Jambo Africa Online’s Senior Editorial Correspondent, FRANCOIS FOUCHE, shares a collage of news titbits from across the world that impacts of Africa’s business.
In three months, the world’s top trade ministers plan to meet in Geneva with the goal of rebooting an institution whose rules oversee global trade flows worth about $22 trillion annually.
There’s much at stake for the World Trade Organization, which has failed to reach any multilateral agreements for the better part of the past decade and lost its ability to fully settle trade disputes affecting billions of dollars in global commerce.
The WTO’s November ministerial conference could help reverse that trend by providing an opportunity for governments to deliver real outcomes that impact the lives of everyday people.
But the evolving nature of the pandemic and yawning gaps in pending trade negotiations could force the WTO to hold its meeting virtually — effectively hosting a Zoom call with its 164 members that could reduce the scope for meaningful agreements this year.
Switzerland is in the midst of a fourth wave driven by the delta variant. New cases of Covid-19 have risen to levels last seen in January, when the Swiss government mandated teleworking and forced all non-essential shops and restaurants closed.
The WTO’s top negotiator, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, remains undeterred and is keen to hold an in-person ministerial conference. She’s doing this because she knows a busted ministerial would signal to the world that the WTO is not capable of delivering at a critical moment for the global trading system.
‘Not Look Good’
Okonjo-Iweala previously warned that if the WTO finished the year with “no contributions to the meaningful issues that are being faced by the world today and nothing to add in terms of a framework for tackling the next pandemic, it will not look good.”
She’s not wrong.
Persistent disagreements among WTO members over core issues are compounding the organization’s existential crisis in ways that may lead governments to conclude that the WTO is not a credible forum for addressing their shared challenges.
If the health situation forces the WTO to hold its meeting online it would likely preclude any multilateral deal-making due to the difficulty of negotiating across time zones and the lack of opportunities to hash out side-room deals.
That means the pressure is on WTO ambassadors to produce fully agreed texts before November or risk the prospect of a failed ministerial, with no agreements to help expand global access to vaccines, reduce harmful fishery subsidies or reform the WTO’s dispute settlement system.
Such a meeting would not be without value, but it would clearly fall short of the director-general’s goal of restoring credibility at a moment when world leaders are impatient for change.