The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Public Forum is its largest annual outreach event. This year, the forum will take place from 8-11 October at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, and will provide a platform for participants coming from different sectors to discuss the latest developments in world trade and to propose ways of enhancing the multilateral trading system.
Themed ‘Trading forward: Adapting to a changing world’, this year’s event will take us back to discussions that took place at last year’s forum, which focused on the changes influencing the evolution of the trading system, and will invite us to look into the future and discuss how the trading system can adapt to these changes.
Here are three things to expect from this year’s WTO Public Forum:
There are fewer sessions dedicated to digital trade-related issues
The space dedicated to digital themes on the agenda of this year’s Public Forum is still considerable. However, there are fewer sessions which are fully dedicated to these issues, compared to previous years.
This may seem counterintuitive, considering that digital technologies have been identified as key drivers of economic advances, making production easier, more efficient, and cheaper, and making services more tradeable.
Nevertheless, it could be explained by the fact that the relative importance of other themes has augmented, such as the need to reform and strengthen the trading system. Several proposals on how to do it were advanced by member states throughout the year, and the forum provides an interesting opportunity to discuss them and to take into consideration the views of non-state actors on this issue.
The views of millennials and the generation Z will be sought much more this year
One of the sub-themes of this year’s Public Forum revolves around the question ‘What do Millennials & Gen Z want to see from global trade?’
The focus on younger generations is an innovation. Trade has long been considered a complex topic, apt to be discussed only by those with technical knowledge and expertise. This year’s approach to trade issues took an empirical turn: Considering the fact that younger generations are behind some of the key innovations and entrepreneurial advancements in global trade, the forum seeks to bring their views to the table, in order to better understand how the trading system can support them.
The interplay between trade and environmental issues takes prominence
There are more sessions dedicated to environmental issues than in previous years. This resonates with the broader societal movement that has galvanised actors around environmental advocacy and action, especially in the field of climate change.
The #FridaysforFuture initiative – a people’s movement inspired by the call for school strikes from young activist Greta Thunberg – has become a symbol of this changing mindset. Although discussions on the impact of trade on the environment are not new, the interplay has always been controversial. While market liberalisation brings economic efficiency, it could also erode environmental protection granted by national legislation.
Since environmental issues have not been chosen as a sub-theme of this year’s Public Forum, the growth of the topic seems to spontaneously come from the trade community that volunteered to organise sessions. Amid polarised views, it will be interesting to see the outcomes of this discussion.
Unable to attend the WTO Public Forum, or too many sessions to follow?
You can follow the updates of the Geneva Internet Platform and DiploFoundation, our team of rapporteurs will provide just-in-time reporting from selected WTO Public Forum sessions that relate to e-commerce and other digital trade-related issues. Bookmark the page: https://dig.watch/wpf2019