WITA Webinar: Three Former USTRs on the WTO in a Time of Change

On June 16, the Washington International Trade Association hosted a virtual discussion with three former United States Trade Representatives on the future of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO faces numerous challenges that will define its operation in the future. The organization is currently undergoing the selection process for a new Director General while simultaneously managing the possibility of United States withdrawal from the organization and maneuvering the post-COVID-19 global trade environment. Exacerbating the organization’s problems is the lack of global consensus on trade. The absence of harmony amongst WTO member states necessitates that the new director general serves as a diplomatic facilitator, mobilizing member states’ political will. However, as achieving unanimity among member states will prove increasingly difficult, there is an opportunity for likeminded countries to build “coalitions of the ambitious.” The establishment of such coalitions could set a precedent for groups of countries who come to agreements to be able to operate in parallel with the WTO.   

The discussion also touched on the potential ways in which the new director general could quickly achieve multilateral successes and build political capital among member states. The panelists mentioned the new director general could build on momentum in establishing ecommerce regulations as well as culminate negotiations and passage of the Environmental Goods Agreement. The conversation also included panelists’ comments about the potential ramifications of U.S. withdrawal from the WTO. The panelists agreed that U.S. withdrawal from the organization could be dangerous, constituting a derailment of progress made on rule of law promotion within the increasingly globalized international commerce environment.  

Cross border collaboration proves to be increasingly vital in sustaining global trade and reaching agreements that equally benefit all countries involved. As disagreements rise between WTO members, key issues hold without resolution. In the covid-19 climate, border operation and supply chain security concerns have heightened due to obscurity in direction and lack of consensus on regulation. Coupled with increased trade volumes, countries must improve vigilance by reinventing current security practices and introducing innovative technologies that enhance trade processes. The future of trade relies on shifting the focus of trade towards a vision in which the private and public sectors of the global economy collaborate to resolve trade issues with advance technology while encouraging global partnership.