13 Sep 2019

Amb. Ujal Singh Bhatia gives keynote speech at launch of 2019-2020 WTI Advanced Master Programmes

The new intake of students on the MILE and TRAIL+ programmes were officially welcomed to the World Trade Institute (WTI) on 11 September.

Diplomats from foreign embassies joined members of faculty and the student body at the opening ceremony held at the WTI.

In his introductory remarks, Director of Studies Professor Peter Van den Bossche looked back over the 20 years of the MILE programme and spoke of the WTI’s pride in its alumni, many of whom occupy positions of responsibility in international organisations, law firms, NGOs etc.

Referring to the crisis in the multilateral trading system and the trade war between the United States and China, Prof. Van den Bossche said the world of international trade was “on fire”.

“This is where the students come in – the trade fire fighters of tomorrow. The WTI will be a fire fighter academy: we will train you as fire fighters; we will share with you the secrets of world economic governance; we will teach you how to work with the tools of our craft.”

Crisis in trade multilateralism

The keynote address on ‘The Parlous State of Trade Multilateralism’ was given by Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia, one of the three remaining WTO Appellate Body members. From 2004 to 2010 he was India’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization and before that he served as Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Commerce of the Government of India.

Since 2017 the United States has blocked the appointment of new members to the Appellate Body and currently four seats are unfilled with two more due to fall vacant in December. “Unless something dramatic happens in the meanwhile, the Appellate Body will then find itself unable to discharge its mandate,” the ambassador warned.

“The failure of the Doha Development Round continues to cast a deep shadow over the role of the WTO as the centre of rule-making for global trade,” he said. Successive Ministerial Conferences have found it difficult to agree on substantial changes to trading rules, producing a “negotiating gridlock”. This has prevented the WTO from responding to the rapid changes in the global economy and is at the core of the crisis in trade multilateralism.

The changes in global trade have challenged the dominance of the United States and the European Union in agenda-setting and rule-making as economic power has shifted away from the West to Asia. At the same time developing countries are increasingly assertive within the WTO.

The new developments require reflection on the nature and role of multilateralism in the future, he said. The escalating disputes between China and the US have captured headlines for several months. It would be futile to argue that multilateralism as it exists now will emerge unscathed from these disputes.

However, the ambassador said that it would be premature to write obituaries of trade multilateralism at present. “The phenomenon of global interdependence compels recourse to multilateral rules and their enforcement,” he said.

But he warned: “If multilateralism is to survive, it must re-invent itself.” This would require new recognitions and understandings, including of the need to redistribute the gains of globalisation to address inequalities.

“The next few weeks and months are critical for determining the future of trade multilateralism,” the ambassador concluded.