WTO: Keeping up with changes in world trade?

By Tim Bailey, International Trade Director, Chamber International

What became clear from attending this year’s World Trade Conference in Geneva, where I was fortunate enough to meet new Director General, Robert Azevedo, is that, in spite of the setbacks in the world economy during the last five years, international trade is going through rapid change which may soon translate into greater growth.

The main engine for this is the expansion in the international digital economy and e-commerce which is enabling long-talked about global trading aspirations to become practical and reality driven, even at a local level, by online platforms such as eBay and PayPal. Global cross-border trade now accounts for a third of PayPal’s business driven by small, low margin businesses in India and China discovering technology.

The annual event, in which this year’s theme was Expanding trade through Innovation and the Digital Economy, provides a platform for looking at the latest developments in world trade and a glimpse into how the future might look. Trade facilitation was a key topic and is an important agenda item for the Bali Ministerial Conference in December alongside development and food security.

One trillion dollars is forecast to be added to the global economy if agreement on trade facilitation can be reached in Bali but the WTO risks losing the support of some countries if it fails.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in his keynote speech, called for WTO negotiations to evolve in order to facilitate – or even drive – innovation in technology and international trade.

“Bali has the potential to be a vital step towards the WTO creating something new, something that can lead to other new opportunities” he said warning that success or failure at Bali could determine the future of the organisation.

The Director General said that he wants to lead an era of greater WTO engagement with businesses, this and the growth in digital trade may lead to the establishment of a specialist WTO business council.