SPEECHES — DG NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA

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Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is my great pleasure to join you to open this 2021 Geneva Trade Week under the theme: Trade for Peace.

I want to thank the Geneva Trade Platform for their efforts to raise awareness about the role of trade policy in addressing global challenges. Your work complements what we are doing at the WTO this week at the Public Forum, bringing even more voices to the trade policy conversation. Ideas matter — and you are in the business of trade policy ideas.

It is an honour to share this platform with the Honourable Dr Jose Ramos Horta, former President of Timor-Leste, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Special Envoy of the g7+.

Trade and Peace are completely intertwined in the history of the multilateral trading system, though many have forgotten this. Scarred by the experience of the Great Depression and the Second World War, the architects of the post-1945 economic order sought to foster economic integration, on the grounds that where goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.

And yet trade and peace today are not often mentioned in tandem.  Each has its own community and constituency.   But trade, poverty, and peace remain intricately connected. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, up to two-thirds of the world's people in extreme poverty will be living in the 30 or so fragile, and conflict affected (FCA) countries. These are often the places least integrated into global trade. That is why it is particularly valuable that the Graduate Institute, which hosts both the Trade and Peacebuilding Platforms, has started to break down the silos separating the two communities. We will need multidisciplinary thinking and inclusive approaches to use trade to create economic opportunities in fragile and conflicted affected countries.

Even in these difficult times of the pandemic and natural disasters resulting from climate change, trade can help build resilience, including in fragile and conflict-affected countries, by helping improve access to food and much-needed medical supplies, which in turn helps to build peace.

The fundamental objective of multilateral cooperation - Article 1 of the United Nations Charter — is the maintenance of international peace and security. At the WTO, we insist that trade is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Trade can support growth, poverty reduction, and socioeconomic inclusion. The economists Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler have documented that in poor countries with a history of civil conflict, higher per capita economic growth is associated with a decreased risk of resumed hostilities — and vice versa.

So while the multilateral trading system has helped deliver prosperity, peace, and poverty reduction on a scale its architects could scarcely have imagined, these benefits have not extended to all countries.  In December 2017, a group of fragile and conflict affected least developed countries seeking to join the WTO came together as the g7+ WTO Accessions Group. Currently led by Liberia and Timor-Leste, the group also includes the Comoros, Sao Tomé and Principe, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. They see a role for the WTO in supporting them to use trade integration to promote peace and stability, and to move from fragility to resilience.

The WTO Secretariat's Accession Division has been working with the Graduate Institute to support the g7+ group to realise its vision.  The partnership started with a Capstone study prepared by a group of three Masters' students entitled “Trade for Peace: Examining the Role of WTO Membership in Fostering Peace in the Horn of Africa”.  This study laid down key questions and issues on the nexus between trade and peace.  

One contribution made by this study was a review of peace-related clauses in trade agreements, and trade and economic clauses in peace agreements.  It is noteworthy that out of 558 trade agreements registered in the WTO database, only ten — or about 1 in 50 — contained peace-related clauses, mostly in trade deals negotiated by the European Union.  Meanwhile, 157 out of the 828 peace agreements registered in the “UN Peacemaker” database, nearly 1 in 5, contain various types of economic or trade-related clauses.  The references range from regional economic cooperation (47), and the free movement of goods (43), to economic justice (17), customs (11), economic good governance (10), and resource management (8).  The study calls for further analysis, including to examine whether conflicts that ultimately necessitated peace agreements were fuelled by impediments to trade, and to formulate a “model peace agreement” with trade clauses designed to promote lasting peace.

There is also a strong case for deepening the knowledge available on the socio-political and economic conditions that enable trade to support peace, looking at issues from climate change to job creation.

I hope these ideas will provide some food for thought on possible areas of collaboration between the trade and peace communities that come together at the Graduate Institute.  Ultimately, the goal is to bring together expertise and knowledge that will enable trade to nurture peace and peacebuilding.

I am confident your discussions will advance our thinking on how to make trade work for people everywhere, including in fragile, and conflict affected countries.

I wish you all a fruitful discussion.

Thank you!

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