G7+ WTO Accessions Group to Advance Trade for Peace Agenda in Run-up to MC12

In focus: Comoros, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Sao Tome & Principe and Timor-Leste

WTO members and acceding governments in the g7+ WTO Accessions Group met on 5 October to step up efforts to advance the Trade for Peace initiative, designed to help fragile and conflict-affected states (FCSs) through WTO membership. Participants stressed that trade and WTO membership are key drivers of peace building and greater resilience and agreed on the need to have their collective voice heard at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) to be held on 30 November — 3 December.

The g7+ WTO Accessions Group was launched at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. Its objective is to facilitate the integration of fragile and conflict-affected states (FCSs) into the multilateral trading system through WTO accession-related reforms. It also aims to support the efforts of the FCSs acceding to the WTO, including through information and experience sharing.

Speaking as Group co-coordinator and meeting chair, Mawine G. Diggs, Minister of Commerce and Industry of Liberia, noted that all Group members were “bound by the painful experiences of devastating conflicts and the shared objective and desire to transition from fragility to peace and sustainable development, for the benefit of our peoples.”

Thanking WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for her support to Trade for Peace at the 2021 Geneva Trade Week, she said: “I was especially pleased to hear the WTO Director-General confirming that trade, poverty, and peace are intricately connected, and that trade and peace communities should work together to use trade to create opportunities in these most vulnerable countries.”

“I believe that MC12 provides the right platform at the right moment for the group to step up with this appeal to the WTO membership on the need for a more inclusive multilateral trading system, which will be attentive to the special needs of fragile and conflict affected states, many of which are additionally disadvantaged by remaining outside of the system in these challenging COVID-19 times,” she added.

Speaking on behalf of the Director-General, Deputy Director-General Xiangchen Zhang commended the g7+ WTO Accessions Group for raising the relevance of the role of trade, the multilateral trading system and WTO membership in contributing to peacebuilding and for bringing the special challenges faced by FCSs to the attention of the WTO membership.

“The Group's voice is being heard by the WTO membership,” he said. Recalling various activities undertaken to bring together the trade, peace and humanitarian communities, he added: “I understand, however, that there is still a lot to be done …, particularly in stepping up the g7+ initiative and securing recognition and commitment by WTO members — especially for those of you who remain outside of the WTO in this difficult COVID time and need to advance on their WTO accessions — e.g., Comoros, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Sao Tome & Principe and Timor-Leste.”

DDG Zhang noted that despite all challenges, impressive efforts are being made by these governments to advance on their WTO accessions. “In particular, we are pleased with the concrete progress registered for three least-developed countries (LDCs) — Sudan, Timor-Leste and Comoros — in recent months, as they held their respective Working Party meetings”.

Dr Francis M. Kai-Kai, Minister of Planning and Economic Developmentof Sierra Leone and Chair of g7+, stressed: “No one can deny the importance of trade for social and economic development. The multilateral trading system under the auspices of the WTO is a crucial factor in fostering shared prosperity.” “For us, the conflict-affected countries, trade is a means to increase jobs, livelihoods and hence peace and stability. This can only happen when we are able to get maximum benefit from trade and those benefits trickle down to our citizens,” he said.

He noted that the group has the potential to significantly contribute to making the world trade system more inclusive, fair and peace oriented. “However unique our contexts have been, our transitions have been through common paths; our comparative lessons can inspire reforms at national and global levels. It is in this context that I am very hopeful and ambitious that the g7+ WTO Accessions Group can serve as an interface for discussion on how trade can be used to pursue prosperity in our countries,” he added.

Francisco Dionisio Fernandes, Head of the Permanent Mission of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), speaking as Group co-coordinator, underlined that the effects of war on trade, the flaws of multilateralism and the challenges faced by FCSs are not new topics of concern. However, what is new is the joint voice that the Group offers “to send a strong message to the WTO membership and leadership, and demand for accountability for all those countries that have been neglected when designing the current international trade policies.”

The Group agreed to put forward specific proposals ahead of the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, including for a work programme on trade for peace dedicated to FCSs, for the attention of all WTO ministers. The programme should be action-oriented, building on various activities which have been implemented by the WTO and its partners under the WTO Trade for Peace Programme. The Group also agreed to hold a ministerial meeting on the margins of MC12 and issue a ministerial declaration further to the first declaration issued at MC11.