Robinson Offers Ideas for WTO Reform at IOE-BIAC Meeting on Postponed WTO Ministerial

The International Organization of Employers (IOE) and Business at OECD (BIAC) co-hosted an event on March 2 to follow up on the postponed World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial. The event, titled “Trade policy to recover and to achieve employment goals and greater resilience: How can an open trading system adapt to the new sustainability expectations?” included representatives of IOE and BIAC member organizations, such as USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson, who gave remarks on the topic: “What is needed for WTO reform?”

In his remarks, Robinson pointed out that all three of WTO’s core functions are in crises—negotiation among WTO’s 164 members whose interests greatly diverge, monitoring trade rules and transparency among members, and dispute settlement—the WTO’s Appellate Body, paralyzed since the end of 2019 thus making WTO trading rights virtually unenforceable.

“These three fundamental functions must be redesigned, reconfigured, or reimagined to be fit for purpose,” said Robinson. He then cited a proposed bill, introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), the “Trading Systems Preservation Act,” which could help reinvigorate the WTO by pushing for agreements that aren’t required to be observed on a most-favored nation basis. “On the issue of negotiation, we also support advancing a comprehensive WTO reform agenda that tackles special and differential treatment, distortive non-market industrial subsidies and state-owned enterprises.”

“USCIB would like to lend its voice in emphasizing the importance of the voice of business, among other legitimate stakeholders, at the WTO,” added Robinson. “While initiatives, such as the WTO Public Forum, are welcome opportunities to engage, all stakeholders in the multilateral, rules-based trading system would benefit from greater ongoing opportunities for dialogue – governments, civil society and the private sector alike.”

Other speakers joining Robinson during the meeting included WTO Deputy Director General Angela Ellard, who spoke about updates on the WTO agenda, Business at OECD Trade Committee Chair Pat Ivory, who discussed business priorities for WTO’s response to the pandemic, and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Permanent Observer before the UN in Geneva Crispin Conroy, who shared perspectives on trade and environmental sustainability. Speakers from Keidanren, BusinessEurope and BEF discussed the importance of multilateral collaboration, digitization and strengthening inclusivity and sustainability in global trade.

This dialogue was a follow-up to last year’s launch of the “Business Coalition for Trade, Employment and Sustainable Enterprise,” led by IOE and including business organizations that share the belief that the multilateral, rules-based trading system has been a crucial driver not just for economic growth, but also for employment creation and sustainable development, which have played a key role in reducing poverty and raising living standard in many economies.

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