Held under the theme: The World Trading System at a Crossroad and WTO Reform for a Sustainable World Economy, the symposium took place in Tokyo and focused on how the global trade system could be reformed to be fit-for-purpose in the 21st century. The symposium drew approximately 150 participants representing businesses, government, academia and others and featured keynote speeches by Akimasa Ishikawa, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and Mari Pangestu, the Former Minister of Trade for the Republic of Indonesia.
In his opening remarks, Mr Akahoshi, President of JETRO emphasised that the world trading system should be continuously re-examined with regard to reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the governance of data flows, given the escalation of trade restrictive measures and the impact on businesses.
In his keynote speech, Mr Ishikawa said that Japan had identified four priority trade challenges as host country of the G20. They were: establishment of an international framework for data flow and utilisation, removal of market-distorting measures, WTO reform, and the promotion of trade and investment for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Ms Pangestu underscored the importance of the multilateral trade system and the benefits it brings to all countries, particularly developing countries, and how trade has become a priority issue for business.
The former minister stressed that change is necessary for the WTO in order to safeguard the multilateral trading system, starting by securing the Appellate Body, building confidence by seeking progress on relatively less contentious issues – such as notification – and keeping the WTO relevant in changing times by addressing issues such as subsidies (both industrial and agricultural) and a level playing field, as well as through the development of new rules for e-commerce and data flows.
Joining Ms Pangestu for roundtable discussions were John W. H. Denton AO, ICC Secretary General Victor do Prado, Director, Council and Trade Negotiations Committee, WTO, Shigehiro Tanaka, Director-General, Trade Policy Bureau, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and Nobuhiro Endo, Chairman of the Board (Representative Director), NEC Corporation and member of the APEC Business Advisory Board Council (ABAC)-Japan. The discussion was moderated by Robin Harding, Tokyo Bureau Chief of The Financial Times.
Mr Denton called for WTO reform to be relevant to business, flexible and accountable and urged caution to safeguard the system through pursuit of a regularly reviewed proactive agenda. Mr Denton also pointed out that the benefits of global trade expansion under the multilateral system today is not universally delivered due to some domestic policy failures which he stressed could not be addressed by international organisations alone.
Mr Endo warned that decision-making by consensus delays rulemaking within the WTO and cannot keep pace with the rapid progress of information and communication technologies. Mr Endo said there was a lack of a sense of urgency among WTO member countries with regard to the changing global trade environment and said the global agenda should be shared in order to realise a sustainable and future-oriented society.
Mr Tanaka stressed the need for global rules in the era of Global Value Chains and the need for WTO reform taking into account the growing role of emerging economies. Noting that the G20 Ministerial gathered both Trade Ministers and Digital Economic Ministers, Mr Tanaka said the G20 was a key opportunity to give a political push for WTO reforms and provide impetus to rulemaking in the digital area by sharing the idea of Free Flow of Data with Trust and advancing international discussions such as the Joint Statement Initiative on e-commerce.
Mr do Prado noted that the WTO should adapt any ineffective old norms to the demands of contemporary society. Referring to a proposal by member states for WTO dispute settlement reform, Mr do Prado highlighted how the 164 WTO member countries do have common interests regardless of diversity.
Ms Pangestu expressed her expectation for G20 Leaders to provide further instruction to negotiators at the G20 Osaka Summit in June.
JETRO and ICC will continue to monitor the development of WTO reform discussions and widely disseminate information and outcomes.