Newly appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has called for deep-rooted and wide-ranging reforms that would modernise and match the rules of the global trade regulator to the needs and issues of the 21st century.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, she said the WTO was currently facing some challenges that would require those reforms.
She said: “By this, I mean we have to look at the digital economy, which has become so prominent during the pandemic. E-commerce is key, and it’s going to grow in leaps and bounds as we move on.
The WTO currently does not have rules that underpin e-commerce, so how to put those rules in place and completing negotiations [on them] will be very important.”
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala also made a strong case for gender mainstreaming in global trade, urging specific action for women and women-led small and medium-sized businesses.
“Trade is about people and we have to constantly put that ahead of us. How do we bring those who have been excluded or marginalised, like women and owners of micro, small and medium enterprises, into the mainstream?”
The WTO’s dispute settlement system, according to its new boss, was another area that must be reformed.
She said she was going to work with members to tease out the challenges to the system and the reforms they would like to see.
“There have been some proposals in the past that could be built on; I will flesh out the reforms, try to systematise and put them together, get members to agree on them, and once that’s done, we put together a work programme to implement those reforms.”
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala further highlighted the pivotal role of global trade in restoring the economic and health losses—which she described as the twin shocks—of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Trade is important in helping to come out of the global pandemic, both in terms of helping in the freer flow of medical goods and supplies to deal with public health emergencies and also economic revival and sustainability.”