G Azevêdo with Professor Bernard Hoekman (left) and Andreas Esche (right).
DG Azevêdo with Professor Bernard Hoekman (left) and Andreas Esche (right).

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo met on 17 July with representatives of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s High-Level Board of Experts to receive their report on the Future of Global Trade Governance. The report outlines four complementary avenues that can be pursued to revitalize the WTO as a forum for trade cooperation and conflict resolution.

The initiative by the Bertelsmann Stiftung was launched in 2016 and welcomed by DG Azevêdo. The High Level Board of Experts is chaired by Professor Bernard Hoekman, Director of Global Economics at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute in Florence.

Director-General Azevêdo said:

These issues are high on the agenda for the international community today – and so the ideas provided in this report are very timely. I welcome this important contribution to the debate.

Bernard Hoekman, the author of the report, added:

Renewed dialogue is needed by WTO members to address long-standing and recent use of trade distorting policies as well as the future governance of trade. It is by keeping the channels for policy dialogue open that WTO members can best determine the way forward for the organization as an effective multilateral forum for trade co-operation and conflict resolution.

The report was prepared by the High-Level Board of Experts independent of the WTO, and the report’s conclusions and recommendations reflect the views of the experts.

The four avenues outlined by the report to revitalize the WTO as a multilateral forum for trade cooperation and conflict resolution are as follows:

  • Policy dialogue: WTO members need to establish a new work programme to address both long-standing and more recent use of trade-distorting policies that are systemically important;
  • Support for open, non-discriminatory plurilateralism: members need to consider whether all members must participate in the launch of every new negotiation or initiative;
  • Enhance the scope for the Secretariat to provide inputs: strengthening the ability of the Secretariat to support policy dialogue in WTO bodies and the work of WTO members would bolster the trading system;
  • Review of WTO institutional performance: establishing a review mechanism that complements self-assessment by WTO bodies can present members with useful information on working practices, member engagement and outcomes.

The report stresses that a precondition for revitalizing engagement at the WTO is ensuring the proposed work programme deal with matters of systemic import and does so without undercutting the ability of poor countries to pursue development policies.