The event in May brought together over 60 business leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face in conducting trade operations and to discuss how the WTO can help in dealing with them. Since then, discussions among the business community have continued in two dedicated groups, each exploring a number of topics.

John Danilovich, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), reported on the discussions of the first group on e-commerce and on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The ideas discussed by the group have ranged from enhancing connectivity and providing capacity building to MSMEs to helping MSMEs sell goods online more efficiently. The group has suggested creating digital trade rules to support e-commerce growth and to improve consumer trust.

Dr Stormy-Annika Mildner, Head of the Foreign Trade Policy Department at the Federation of German Industries (BDI), reported on the discussions of the second group on improving market access, trade in services and investment facilitation. The businesses participating in the second group have called for a roll-back of protectionism, the revitalization of WTO trade negotiations, new plurilateral initiatives, and the rapid and effective implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. They have also called for strengthening rules for trade in services, investment facilitation and regional trade agreements in line with the multilateral process and improved rules on regulatory issues and competition.

It was agreed at the Trade Dialogues meeting in May that the preliminary outcomes of participants’ discussions would be presented at the Public Forum to a wider audience, including WTO members, to seek their preliminary reactions and views.

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo attended the Trade Dialogues session at the Forum along with Ambassador Shah of Pakistan and Ambassador McCormick of Australia, who participated as discussants.

DG Azevêdo said: “We have seen an impressive level of engagement this year, particularly from the private sector, and I am pleased that you decided to share some of your ideas with us today. However, to reach agreement amongst businesses is but one element of the equation. The biggest challenge is to bring your ideas and suggestions to the next level, helping to inform the debate among WTO members here in Geneva.  And for that to happen, it is vital to engage with the members and interact with them.” His remarks at the event can be found here.

John Danilovich said: “The Trade Dialogues process is an important opportunity for business to bring ideas and technical expertise to support the development of the WTO system. We believe that with the right global policies in place there is an opportunity to unleash a new era of inclusive trade: one in which all companies — regardless of size, sector or location — can benefit from equal access to the global trading system.

“Our initial work has indicated significant interest in a new WTO initiative to enable SMEs to make the most of global markets by leveraging the power of the Internet. We look forward to continued dialogue between business and WTO members on this exciting agenda in the coming months.”

Dr Stormy-Annika Mildner said: “Trade Dialogues offers a unique opportunity to further align business needs and governments’ efforts to improve the global trading system. I have learned a lot from this process. The suggestions by the ICC and B20 business community will contribute positively to the debate among WTO members about the way ahead. A continued and close connection between the negotiations in Geneva and stakeholders around the world will prove to be fruitful.”

Ambassador Shah said: “One of the interim reports by the business groups is about development of e-commerce, whereas our perspective is e-commerce for development. The first business group has identified three pillars for the development of e-commerce: connectivity, capacity building and digital rules. But this would only be sustainable if they keep development as a bedrock.”

Ambassador McCormick said: “The willingness to focus on both new and traditional issues in the WTO, as reflected in the reports, is very welcome. The focus on e-commerce and the digital economy in one report is a reflection of reality. There are 22 sessions on electronic commerce and related issues in the Public Forum this year and that is a sign that WTO members and stakeholders are really seeing this as a major area for possible outcomes in the WTO. Succeeding in the WTO is important for the benefits this will bring WTO members but it is also important to avoid disappointing our stakeholders and to avoid damaging the needs of the WTO as an institution.”

The interim reports of the groups will be available soon on the websites of the ICC and BDI.  

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