Commonwealth Empowers Small States Officials ahead of World Trade Organization negotiations

09 November 2021

Senior trade officials from Commonwealth Small States last week concluded a three-day virtual workshop to prepare for the World Trade Organization’s forthcoming Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12).

Senior trade officials from Commonwealth Small States have concluded three virtual workshops to prepare for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) forthcoming Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12).

The first workshop, organised by the Commonwealth Small States Office (CSSO) in Geneva and the Commonwealth Secretariat from 3-5 November, attracted more than 80 registered participants over the three days, including several Ambassadors and senior trade officials from Geneva, Brussels and capitals of small states, least developed and developing countries.

Opening the workshop, Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Dr Arjoon Suddhoo said:

“An effective rules-based global trading system offers the best framework to enable an inclusive and sustainable recovery in world trade. This requires WTO members to work collectively to strengthen and reform trade multilateralism to tackle 21st-century trade issues and challenges”.

“It is imperative that WTO reform initiatives should consider all members’ views and voices, especially the development priorities of the smallest and most vulnerable members.”

Participants were addressed by Commonwealth WTO Ambassadors or their deputies, including from Australia, Barbados, Canada, Jamaica and the Pacific Islands Forum, as well as the Trade Advisers at the CSSO, Kim Kampel and Tanvi Sinha, the WTO and CARICOM Secretariats, think tanks and academic experts.

The workshop covered all the issues currently slated for the MC12 agenda, such as agriculture, fisheries subsidies, trade and development and trade in service. It also covered the Joint Statement Initiatives (Investment Facilitation for Development, E-Commerce, Services Domestic Regulation and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) and emerging and systemic trade issues, including trade and environmental sustainability initiatives, trade and health issues and WTO reform.

Wrapping up the workshop, Trade Adviser at the CSSO, Kim Kampel, highlighted that the changing negotiating dynamic at the WTO and the emergence of new trade issues, spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, is driving new trade issues onto the multilateral trade agenda. How smaller members engage with these new realities will be essential to ensure they are able to proactively shape future development-friendly trade rules to support their economic development.

The CSSO also successfully delivered two virtual workshops for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). These workshops examined the above issues from the perspective of each region’s development priorities.

The OECS workshop, held on 11-12 November, attracted 30 registered participants from the six OECS member countries.

Opening the workshop together with Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Dr Arjoon Suddhoo, Ambassador Colin Murdoch of the OECS Permanent Delegation in Geneva said:

“Heading towards MC12, it is certainly a mixed bag of expectations. The optimist in me suggests that we can secure meaningful outcomes, particularly on the WTO’s response to the pandemic and at a minimum, finally agree to some kind of vehicle to advance work on reform post-MC12.”

“However, we are still in uncertain territory in important areas such as agriculture and fisheries subsidies, two sectors which are vital to the food and livelihood security of thousands of people in the OECS. In these areas, we are seeking balanced outcomes which preserve important policy space to pursue the further development of these sectors in a sustainable manner.”

The workshop for Pacific islands nations, organised together with the PIF Secretariat and the WTO, was held on 19-21 October.

The Trade Adviser project at the CSSO in Geneva is generously funded by the Government of the United Kingdom.

Having been postponed twice because of the Covid-19 pandemic, WTO MC12 takes place in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December 2021.