The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told the business community that its support and engagement, as direct users of the WTO system, are particularly important, during the opening of the Business Forum at the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) on Wednesday.

After the Forum, Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade and MC13 Chair, received from the International Chamber of Commerce its global business priorities for MC13. Earlier in the day, the WTO DG also met with her Business Advisory Group.

In her opening remarks, Okonjo-Iweala said, “You are the exporters and importers. Trade costs come out of your bottom line. Uncertainty around market access weighs on your investment choices. At this critical juncture for the multilateral trading system, and for all businesses that operate across borders, your engagement and support really matter.”

The Business Forum was organised jointly by the International Chamber of Commerce and the WTO, bringing together officials and business leaders from around the world for a dialogue on the most pressing issues facing the WTO. The opening session featured remarks by the WTO DG Okonjo-Iweala, the MC13 Chair and ICC Secretary General John Denton.

Okonjo-Iweala said, “I know there are specific things many of you want out of this meeting, such as progress on the dispute settlement system, and the extension of the e-commerce moratorium.

“These are important issues, but the bigger issue at stake is the system itself. We are at an inflection point. Will we continue to have a reasonably open, integrated and predictable global economy? Or will we move towards an increasingly fragmented and divided one? The answer will shape business prospects for the years and even decades ahead.

“That's why I want to thank you for your support, but also ask you to do more as a business community. Reach out to policymakers in support of a stronger WTO. Broaden your investment and sourcing decisions to bring in new geographies and more small business suppliers, more women in trade. Make the case for trade and for cooperation on trade rule-making on digital, green and other future priorities.”

For his part, Dr. Al Zayoudi said, “This meeting is a timely reminder of the importance the international business community places on the trading system. As the Minister of State for Foreign Trade, I understand fully that although policymakers set the rules, it is business who must navigate them and then deliver the benefits they are meant to create.

“The agreements reached by delegations this week will shape trading realities for millions of companies, their suppliers and their customers. That is a responsibility none of us should take lightly. Equally, however, there is a responsibility on the business community to be clear, forthright and detailed with their national representatives.”

Following the Business Forum, the International Chamber of Commerce presented to the Director-General and the MC13 Chair its global business priorities, which were developed following consultations with businesses and private-sector associations across the world.

The paper submitted by the ICC outlines five key priorities, including putting market access back on the agenda of WTO members, agreeing on a holistic vision for WTO reform, allowing digital trade to thrive, establishing a formal roadmap to address specific issues on trade and environmental sustainability, and accelerating the full implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement.

ICC Secretary-General John Denton said, “One of the most striking aspects of this ministerial has been the groundswell of support for the multilateral trading system that we have seen from the business community.

“Today, we are urging governments to show the necessary political will to deliver outcomes capable of preserving and strengthening the WTO — starting with a deal to renew the longstanding moratorium to keep digital transactions free of distortionary tariffs.”

Earlier in the day, the WTO Director-General held an in-person meeting with her Business Advisory Group for the first time since its creation. They discussed expectations for MC13, and she sought the group's view on the 2030 Secretariat Strategy, which aims to create an agile and forward-looking organisation that more effectively services its members.