WTO crucial despite challenges, especially for small nations like Singapore, say policymakers

SINGAPORE - Multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been buffeted by challenges, but still play a crucial role especially for a small trading nation like Singapore, speakers at a trade policy dialogue said on Monday (Oct 19).

The dialogue, held over two days at the Hotel Rendezvous, is being attended by trade policy experts, academics and business leaders from the region.

It was organised ahead of the WTO's 10th Ministerial Conference, which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya from Dec 15 to 18.

The WTO has had to grapple with challenges such as the rise of regional trade agreements, the slowdown in global trade, and members stuck in gridlock over fundamental issues, said speakers at the dialogue's opening ceremony.

Ms Ng Bee Kim, Director General (Trade) at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said new trends in trade, such as the rise of e-commerce, as well as increasingly diverse WTO membership, have added extra layers of complexity to multilateral negotiations.

The current round of trade negotiations at the WTO which began in 2001 - called the Doha Development Agenda - has also been stuck in a gridlock on various issues such as agricultural subsidies and market access, said Mr Yi Xiaozhun, Deputy Director-General of the WTO.

Still, both noted that the WTO has played a crucial role in global governance and promoting freer trade since its inception in 1995, and it is essential - especially for a small trading nation like Singapore - for negotiators to continue making progress on these multilateral discussions.