DDG Ellard highlighted the benefits of multilateralism and the work of the WTO in establishing rules, monitoring the rules and providing binding dispute settlement. She stressed that some issues can be managed only on a multilateral basis. These issues include the profound challenges of the global commons, such as the health and sustainability of the ocean, climate change and global pandemics. “To tackle them effectively, we need the participation of as many countries as possible — big and small, developed and developing,” she said.

DDG Ellard noted that decision-making at the WTO is by consensus of all members, not by vote.  She stressed the advantage of consensus-based decision making is that “by definition, there is buy-in from all signatories because they “own” the result and will be more likely to respect it”. At the WTO, she underlined, the majority does not dominate the minority, and each member has a seat at the table and a voice, no matter the member's size, form of government, economic system or level of economic development.

DDG Ellard further noted that, at the recent successful 12th Ministerial Conference, WTO members, collectively and by consensus, made important decisions that will improve the health of the ocean, address the trade aspects of COVID-19 and future pandemics and alleviate threats to the food security of the poorest. They set in motion the process for reform of the WTO to make it more fit to address its challenges, she added.

“Yes, we could have accomplished even more, and our hard work continues,” she said. “Nonetheless, it has been so gratifying to see confidence in the WTO grow, both among our members and globally. That confidence will allow us to strengthen our contributions to address the challenges of our time.” 

DDG Ellard emphasized that the new Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies will pave the way towards ensuring that the estimated USD 20 billion spent annually on harmful subsidies can instead be spent on sustainability. The Agreement will help curb the depletion of fish stocks and secure the livelihoods of 260 million people who depend on marine fisheries. 

She explained that for the new rules to become operational and start delivering for ocean sustainability, the Agreement must enter into force, which requires two-thirds of WTO members to deposit their instruments of acceptance with the WTO. She stressed that given the dire state of the ocean, countries must act with urgency and complete their acceptance processes as soon as possible, ideally within the next six to nine months. She called on WTO members to expedite their domestic acceptance processes so the Agreement can enter into force rapidly.

DDG Ellard further noted that the WTO can and should do more to facilitate climate change mitigation and adaptation through trade tools. There are two ways in which the WTO can help, she said.  First, she observed that to transition to a low-carbon economy, countries need affordable access to advanced technologies, and that open trade plays a critical role in providing such access. 

“Our preliminary research suggests that removing tariffs and regulatory trade barriers for a set of energy-related environmental goods would reduce global CO2 emissions by 0.6 per cent in 2030, just from improved energy efficiency,” DDG Ellard said.  She added that it would be useful to identify such green technologies, and ideally services, and work on lowering duties and other trade barriers through an Environmental Goods Agreement.

Moreover, DDG Ellard said that with its vast and diverse membership, the WTO could help develop a common approach to carbon pricing. She stressed the need for the WTO to work with other international organizations to develop common and non-discriminatory approaches to carbon pricing while addressing the needs of developing countries to enable a just and inclusive transition.

The full recording of the event is available here.




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