Mr. Eliott Harris Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

Concluding Remarks
at the High-level Symposium on Strengthening Multilateralism and Multilateral Trading System in the Age of Globalization

Dear colleagues,

Let me take this opportunity to thank our distinguished speakers for sharing their enlightened perspectives on the multilateral trading system. It is heartening that the symposium has reaffirmed and rekindled our collective commitment to multilateralism. We must continue our efforts to find the means for strengthening the multilateral trading system.

I will not attempt to summarize this morning’s rich discussion, but please allow me to share some of my takeaways. It is clear to me, and hopefully to all of us, that global trade is a means to an end. We want a fair, rule-based global trading system because it can deliver sustainable development and ensure that no one is not left behind. This is not to say that the multilateral trading system is perfect. It is not. But we can and must make the system better, and make it work for all. This means that all countries must remain engaged in the multilateral process and resist the temptation of unilateral actions, which can lead us to a race to the bottom and another global recession. We cannot let this happen.

Clearly, we need to revitalize multilateral trade cooperation. While plurilateral trade agreements have emerged within and outside the WTO framework to promote trade, it has nevertheless produced a fragmented system. They also often create trade diversion for non-members, undermining overall global gains generated by such agreements. There is also a growing consensus that the single undertaking principle did not facilitate the conclusion of a fair and equitable global trade agreement, as it was expected at the outset of the Doha Round.

There is a need for more flexibility in multilateral trade negotiations to align the multilateral trading system with the 2030 Agenda. In addition, we need to complement multilateral hard rulemaking that focuses on commitments, with soft rulemaking initiatives that focus on building consensus among all stakeholders. There needs to be greater international support for strengthening national capacities, especially in LDCs, to ensure that all countries can engage in trade negotiations with comparable national capacities.

We must also recognize the importance of changing the widespread perception that trade and investment deals are made by global elites in a non-transparent way – one that is not sufficiently open to public scrutiny and inclusive deliberation. We need to strike a balance between expediting trade and investment agreements, and making sure these agreements follow an inclusive and deliberative process in the domestic front.

We also need to make concerted efforts to ensure that the benefits of globalization are more evenly shared both between and within countries, with particular focus on the LDCs. For this, we cannot rely on trade policies alone. We will need to rethink various domestic policy measures to protect employment and wages, develop new skills sets and expand social protection. The formulation and implementation of these policy measures need to be broad-based and inclusive in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thank you.

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