Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s candidate for the position of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), on Monday, June 22, criticised the organisation for failing to deliver in major trade agreements.
Okonjo-Iweala made this disclosure via an article published by Project Syndicate.
The former minister noted that “since its establishment in 1995, the WTO has failed to conclude a single trade-negotiation round of global trade talks; thus missing an opportunity to deliver mutual benefits for its members.”
She further explained that the Doha Development Round, which began in November 2001, was supposed to be concluded by January 2005; with WTO members still quibbling over the process and negotiations fifteen years later.
“The WTO has so far delivered disappointingly few other notable agreements as well; apart from the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which entered into force in February 2017; and the 2015 decision to eliminate all forms of agricultural export subsidies,” Okonjo-Iweala wrote.
“Meanwhile, some of its members have worked together on a raft of much broader regional trade deals; that cover pressing issues such as the digital economy; investment; competition; the environment; and climate change.
“The Doha Development Round, which was intended to modernize the WTO’s rulebook, covers very few of these topics. And even some of the organization’s existing rules can easily be circumvented; thereby upsetting the balance of rights and obligations among members.
“During the current COVID-19 crisis, for example, some countries have imposed questionable export controls on medical supplies and food products in order to mitigate shortages.”
However, she noted that the WTO has achieved some successes; including building on the accomplishments of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which entered into force in 1948.
The rules-based multilateral trading system that began with GATT has contributed immensely to global economic growth over the last seven decades; by reducing average tariffs and steadily eliminating non-tariff barriers, she explained.
“As a result, living standards have improved in most countries. Moreover, rules-based global trade has helped to underpin peace and security; because trading partners are more likely to resolve differences through negotiations than through armed conflict.”