Reforming Global Trade Rules Is Tough but Doable: WTO Chief

By Reuters
December 1, 2021 Updated: December 1, 2021

GENEVA—The head of the World Trade Organization stressed the importance of reforming the global trade body to prevent further trade wars but warned it would be “very tough” amid high geopolitical tensions.

The 27-year-old global trade body, under pressure to prove its relevance, was due to have held a major ministerial meeting this week and a plan to update the global trade rule book was among the key topics.

However, it was postponed due to travel curbs linked to the COVID-19 variant Omicron, further dampening already dim hopes for progress.

Asked if the WTO was capable of reform, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview: “Absolutely. Whether it will be easy to do is another thing.”

“I think it will be very tough because of the lack of trust among members.”

Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters the WTO’s dispute settlement system had to be saved to prevent future trade wars, adding that Washington’s “legitimate concerns” about overreach needed to be addressed.

Describing the current atmosphere as “fraught with geopolitical tensions”, she warned of the risk of the rules-based trade system being replaced by a power-based system and said smaller countries would lose out the most from this.

“It’s absolutely important that we support multilateral trade and we don’t take it for granted,” she said.

By Emma Farge