25 Sep 2015

Successful World Trade Forum concludes

The 2015 World Trade Forum on the topic 20 Years of the WTO: Past Performance and Ongoing Challenges has drawn to a close after two days of lively discussion in Bern.

Around 150 trade practitioners, academics and students attended this year's Forum, which featured three plenary sessions looking at initial expectations of the trade body, its actual performance, and future challenges and opportunities.

Parallel sessions focused on non-tariff measures and new trade issues; PTAs, megaregionals and the WTO, and a World Trade Forum book project.

Keynote speakers at the Forum included Professor Judith Goldstein, Stanford University; Professor Douglas Irwin, Dartmouth College; Victor do Prado, World Trade Organization; Chad Bown, World Bank; Joakim Reiter, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Ricardo Cortés-Monroy, Nestlé, and Peter Van den Bossche, WTO/Maastricht University.

In concluding remarks, World Trade Institute Deputy Managing Director Manfred Elsig thanked the sponsors, without whom the event could not have been staged: the Swiss National Science Foundation, Frontier Economics, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Centre for Global Trade and Investment, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan SARL and Valiant.

He said this year's conference had been the first in a new type of World Trade Forum, jointly organised with the European University Institute (Florence), the Graduate Institute (Geneva) and the Centre for Economic Policy Research (London).

The European University Institute had kindly offered to host the 2016 Forum.

Joseph Francois, Managing Director of the WTI, closed the Forum, thanking participants and saying, "See you next year in Florence".


Before the Forum got underway on Friday, a media briefing set out the planned topics of discussion and addressed the challenges facing the WTO.

Participating in the briefing in addition to Prof. Francois were WTI directors profs. Manfred Elsig and Michael Hahn, Bernard Hoekman of the European University Institute and Richard O. Cunningham of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Washington DC.

Several participants reflected on the success of the WTO so far, its success in bringing China in from “the economic cold”, the resilience of world trade in the face of the recent global financial crisis, and the Bali trade facilitation agreement.

However, the body faces major challenges, partly owing to this success, they agreed.

Having grown to embrace 162 members, the WTO is no longer a “rich man’s club”. The global economy has changed hugely since the body was set up, notably owing to the rise of China, and new rules are needed to govern the trading system. But the size of the organisation and the fact that all countries have an equal vote makes it hugely difficult to reform the system.

Another challenge is the growing number of multilateral trade accords, which can be seen as either stepping stones or stumbling blocks by the WTO.