14 August, New York, United States - UNITAR NYO and WTO hold three day training course focusing on the future of multilateral trade, in the wake of the collapse of the Bali Agreement.  The trade facilitation agreement to which WTO’s 160 members unanimously agreed at the Bali ministerial conference in December 2013, promised to boost the world economy by almost $400 billion annually through a massive increase in trade.  In an unexpected turn of events on August 1, India vetoed the final agreement on grounds of unresolved concerns over food security, bringing the Doha negotiations, which have been ongoing since 2001 and were scheduled to conclude on July 31 this year, to a temporary standstill. Not only does this standstill mark a huge setback for the Doha round of talks but it also poses a massive setback for multilateralism in trade, bringing confidence in the global trading system under speculation.

Despite the Bali setback, diplomats from Permanent Missions to the United Nations attended the three day seminar to discuss the relevance of and the advances made by the international trading system. Over these three days, experts from WTO, WIPO, UNCTAD, UNDP, UN-DESA, ILO and the academic sector engaged extensively with participants on various issues within international trade.

Lamenting the latest obstruction to the success of the Doha negotiations but simultaneously reassuring participants of the future potential of the international trading system, Mr. Maarten Smeets, Chief of Section, Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation, WTO, introduced the international trading system, drawing light on the evolution of the trading system and identified protectionism, global value chains and regionalism as the key elements determining this evolution today. He also discussed the promotion of trade for development and spoke of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and the Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) negotiations in this light. Referring to the recent DDA setback and collapse in confidence in the world trading system, he reminded participants about the harm done by regional agreements, especially since they exclude the poorer countries who stand to benefit the most from trade facilitation agreements.

Dr. Thomas Prusa from the Department of Economics at Rutgers University provided participants with insight to economic principles of non-discrimination, reciprocity and enforcement (dispute resolution). He also warned against regional trade agreements as a destructor of the principle of non-discrimination and classified these agreements as the hugest challenge to WTO and to multilateral liberalization today.  Lucinda Longcroft, Head of New York Coordination Office of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) briefed the participants about WIPO-WTO Cooperation.  Ms. Longcroft spoke of the WIPO-WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which is an integral part of the global trade regime today.

In view of the forthcoming shift from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the seminar focused on trade and development. Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in New York discussed the role of trade policies in SDGs and the post-2015 development strategy, drawing particular attention to the need for job creation by promoting entrepreneurship and private investment through Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs).  Massimiliano Riva, Policy Specialist in Trade and Capacity Development at UNDP spoke on Aid for Trade and the importance of enhancing the benefits of trade for the least developed countries (LDCs) - provided developing countries are included more equitably into the world trading system.  

In terms of trade’s environmental impact, Dr. Wei Liu, Sustainable Development Officer, UN-DESA and Elizabeth Burleson, Burleson Institute, focused respectively on the interface of trade, environment and the post-2015 development agenda. Dr. Liu discussed extensively the possibility of employing trade as a means to achieve sustainable development, especially through national policy measures like product regulations. Elizabeth Burleson discussed the direct impact relationship between trade and climate change.

Despite the setbacks of Bali, the diplomats all agreed that the UNITAR NYO-WTO seminar enhanced their understanding about international trade’s integral link to their economies, development and their labour markets.