In scales and makeup of trade negotiations, for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) there is more than meets the eye
At the World Trade Organization's conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, various developments emerged during the discussions, with member countries coming together in assorted coalitions and small assemblies to talk trade – and emerging with joint statements and initiatives.
On 28 February in Geneva, a panel of experts discussed the merits of these so-called plurilaterals. Speakers such as WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo, EU ambassador to the WTO Marc Vanheukelen, International Trade Centre executive director Arancha Gonzalez and Eloi Laourou, Benin's ambassador to the WTO, debated the potential impact on the WTO's foundational multilateralism.
But for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and their specific sets of trade needs, what does this herald? And what does this mean for the global trading system?
At the event titled "Plurilaterals, the new way forward in global trade? … reflections in the aftermath of Buenos Aires," WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo closed the discussion with a call for flexibility, saying, "Flexibility will not lead to fragmentation. In fact, in a system with 164 members of different sizes, different priorities and different stages of development, flexibility is precisely the way to avoid fragmentation."
For panellist Laourou, who is board chair of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), both those different stages of development and that flexibility are key when considering impacts on his country and fellow LDCs.
"Nobody should be left behind," Laourou said during the discussion at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, stating that multilateralism offered the best option for LDCs because of the safeguards for developing countries, including special and differentiated treatment provisions.
He said any trade talks need to recognise where emerging economies are coming from, and take into account differing levels of development, noting agriculture, the digital divide and infrastructure as spaces where LDCs require additional support.
Vanheukelen also referenced this issue, saying, "The trade system's been struggling since the 1960s to properly take different economic levels into account when setting the rules. We have to have another go. We need to get an open, fair handle on the question of differentiation."