On December 15, the Valdai Club hosted a discussion titled “WTO Reform: Can the Organization Restore Its Clout?”
Yaroslav Lissovolik, the discussion’s moderator and a Programme Director of the Valdai Club, noted in his opening remarks that 2020 has been an unprecedented year for the World Trade Organization due to the drop in global trade turnover, which was caused by the impact of the pandemic, exacerbated by several years of protectionism. Now the WTO faces enormous challenges and this makes the issue of reforming the organization especially important, he stressed.
Simon Evenet, Professor of International Trade and Economic Development at the University of St. Gallen, pointed to the slow response of the WTO to crises and to the existence of disagreements about the fundamental imperatives of the organization. In his opinion, the WTO faces the problem of crisis management, for which it would make sense to develop a certain common protocol. The expert recalled that the global pandemic is a second crisis that the World Trade Organization has faced over the past 15 years, and the consequences of the first one – the global financial crisis of 2008 – have not yet been completely overcome. He noted that it would make sense for major players to get together and try to bring their views on the goals and objectives of the WTO to a common denominator. He also proposed a number of general principles outlining what this common denominator might look like.
Ekaterina Mayorova, Director of the Trade Negotiations Department of the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, explained why Russia intends to maintain its membership in the WTO, despite all the problems this organization is facing. According to her, Russia is highly dependent on foreign economic relations and this makes WTO, which can be a platform for resolving conflicts, negotiations and out-of-court protection of interests, particularly significant to the country. “In the economic sense, the WTO is an uncontested institution for us,” Mayorova said. In addition, the issue of Russian membership in the WTO also has a legal dimension – because of its membership in the EAEU, the WTO rules are binding for Russia, regardless of its membership in the World Trade Organization itself. “It is too early to bury the WTO, despite all the difficulties,” the representative of the Ministry of Economic Development said, outlining the prospects for the organization’s reform.
Dmitry Lyakishev, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, spoke in the same vein, pointing out that, despite the trend towards protectionism and the growing number of trade restrictions, the overwhelming part of world trade is carried out according to the WTO rules. At the same time, the volumes of international trade continue to grow in the long term, which means they need universal regulation rules. For all the problems of the organization, no one leaves it, he continued, but everyone is interested in reforming the WTO and in increasing its effectiveness. The WTO is in demand, and work in the main negotiating areas has accelerated significantly in recent months.