The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is working to lower its trade growth forecast amid escalating geopolitical tensions, uncertainties, and instability, a top official said in Abu Dhabi.

“We have a lot of uncertainty. We made forecasts of 0.8 per cent trade volume growth for 2023, which we feel will be weaker than that. We’re still revising our forecast. I think we will come below the 3.3 per cent growth we forecast for this year,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said during a press conference of the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference 2024.

Okonjo-Iweala noted that apart from the US and India, other countries were facing a slowdown in demand affecting trading activities.

“We have economic headwinds. The IMF and the World Bank have revised the forecast for global growth downwards slightly. Once the aggregate demand is low, across the board almost every country, except for the US and India doing quite well, but all the other countries, have a flat lining of aggregate demand. And that has a bearing on trade as well.”

However, she pointed out the resilience of global goods trade, which is at record highs.

“The multilateral trading system delivers 75 per cent of world trade. The system has shown a lot of resilience and it’s delivering despite challenges in the global environment.”

Okonjo-Iweala stressed global cooperation and not fragmentation of trade.

“International cooperation matters. Coming together to strengthen the multilateral trading system is important.”

Two new members

Among the highlights of the day was the formal accession of Comoros and Timor-Leste to the WTO, bringing the number of member states to 166.

“We haven’t had any accessions in eight years. This has generated a lot of excitement.”

Okonjo-Iweala said countries are keen on joining the WTO as they find value in the multilateral trading system. “We have 22 more [countries] in the queue. Joining the WTO is not an easy task. Timor-Leste is one of the fastest having taken seven years. For Comoros, it was 17 years.”

Okonjo-Iweala revealed that up to 8 countries from the Arab world are seeking WTO membership.

“About 7 to 9 countries are in the pipeline. Some of them started negotiations some time ago, and due to internal domestic issues, sometimes conflict-related or economy-related, there have been lapses. We have several countries, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, to name a few, who are all trying.”

Okonjo-Iweala noted that there are several “important deliverables” on the table that the WTO is striving to achieve in the next few days in Abu Dhabi.

Fisheries subsidies

Meanwhile, eight members deposited their instruments of acceptance of the ‘Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies’, putting the historic agreement for ocean sustainability on track for entry into force at a record pace. Ministers of Brunei Darussalam, Chad, Malaysia, Norway, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and Turkey presented their instruments of acceptance to Okonjo-Iweala.

This brings the total number of WTO members that have formally accepted the Agreement to 69, with a total of 70 expected during this Ministerial Conference.

“With the 70 we’ll have this week, we’ll now have 40 members to go, so the countdown towards entry into force can now start in earnest,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “I hope remaining members can work fast to help us allow entry into force by my birthday on the 13th of June of this year, which will also mark two years since MC12. When we succeed, it will be the fastest entry into force of any WTO agreement – and I know we will.”


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