On 28 October 2020 a panel discussion on global trade in times of – and post – COVID-19 took place online for the occasion of EFTA’s 60th anniversary. The panel, moderated by Swiss Ambassador Didier Chambovey, welcomed three speakers with thorough knowledge of the global trade environment: João Aguiar Machado, Ambassador of the EU to the WTO; Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre and Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh, former Director of the Trade in Services and Investment Division of the WTO.
Various topics were tackled during the one-hour discussion. Mr Chambovey asked the panellists to give their views on the impact of COVID-19 on global trade, on how to encourage SMEs in developing countries to benefit from free trade agreements and also on the EU Green Deal.
Starting the talk with a question addressed to Mr Mamdouh, Ambassador Chambovey asked if multilateral cooperation had reached its limit knowing that it was already facing challenges before COVID-19. Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh replied saying that “members have not been talking with each other to the extent needed while at the same time the reality of global trade has been moving towards greater complexity of relations and production structures.” “In order to address the WTO reform, we need to look at it in a holistic way. It wouldn’t be feasible to try and resolve one issue while the others are not addressed. There is a need to find an interconnectedness between the three pillars” he added citing the dispute settlement, the negotiating and the deliberative functions.
Mr Machado then turned the discussion to the EU Green Deal. “The question that arises with COVID-19 is that we are realising when we are facing major problems like these, we need to find global solutions and also rapid solutions. For the environment likewise. How can we make the WTO not only relevant on addressing the issue but also on delivering? I believe COVID-19 will be a test case in terms of restrictive measures but also in trade facilitating measures” he said.
Ms Coke-Hamilton, on her side, reacted to the question of how developed countries, such as EFTA Member States, can strengthen countries like the least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa. She said: “Interestingly, EFTA has a free trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and that can be used as a base through which EFTA can build its relationship and strengthen the capacity of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) to deliver. Because one of the greatest weaknesses that we’ve seen in most of these free trade areas and free trade agreements is that they are good on paper, but they end up not translating into penetration for businesses into enhanced economic growth.”
On that matter, Mr Mamdouh agreed and, referring to his experience at the WTO, he added that capacity constraints were the first challenges encountered particularly when facing issues like services and intellectual property. “The deliberative function of the WTO is part of what helped to bridge the knowledge gap with developing countries” he concluded.
To end the panel, Secretary-General, Henri Gétaz, gave closing remarks thanking all the speakers for the discussion “as a brilliant way of kicking off our EFTA Channel”, he said. Mr Gétaz noted that this time, the discussion on global trading systems was not overwhelmed by US-China tensions.
“I think it tells us that the issue is more complex than that, and that we all have collective responsibility when addressing the global trading systems. This is also true for EFTA and the EFTA countries, through our network of free trade agreements and ongoing negotiations – one of the largest networks in the world – as well our efforts in trade and sustainable development, e-commerce and other issues in our trade talks,” he said.
Mr Gétaz announced the next event on the EFTA Channel, an interview with former WTO Director-General and EU Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy.
Watch the full panel discussion below:
Watch the interview with Pascal Lamy below:
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