On 5 April, ICTSD, in partnership with the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Economic Forum, and the Secretariat for Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Production, Argentina, organised an informal dialogue convened under the RTA Exchange and the E15 Initiative.
Innovations in information and communication technologies (ICTs), combined with the explosive growth of the digital economy, are increasingly blurring the borders of national economies. However, the growth of global trade contracted sharply in the last five years compared to the boom of the previous two decades. More importantly, the slowdown in trade did not correlate with the evolution of economic activity, which contracted to a much lesser extent. This implies the prevalence of an “every country for itself” approach for boosting national economies.
The current context is explained in part by the lack of progress in the Doha Round in the WTO. Since 2008, the year in which the international economic crisis broke out and the Round entered an impasse, the application of non-tariff measures increased exponentially.
The difficulties encountered by the multilateral trade system appear to respond to two factors. First, the proliferation of regional integration schemes has resulted in a complex network of trade agreements that are often inconsistent and uncoordinated. While some contain elements that could trigger a process of convergence, others, however, are complicated and risk eroding each other.
Secondly, both the WTO and the recent integration processes known as “mega-regional agreements” have been met with growing opposition in civil society in relation to the expected benefits of trade and its impact on inequality, employment, social security and the environment.
The present high-level dialogue brought together a select group of government officials, as well as representatives from the private sector and academia, with the intention of seeking a common understanding on these challenges, and identifying strategic priorities for the region with a view to the Ministerial Conference of the WTO and the G20 Summit to be held in Argentina. The fact that both international forums will convene in the Southern Cone represents a historic opportunity to work together in the region in order to carry forward a common vision of how the multilateral trading system should advance.