How can we make trade and trade rules more inclusive for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and women in business? This was the central theme with which government representatives, NGOs, civil society organizations, business leaders, academics, students and ordinary citizens from around the world grappled at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Public Forum held September 27-29, 2016. The flagship outreach event in the WTO’s calendar, the 2016 Public Forum attracted a record 2,000 registrants according to WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo in his opening remarks on the first day of the event.
This year’s main theme “Inclusive Trade” is timely given the current global trade and economic climate marked by slowing global trade and economic growth, rising anti-trade sentiment in advanced economies and a strong populist backlash against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
On the first day of the event, the WTO Secretariat launched its flagship trade policy publication, the World Trade Report 2016. Themed “Levelling the Trading Field for SMEs“, the Report explores SMEs’ participation in global trade, obstacles to their participation and cooperative approaches to promoting SME participation in global trade. Among the Report’s findings are that “trade participation of SMEs in developing countries is low, with exports accounting for 7.6 per cent of manufacturing sales, compared to 14.1 per cent for larger firms”.
In his opening remarks Director-General Azevedo noted that the backlash against trade and globalisation is not unique during periods of low growth, but cautioned that “history also shows the dramatic consequences that this kind of sentiment can have”. He explained that while trade was an important anti-poverty tool there needs to be acknowledgement that the benefits of trade “don’t reach as many people as they should and we should act … not by attacking trade, but by making it work better.”
Throughout the three-day event, a number of sessions and workshops were held exploring various themes, including e-commerce and bridging the global digital divide, SME access to trade finance, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), regional trade agreements (RTAs), sustainable investment, inter alia.
Audio recordings of the various sessions are available on the WTO’s website here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.