Commonwealth members in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed that despite their rich diversity, including in levels of development, they are united in recognising the importance of the rules-based multilateral system as a common good.
Permanent representatives of Commonwealth countries in Geneva recently met as a group for the first time at the WTO headquarters, to explore how the Commonwealth can support the multilateral trading system in challenging times.
Chaired by New Zealand’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the WTO Robert Walker, the meeting on 11 September encouraged continued dialogue to address trends such as rising protectionism, which can affect trade and development for member states.
In his opening remarks, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, highlighted three specific ways in which the Commonwealth can help resolve the current tensions in world trade.
Firstly, he said countries must not be “knocked off course” and must keep working on the range of issues on the table for negotiation. Secondly, they need to address the most pressing challenge for the WTO, namely the impasse regarding the organisation’s Appellate Body, which deals with appeals from international trade disputes. Finally, he urged Commonwealth members to get engaged on the broader debate about trade and the trading system.
“Bringing together countries of all sizes, from all continents, this group has a powerful voice. And I am sure that you will continue to be a strong and positive voice in this debate,” he stated.
Mr. Azevêdo’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion led by Ambassadors from Botswana, Canada, Vanuatu and St Lucia, which explored members’ views on systemic challenges and how the Commonwealth can respond.
Commenting on the event, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “At this critical juncture, the initial steps members have taken to start a conversation about what practical steps Commonwealth WTO Members can take collectively to strengthen the multilateral trading system is important.”
The meeting follows on the Commonwealth Senior Trade Officials Meeting held in June, as well as the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in April. At CHOGM, leaders made a declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, reaffirming their commitment to free trade in a transparent, inclusive, fair, and open rules-based multilateral trading system, as a foundation for economic development and growth.