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24 October 2018 | By Jessica Dickinson Insight

5 Reasons to engage the WTO

The CBI led a delegation to the World Trade Organisation’s Public Forum, but what did the attendees get out of it? Jessica Dickinson explains

Earlier this month the World Trade Organisation (WTO) hosted its annual Public Forum. With over 1,500 attendees and 112 panel sessions, this is the WTO’s answer to Glastonbury.

Given the need for a strong British presence at the WTO post-Brexit, the International Chambers of Commerce and the CBI jointly led a business delegation to participate. With 30 companies attending, this was almost a ten-fold increase on last year, and second only to the US in size.

What did attendees get out of it and what’s to gain from going next time? Feedback from the businesses involved have helped shape these five great reasons to engage with the WTO:

  1. Actively support government to operate independently

The UK is already one of the WTO’s 164 members, but as a member of the European Union, the Commission has historically negotiated on the country’s behalf. On leaving, the UK will exercise an independent voice. This means attending committees and specialist meetings, forming networks, and establishing its own voting rights. But to function effectively, the government will need to understand business priorities on key issues, which companies can only deliver with a baseline understanding of the WTO and how it works.

  1. Help policymakers understand the private sector perspective

Over three days, the 2018 Forum delivered over 110 sessions with international experts. The topics covered matter: from digital trade, to the protection of intellectual property, to sustainable development. And with speakers including Jack Ma, Executive Chairman, Alibaba, Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the WTO and Marion Jansen, Chief Economist, International Trade Centre, there was much to discuss. Business input to these discussions is vital to help shape policy thinking.

  1. Secure the benefits of rules-based free and fair trade

The WTO has been at the centre of the multilateral trading system since its inception in 1995, providing a legal framework for governments and businesses the world over. New economies opening up to trade and efforts to lower barriers to market access through this system have been significant factors in lifting over a billion people out of poverty since then. Companies can help secure its future by sharing their stories to spread understanding of how the existing system helps trade happen.

  1. Support the WTO to reform

The US, India and China continue to frustrate key processes for policy negotiation and dispute settlement, leaving the WTO on the brink of crisis. To remain effective, it needs to better respond to the changing external environment, update its existing rulebook, and develop new rules on areas such as e-commerce and investment facilitation. From New Zealand to Canada, countries across the globe are looking to see the UK play an active part in this process, including both government and business.

  1. Put in place the relationships to continually shape policy

The WTO Forum draws together trade negotiators, NGOs, ambassadors, academics and business leaders. A line-up of the globe’s key players in trade policy all in one place, at the same time. Over just 3 days the CBI and delegates attended meetings and roundtables with 6 ambassadors, the WTO Secretariat, WTO officials, the UK Mission in Geneva and many trade officials from several countries. These relationships will be vital to allow companies to better understand and contribute to trade agenda.

Over the coming months the CBI will be defining our plan to influence these debates in London, Brussels, Geneva, Washington, New Delhi and Beijing. Central to this will be creating more opportunities for members to learn about and engage directly with the work of the WTO and its members. Watch this space!

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