WTO PUBLIC FORUM 2017

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At a time when governments have problems understanding and explaining globalization, and opposition to trade has increased in many countries, panelists underlined the need to agree on a progressive trade agenda that takes into account gender, e-commerce and SMEs' contribution to growth and job creation, and that effectively incorporates these issues into domestic policies.

"If the system is not inclusive, it is not serving its purpose. If people do not feel included, they start questioning the system. In this regard, national efforts are indispensable to complement what the international rules provide. Sometimes it is easier to blame the system instead of domestic regulations," said Shunko Rojas, Under-Secretary of Foreign Trade of the Argentinian government, speaking at a session organized by B20 Germany and B20 Argentina.

Mr Rojas added that, as G20 chair in 2018 and host country of the upcoming 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires (10-13 December), Argentina is pushing forward a comprehensive agenda that addresses the complex relation between trade, technological progress and job creation, with a particular emphasis on women and small businesses.   

John Danilovich, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), said that governments and the WTO must commit to making trade more accessible to the world’s largest business community – SMEs. "The challenge starts with SMEs which are the backbone of the economy. Ninety-five per cent of companies are SMEs and 85 per cent of employment is attributable to SMEs. Six hundred million jobs will be needed in coming years and we need SMEs to be part of this."

However, many of these SMEs still cannot access digital technologies that have become key contributors to world trade. As a result, the gap between SMEs of the developed and developing/low income countries is expanding at an alarming rate. If SMEs cannot adapt to the new ways of doing business, the digital divide will continue to grow, panelists said.

In this context, e-commerce offers an unprecedented opportunity for SMEs, said Anabel González, Senior Director of Global Practice on Trade and Competitiveness at the World Bank Group. "The problem is that few countries are looking at e-commerce as a means of creating employment opportunities and offering specific opportunities for women," she added at a session organized by the World SME Forum.

Lucia Cusmano, Senior Policy Analyst at the OECD, said that e-commerce remains an area of more potential than reality. "If we look at OECD countries, only 20 per cent of firms of at least 10 employees received electronic orders in 2014 – a sizeable share but still a relatively minor share of trade. There is a large potential for developing countries, but we are far from it; even in large companies this is far from being a well-deployed market."

Hanne Melin, Director of Global Public Policy at eBay, said that reaching out to distant communities and lowering costs to remote traders will be fundamental to promote sustainable and inclusive trade development. "The opportunity provided by e-commerce is real. It extends to everyone but the conditions are not there for everyone and it will always be a disadvantage to be remote," she noted.

Being a woman represents an additional disadvantage in the field of trade, but technology could provide the opportunity to bridge the existing gender gap. Speaking at a session organized by the governments of Iceland and Canada and the International Trade Centre (ITC), Arancha González, Executive Director of the ITC, highlighted that "women own only one out of five companies operating offline, whereas they own four out of five companies operating online. This represents a huge opportunity to use e-commerce as a gender equalizer in international trade."

Ms González called on governments "to include the issue of gender in the trade policy space, so we can see they are mutually reinforcing. Trade is good for gender and gender is good for trade. The WTO has a role to play, but there are other instances such as domestic policies and Aid for Trade. We want this issue to become part of the multilateral trade landscape."

Asta Fjeldsted, Managing Director of the Iceland Chamber of Commerce, stressed the importance of domestic policies and gave the example of her country: "The sustained economic and trading growth of Iceland in the last 50 years has to do with the increased female participation in the labour force. This has been made possible by a great and subsidized healthcare for everyone, cheap education and tax incentives for women to work." 

In a session organized by the Swedish mission and the World Bank Group, panelists stressed the importance of social dialogue to ensure that the benefits of trade and globalization are widely shared.

Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, emphasized the importance of bringing workers to the table in formulating social and economic policies. Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), emphasized that social dialogue remains an imperative to ensure that the gains of trade are shared.

The panel also stressed that skills and training are essential to ensure that workers are prepared for the jobs of the future. Social dialogue among workers, employers and governments is an important component to ensure policies truly reflect the need of all stakeholders.

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