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Writing in a joint opinion article published in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) First Vice-Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Roberto Azevedo point to the changing shape of private sector engagement in global trade negotiations.

Amid growing interest in a WTO capable of delivering tangible outcomes, the article appears just days ahead of a first-of its-kind WTO-hosted dialogue with the global business community aimed at catalysing further progress in the multilateral trade agenda.

“WTO members are currently reflecting on how best to move the negotiating agenda forward, and in this context, the private sector has asked for its voice to be heard – not to dictate the agenda, but to provide food for thought,” Messrs Mittal and Azevedo write.

The WTO event will bring together around 50 senior business executives from all over the world in a bid to produce clear and actionable recommendations to maintain momentum in global trade talks following the successful outcomes of back-to-back WTO ministerial meetings in Bali (2013) and Nairobi (2015).

Achievements of the ministerials include the conclusion of the landmark Trade Facilitation Agreement – a deal which it is estimated could add over US$1tn to global merchandise trade per year –  and the finalisation of an ambitious revision to the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) which could add over US$190bn to global GDP.

“In the space of two years, the World Trade Organization has given business people around the world a number of reasons to sit up and ….they’re asking: what’s next?” the op-ed said.

Messrs Azevedo and Mittal say they hope that deepening the interaction between business, civil society and the WTO through the business dialogue – featuring business leaders from small and large enterprises, from developed and developing countries alike – will help governments as they shape future multilateral trade talks.

They conclude: “In recent years the WTO has shown that, with the support of the private sector and others, it can achieve major, economically-significant trade agreements. Strengthening this partnership can only help to ensure that this record is maintained and that the WTO keeps delivering for growth, development and job creation around the world.”

#TradeMatters

The dialogue is set to take place against a backdrop of rising protectionism and a souring of public opinion on trade in many of the world’s largest economies.

In response to these related trends, ICC has today launched #TradeMatters – a new campaign-to promote a balanced an evidence-based debate on the role of trade in today’s economy.

“While the global trading system is by no means perfect, open markets are still the best tool we have for increasing global welfare,” said ICC Secretary General John Danilovich.

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