is why, as SIITACE members, we advocate for significant change. We need a meaningful reform process to begin at MC12, with a timetable for achieving actual results by MC13.

Support for the rules-based order 

We urge all Participants of MC12 to demonstrate support for promoting and supporting an open, inclusive and rules-based international trading system. We urge all Participants of MC12 to demonstrate support for the rules-based order by:

  1. Promoting cooperative approaches to solve trade problems;
  2. Encouraging domestic policy change through dialogue and capacity building;
  3. Working together to address the challenges facing global commerce;
  4. Engaging in regular dialogue on matters of mutual interest and concern;
  5. Making every effort to avoid unilateral actions that undermine the rules based multilateral trading system;

Negotiation and compromise

Insisting on “my way or the highway” will result in failure. We need ministers to understand that we are all watching MC12 and paying attention to what negotiators do and say. In today’s volatile world, we believe that the best approach is to ensure a good conclusion at the MC12 by diplomacy and engagement with all important stakeholders.

SIITACE members advocate multilateral solutions, but we are also cognizant of WTO members’ concerns. It is thus critical to engage in an open discourse on this issue with all key parties in order to establish an acceptable compromise solution.

Conclusion

SIITACE members believe that the World Trade Organization is at a crossroads. 

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is at a crossroads. A decade of slow negotiations, rising protectionism and increased geopolitical tensions have created deep divisions in the multilateral trading system. While some countries are calling for reform, others are seeking to break down existing rules.

This is not a time for half-measures.

At MC12, we urge all Participants of MC12 to demonstrate support for the rules-based order by agreeing on a concrete agenda that will help rebuild confidence and strengthen the multilateral trading system over the next five years.

We believe that if the WTO does not deliver meaningful progress at this meeting, it risks losing its relevance and legitimacy as an institution for global trade governance in favour of more ad-hoc arrangements that are less accountable and transparent than the WTO’s rules-based system. We must not let this happen — there is too much at stake for everyone involved.

The path ahead will be shown by MC12: Fade into the background while nations do what they want, or emerge out powerful, revitalised, and reformed. As Customs and global trade specialists, we believe that we must do all possible to protect the multilateral trading system. As a result, we urge all negotiators to commit to strengthening and modernising the World Trade Organization for the long term. Ensure that all countries respect the rules and that no one may harm international trade without consequences. Explain how the WTO will make a genuine difference in tackling the world’s most critical concerns. The time between MC12 and MC13 may be the WTO’s penultimate opportunity to show its ability to adapt and contribute to the resolution of global concerns. Let us not waste it.

About SIITACE.org

SIITACE is a membership organisation run BY Independent International Trade Specialists specifically FOR Independent International Trade Specialists.

Our directors and members have 100s of years of active experience of global trade. Members cover all aspects of overseas trade including business support and promotion, sales and marketing, customs, tax & vat and logistics. As a non-public sector organisation, we are not motivated to achieve targets. Consequently, we have the freedom to offer impartial support and advice to our members and the wider international trade sectors.

The reach of our members, as intermediaries, means that we can boast upwards of 40,000 businesses that we interact with mainly in the MSME trading space. 

Company CIC registration: 13356191

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