WTO 'still crucial for small states like S'pore'

MR YI XIAOZHUN
MR YI XIAOZHUN

Grouping vital for promoting governance and free trade despite regional trade blocs, gridlock on issues: Experts

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 such as Singapore, speakers at a trade policy dialogue said yesterday.

The two-day dialogue at 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, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from Dec 15 to 18.

The WTO has had to grapple with challenges such as the growing importance 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, the director-general for 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 latest 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, a deputy director-general at the WTO.

WILLINGNESS TO COOPERATE

The WTO represents the willingness of its members to cooperate. It represents the recognition that their national interests are increasingly intertwined with their collective interests.

MR YI XIAOZHUN, a deputy director-general at the World Trade Organisation

Still, both Ms Ng and Mr Yi 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.

Singapore hosted the first WTO ministerial conference in December 1996.

"The multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO is a priority for Singapore," said Ms Ng, who added that the country will continue working with other WTO members to promote global trade.

Advancing multilateral trade talks remains an institutional test for the WTO, but its role in the global economy is much broader than any round of negotiations, said Mr Yi. He noted that the system's accomplishments over the past two decades are no guarantee of future success. "The WTO represents the willingness of its members to cooperate. It represents the recognition that their national interests are increasingly intertwined with their collective interests."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'WTO 'still crucial for small states like S'pore''. Print Edition | Subscribe