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Thursday, 29 September 2016

The WTO Public Forum and the challenge of ‘inclusive’ trade

  Asmita Parshotam
The participation of women in trade featured prominently throughout discussions at the WTO Public Forum The participation of women in trade featured prominently throughout discussions at the WTO Public Forum Photo © Andrea Moroni/ Flickr

The Public Forum is an annual three-day event organised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to facilitate discussions and debates from global actors on issues facing trade and development. This year's event, held from 27 to 29 September 2016, focused on 'Inclusive Trade' as a way to harness trade for the economic empowerment of the most marginalised members of society, and finding innovative ways to make trading conditions easier for them.

Discussions across the three days examined three key categories for making trade more inclusive: creating easier trading conditions for women, harnessing digital and e-commerce to improve trade opportunities for entrepreneurs and SMEs, and using global and regional value chains to better connect marginalised individuals and entities to larger markets for their services and produce.

The variety of NGOs, academia, think tanks and private sector organisations present all contributed to a rich discussion of the challenges facing the WTO, governments and private sector in making trade more inclusive, and breaking down the barriers facing smaller businesses, individuals and certain groups from accessing markets and avenues for their own growth.

Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals via inclusive trade and ensuring the participation of women in trade featured prominently throughout all discussions, as did ideas of using technology and e-commerce to reach out to marginalised communities to improve their socio-economic conditions.

SAIIA and the International Centre for Trade and Development (ICTSD) co-hosted a session that addressed the need to enhance current understandings of value chain dynamics in developing countries to ensure the inclusion of farmers, SMEs and women in international trade.

However, identifying these constraints remains the easy part of the problem, and finding solutions remains an ongoing challenge. The WTO is a Member-driven organisation, and in the absence of its Members implementing domestic policies and taking actions to tackle these problems within their respective countries, the Secretariat cannot create the necessary conditions for change, and cannot do much beyond playing an advisory role to the Member states.

Finding ways to make trade more inclusive would help to dispel notions that liberalised trade cannot be pro-poor, and many sessions over the three-day event spoke directly to this. It is the responsibility of all WTO Member states, developing and developed, to implement changes, policies and create investment opportunities that bring about better and improved inclusive growth to those that need it the most.

Click here for more information about the SAIIA/ ICTSD event, including presentations.

Event details

Date: 29 September 2016
Time: 17:00 - 18:30pm
Venue: Geneva, Switzerland

This ICTSD–SAIIA event intended to advance an understanding of value chain dynamics that can lead to more and better inclusion of small players including smallholding farmers, SMEs, women and other marginalised people. Presentations focused on:

  • using GVC trade policies to contribute towards inclusive growth
  • GVCs' impact on poverty reduction
  • harnessing GVCs to integrate SMEs
  • making use of clean energy technologies to improve GVCs
  • harnessing investment to improve Tanzanian agricultural value chains

Panel presentation was diverse, with African and women presenters dominating the panel. The discussants (Ambassadors Darlington Mwape and Marewalesi Falemaka) provided useful inputs and insights, particularly in relation to how GVCs can better used to improve the socio-economic conditions of marginalised societies in Southern African and the Pacific Islands.