DDG Wolff Urges G20 leaders To Back WTO Action To Support Economic Rebound, Pandemic Response And WTO Reform


By Ron Chen, Corresponden ASEAN Region

In an address to leaders from the Group of 20 leading economies, Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff said on 21 November that the WTO membership faces three challenges: using trade to bolster the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, facilitating trade in products needed to treat COVID-19, and reforming the institutions that govern global trade. He urged participants at the summit, which was chaired by Saudi Arabia, to actively engage on WTO reform.

The full text of his remarks is below:

“Thank you very much, Your Royal Highness, and I thank Saudi Arabia for its leadership.

With respect to trade, there are three immediate challenges: to utilize trade to help underwrite the economic recovery, to facilitate trade in essential medical products to treat the pandemic, and to reform the institutional framework for world trade.

First, trade finance for the developing world needs to be restored. The sum needed is very large, in the trillions of dollars. This step has been called for by business and by all the major international development banks along with the WTO. This is not just a development issue. When crops do not move and factories are idled throughout the developing world, the global recovery will be delayed for all. Close co-operation among the international financial institutions, the WTO and the large commercial banks will be needed. A trade finance initiative should be seen as an essential part of improving the outlook for economic recovery.

Second, it is time for WTO Members to come together to agree on and implement measures to speed the supply of essential medical products worldwide to where they are needed.

Global trade in pharmaceuticals should be duty-free under an updated Pharmaceutical Agreement.

Medical equipment should be duty-free in an immediate update of the Information Technology Agreement.

As new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics start to be rolled out, barriers at borders must be reduced, with an international understanding limiting the use of export restrictions, providing for much greater transparency and accelerating improvements in trade facilitation efforts, particularly for the poorest countries.

Third, and last, the identification of areas of common interest achieved by the Riyadh Initiative on the Future of the WTO should result in immediate serious engagement by WTO Members in a major institutional reform effort. This would involve restoring the WTO’s deliberative and negotiating functions, providing binding dispute settlement seen as legitimate by all and providing for a strong proactive Secretariat. The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference next year will be an important landmark for this work. In actively engaging in the reform effort, G20 Members can contribute immeasurably to fulfilling the vision held by the founders of the multilateral trading system seven decades ago and the WTO a quarter century ago.

Thank you.”

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