By Shamkoe Pile
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Multilateral trade must redound to the benefit of all, regardless of size. Minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, Senator Dr Jerome Walcott, made this declaration at a three-day CARICOM workshop held to discuss World Trade Organization (WTO) issues at the Savannah Beach Hotel, recently.
Minister Walcott stressed that the event was being held at a critical time because the multilateral system, which small island developing states (SIDS) have relied on, had begun to undergo a “seismic shift”, a move that could undermine fair trade for the region.
“If this is allowed to continue, [it] would be to the detriment of small states like ours, which have limited negotiating power. A system, which delivers for all, regardless of size; a system that is fair, balanced, and rules-based, is vital for us,” he insisted.
He maintained that the preservation of small economies within the WTO was essential since small size continues to be a major disadvantage to the growth, development and competitiveness of SIDS. “Special and differential treatment for small economies must always remain at the heart of the WTO and its thrust,” he emphasized.
Just days after the 25th anniversary of the creation of the WTO, he lamented that instead of discussing the advancement of the WTO, CARICOM officials were meeting in Bridgetown to look at the “very tense state of play” in that organization.
“It is clear to all of us that the World Trade Organization has been at a major crossroad for some time now. Despite the numerous meetings taking place almost daily in Geneva and in other places, it appears to many that there is a lack of political will to advance the mandates agreed at ministerial conferences. Admittedly and collectively, members have failed to deliver on the Doha Development Agenda in a meaningful manner and yet have embarked on new, albeit exciting areas of discussion. This is a concern for small states like Barbados, as many implementation issues remain unresolved,” he stressed.
He pointed to the issue of climate change, a phenomenon that impacts the majority of issues being discussed under the ambit of the WTO and argued that it was time to stop paying lip service to trade and climate change.
“We have seen the debilitating effects of many Category 4 and 5 hurricanes on our small open economies. The effects these have on agriculture, infrastructure, tourism and wider trade in the goods and service sectors continue to be of major concern to us,” he explained.
Also on the agenda for discussion were other issues relating to the WTO reform agenda, which include fisheries subsidies, agriculture, e-commerce, micro small and medium-sized enterprises, and investment facilitation.
He also insisted that the region’s own trading mechanisms also needed to become more agile and stated that government was committed to playing a leading role in this process.
“These ought to be looked at, not only from the perspective of the current state of play, and maintenance of policy space, but also with a view to ensuring first that members of CARICOM can fully engage in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, [while] ensuring that our trade and development interests in Geneva are advanced and protected pursuant to the tenets of the Revised Treaty.
“We may need COTED to have a ‘rapid-response’ mechanism which would allow CARICOM to issue comprehensive positions simultaneously to their Geneva based representative in the WTO. In this regard, I commend the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development for recognizing the need to re-examine the region’s external trade strategy,” minister Walcott said.