Speakers highlighted the role of initiatives like Aid for Trade in addressing countries’ trade needs so that they can build resilience to future shocks, alleviate extreme poverty, and meet their development objectives.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala underscored the importance of keeping global trade flows open to ensure that developing countries have access to essential medical goods to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and that countries can use trade to promote a sustainable economic recovery.
The WTO Secretariat will prepare a report based on summaries of each session.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) hosted the Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking Event, which aimed to understand the trade impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight the potential for Aid-For-Trade financing to support recovery and foster resilience in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The event convened online from 23-25 March 2021, with sessions co-hosted by diverse stakeholders, including WTO members, the UN, and others. The WTO and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) announced the winner of the ‘Trading During the COVID-19 Pandemic’ photo contest. Andrey Rojas Corrales from Costa Rica submitted the winning photo titled, ‘Central American Truck Drivers.’
In the opening plenary, speakers called for global cooperation to maintain the flow of goods and foods, and advocated for keeping export restraints “in check.” Speakers highlighted the role of initiatives like Aid for Trade in addressing countries’ trade needs so that they can build resilience to future shocks, alleviate extreme poverty, and meet their development objectives. They also highlighted the role of strategies such as implementing trade facilitation measures, promoting and facilitating investment, investing in health systems, and addressing debt and balance of payments.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala observed the COVID-19 pandemic “is reversing hard-won development gains” and is compounding the problems faced by the most vulnerable. She underscored the importance of keeping global trade flows open to ensure that developing and least developed countries (LDCs) have access to essential medical goods to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and that countries can use trade to promote a sustainable economic recovery. Okonjo-Iweala stressed the COVID-19 recovery “must not leave anyone, or any country, behind,” and identified a rapid, global vaccine rollout as a critical first step in ending the pandemic.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the interdependence of health and the economy. He said the pandemic will subside, but “there will be another one,” and countries will continue to face health challenges that fuel inequality, sap productivity, and hold nations back. He said the world can only truly respond and recover “if we think of health not as a cost but as an investment in the safer, fairer and more prosperous world we all want.”
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said trade “will be at the heart of efforts” to build towards a greener, more inclusive and digital recovery.” She supported “sharing what works” on both economic and health responses.
World Bank President David Malpass also highlighted the opportunity for countries to embrace a green, resilient, and inclusive development path through COVID-19 recovery efforts. He called for reducing trade policy uncertainty and ensuring a level playing field, “governed by transparent and predictable rules.”
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurría said poverty will be “the ultimate shock of the COVID-19 crisis.” He said progammes like Aid for Trade are “essential to build forward better,” and emphasized the importance of sustained trade and investment flows and of working with the “right political leadership” to tackle challenges.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant supported keeping goods flowing across borders and demonstrating a united “commitment to rebuild, including through Aid for Trade.”
The meeting also considered the WTO report, ‘Strengthening Africa’s Capacity to Trade.’ The report examines the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Africa, trends in African trade, and support to Africa through the Aid for Trade initiative. Since the launch of the Aid for Trade initiative in 2006, donors have disbursed USD 163 billion in official development assistance (ODA) to support African countries to build trade capacity and infrastructure and promote economic diversification. The report recommends keeping markets open and predictable and fostering a favorable business environment to encourage the type of renewed investment in Africa that is necessary for a swift recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.
In the closing session, Ambassador Muhammad Mujitaba Piracha of Pakistan summarized high-level messages from the sessions, including on the digital divide, e-commerce, and trade facilitation. Piracha observed the COVID-19 pandemic is reversing hard-won development gains, widening the SDG financing gap and threatening efforts to leave no one behind. He highlighted the growth of digital trade, noting that if digital trade can be more inclusive, it has the potential to unlock “tremendous” benefits.
Piracha observed the tourism sector has been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, and highlighted a session that discussed how Aid for Trade could support tourism resilience and sustainability and proposed a “sector reset” to intensify collaboration across stakeholders and promote a renewed focus on protecting nature and wildlife.
On digital trade, he said one session discussed measures LDCs need to take to support digital transformation where one participant suggested digital trade could help countries graduate from LDC status.
Piracha stressed the importance of building back greener and in more equitable and inclusive ways. He highlighted regional discussions on free trade, including opportunities to reshape Africa’s structural markets and to promote regional Aid for Trade approaches for economic opportunities in the Pacific islands. He said the WTO Secretariat will prepare a report based on summaries of each session. [Aid-for-Trade Stocktaking Event 2021 Programme] [Agenda Overview] [WTO Press Release on Opening Plenary] [WTO Director-General Statement] [Video on High Level Plenary Session] [Video on Closing Plenary] [WTO Press Release on Winning Photo] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]