The panel discussion, entitled "Does the Future of Trade Belong to Regional and Plurilateral Agreements?", also included Sabine Weyand, EU Director-General for Trade, Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and Tetsuya Watanabe, Vice President of the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry.

DDG Ellard observed that different forms of negotiating trade rules – plurilateral and multilateral agreements at the WTO as well as regional trade agreements (RTAs) – have tremendous value and can be mutually reinforcing. Plurilateral negotiations can spark ambition and structure that, ideally, will translate eventually to the multilateral arena.

DDG Ellard added that RTAs often go beyond WTO rules and help WTO members achieve a higher level of economic liberalization. She noted that WTO data shows around 72% of RTAs contain provisions on competition, 65% on government procurement, 60% on the environment and subsidies, 33% on e-commerce and 34% on labour – all of which go beyond WTO rules.

DDG Ellard stressed that WTO rules cover 98% of world trade and that, despite the proliferation of RTAs, around 75% of global trade takes place on a most-favoured nation basis. She further underscored that some issues concerning global commons, such as fisheries subsidies or development of a single instrument regulating carbon pricing, can be addressed only at the multilateral level.

According to DDG Ellard, transparency is an important pillar of the multilateral trading system. She stressed that members are required to notify an RTA once they have ratified it so that it can be reviewed by the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements or the Committee on Trade and Development.




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