The selection of the next Director General is on everyone's agenda. atleast in trade circles. While the debate on whether a political leader or a technocrat should head the organisation gains pace, talks of the inevitability of "reforms" is rasied by many members. What exactly is the shape and form of these reforms? There are different perceptions of how the WTO should transform itself for the 21st century.
Project Syndicate carried a piece on what Africa needs from a reformed WTO. Hippolyte Fofack and Pat Utomi argue that the multilateral trading organisation ahs not served the interests of Africa thus far and needs to have an agenda that is more fair. In "Making the WTO work for Africa", the three pillars of their reform agenda are:
1. Tariff escalations and stringent technical standards hinder export of goods from Africa
2. Policy space - Developing countries are not allowed to design industrial policies that encourage their domestic sectors, a strategy that the developed world used effectively in the past
3. Agricultural subsidies maintained by large developed countries which depress world prices that impact farmers in Africa.
Arguing that Africa wants to be a player in the multilateral setting, a robust private sector in Africa seeks access and opportunity.
Africa is now a mature global player, with a private sector ready to drive development and take its rightful place alongside firms in more advanced economies. All we ask is that the WTO remove the artificial barriers and prejudicial hindrances that prevent Africans from unleashing their creative and productive energies.
A fairer, more equal, and more accessible global trade system must be at the top of the next director-general’s reform agenda. A WTO that is fit for purpose will also allow governments of smaller developing countries to act on behalf of their private sectors without fear or favor. Africa will support Azevêdo’s successor, provided that the WTO serves Africa in the same way it serves the rest of the world.
Will this reform agenda be the driving force of the new WTO? Well, not everyone in the WTO has this notion when speaking about reforms. One will have to see a real convergence of ideas for reform to make a thriving fora for future negotiations.