The following op-ed was published in the Wall Street Journal on May 26.
The World Trade Organization is seeking input from the private sector on the next steps for trade liberalization.
In the span of two short years, the World Trade Organization has given businesspeople around the world a number of reasons to sit up and take notice. Through a series of negotiated trade agreements, it has demonstrated that its efforts can bring massive, widespread benefits. Now the WTO is looking to work in closer partnership with the private sector to bring further gains to the international trade regime.
In 2013, WTO members delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement. This was the first global trade deal in 18 years. Once ratified, it promises to slash red tape and reduce border delays. Trade costs will be lowered by an average of nearly 15%. Global trade could be lifted by as much as $1 trillion.
This impact is bigger than if every remaining tariff in the world were reduced to zero. Full implementation could create more than 20 million jobs and lift global gross-domestic-product growth by up to 0.5 percentage points. Businesses around the world will get a significant boost.
Then in 2015, a group of WTO members came together to free up trade on a range of information-technology products, including the latest-generation semiconductors, telecommunications satellites, medical devices and video games.
This deal, expanding the existing Information Technology Agreement, eliminates tariffs on approximately $1.3 trillion in annual exports. That’s more than the value of the global trade in automobiles.
That same year, WTO members agreed on a world-wide ban on export subsidies on agricultural products, the biggest agriculture-trade reform in 20 years. Governments had been spending up to $13 billion on these economically distorting subsidies each year. The private sector supported these deals, and their engagement made a huge difference in the outcome.
Before this recent flurry of breakthroughs at the WTO, businesses had very little interest in trade negotiations. Prolonged lack of progress in global trade negotiations had led many countries to focus elsewhere and pursue bilateral and regional trade initiatives. Such initiatives can deliver significant economic gains, but there’s no question that global agreements can deliver even more benefits to more people.
The private sector recognizes this. A complicated patchwork of overlapping trade regulations and standards is less efficient than global rules. That’s why business leaders want and need a strong WTO.
Shared rules and enhanced market access in 162 countries is something no regional trade agreement can offer. Now that the WTO has showed that it can deliver these results, private-sector interest is rising fast and businesses are asking: What’s next?
The precise shape of the WTO’s future negotiating work remains an open question. All members agree that long-standing differences in agriculture, industrial goods and trade in services must be tackled, and that development should remain a central priority.
But at present there’s no agreement on precisely how to proceed with these negotiations, or what specifically should be on the agenda. Areas for discussion include supporting trade by micro-, small- and medium-size enterprises; promoting and facilitating investments; supporting e-commerce; tackling fisheries subsidies; and lowering nontariff barriers.
In this context, the private sector has asked that its voice to be heard, not to dictate the agenda, but to provide perspective. Two major business organizations, the International Chamber of Commerce and the B-20 (the private-sector arm of the G-20) approached the WTO requesting a platform to discuss current trade issues and present their thoughts to WTO members.
That meeting, the first of its kind, will take place on Monday in Geneva. Business leaders from small and large enterprises, from developed and developing countries, along with other stakeholders, will brainstorm with WTO members. We hope that this interaction will help their governments as they shape the WTO’s future agenda.
In recent years the WTO has shown that, with the support of the private sector and others, it can achieve major, economically significant trade agreements. Strengthening this partnership will ensure that the WTO’s record is maintained and that it keeps delivering for growth, development and job creation around the world.
Mr. Azevêdo is the director-general of the World Trade Organization. Mr. Mittal is the first vice chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce.