On April 4, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) hosted a private lunch with United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning and candidate for director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Amina Mohammed. The meeting allowed members of the U.S. government, the private sector and policy community to discuss the state of the World Trade Organization and Ambassador Mohammed’s vision on how the organization should move forward.
Much of the conversation centered on the distinction between the multilateral trading system and the 2001 “Doha Round.” Participants agreed that too often these concepts were considered synonymous, and that the stalled Doha round was not an indictment of the enormous success of the modern multilateral trading system. The trading system was deemed to be in good health, but ready for continued improvement and growth. The Doha Round was considered a notable but not insurmountable challenge within that context of success.
One suggestion to better inform rounds of WTO negotiations was the formation of a business advisory council, which would be the first advisory council for WTO leadership and is an idea that has been publicly proposed by Ambassador Mohammed. Some participants thought using such a council to give the private sector a voice on international trade regulation would broaden the stakeholder base and lead to better, more effective and successful policies. Others thought such a council might reflect further bureaucratization with little effect.
Of the many issues discussed, one that arose repeatedly was how to best update the WTO to address new and evolving challenges, such as security, climate change, and energy and resource efficiency. Many participants felt that any future WTO agreements must take these pressing new challenges into account, but others felt this attempt would be either impractical or beyond the proper boundaries of the organization’s mandate. In either case, participants agreed that a new system of negotiating rules must be implemented in order to bolster the WTO’s promise in the future.
Participants also discussed how future WTO policies may influence Africa’s economic growth and development. Some participants suggested that emerging economies derive a smaller payoff from embracing robust international trade than do established ones, and thus an equalizing mechanism should be developed. However, others felt that developing economies ultimately stand to gain more from embracing global trade than they do from resorting to limited or protectionist trade measures. As such, all economies should find it in their own interest to participate in multilateral trade and work with the existing tools for special cases and transitional economies.