WTO (Negotiations, Regular Work, Leadership)

Reforming and Strengthening the WTO

The side event of the 7th WTO Ministerial Conference was organized by CUTS GRC together with FES, Geneva. It discussed ways in which the WTO can be reformed and strengthened so that it continues to play its role in global economic governance. Some important topics for discussion included inclusiveness, transparency and efficiency as well as substantive issues of interest to WTO Members, especially developing countries. The event was moderated by Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, and speakers included Faizel Ismail, Head of the South African Delegation to the WTO, Celine Charveriat, Deputy Advocacy and Campaigns Director, OXFAM International, and Steffen Grammling, Program Officer for Trade and Development, FES Geneva.

‘Systemic reforms in the WTO are crucial for rediscovering the organisation’s development goals as originally envisaged in the Havana Charter of 1948 which can be traced back as the origin of today’s multilateral trade regime’ said Faizel Ismail, the head of South Africa’s delegation to the WTO. He was speaking at the panel discussion on ‘Reforming and Strengthening the WTO’ jointly organised by CUTS International and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung earlier today along the sidelines of the seventh Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

The objective of the discussion was to contribute to the refinement of various ideas for strengthening the WTO, including five proposals for the same submitted by India and endorsed by all major member countries.

Mr. Ismail said that the growth of developing country coalitions since the beginning of Doha Development Round has helped maintain a balance of power in the WTO, but the organisation needs more efforts to bring back the focus on development dimensions of trade. Quoting from his recently published book ‘Reforming the WTO: Developing Countries in the Doha Round’, Mr. Ismail pointed out that the global economic crisis and the continuing failure of the Doha Round have led to the renewal of the debate on linkages between trade and development.

Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International and moderator of the discussion, shared Ismail’s optimistic view that the impasse in Doha Development Round is not going to diminish the significance of WTO even remotely and should be used to review and thereby incrementally improve its functioning. The Indian proposals, he felt, are a significant contribution towards this end.

The panel including Steffen Grammling of FES and Isabel Mazzei of Oxfam International advocated internal reforms of the WTO and enhanced cooperation and coordination with other major multilateral institutions and agencies. It was able to evoke a healthy response from officials, academicians and civil society representatives participating in the Ministerial Conference.