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25 Oct 2019


World Trade Forum 2019 considers threats to multilateral trading system

The 2019 World Trade Forum is underway in Bern. The two-day conference – this year on the topic ‘Multilateralism at Risk' - brings together leading trade practitioners and scholars, government officials, representatives of international and non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations.

The World Trade Forum is an annual event that has for the past five years been organised by the World Trade Institute (WTI) in conjunction with the European University Institute (EUI), Florence. The Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS) is a co-organiser of the 2019 forum.

This year's focus is on the factors putting the multilateral system at risk. High-level round tables address the international economic dispute settlement crisis; cross-regime learning in the areas of climate change, trade and investment; China and the multilateral trading system; and the continuing challenge of addressing the needs of low-income developing countries.

The forum was officially opened by WTI Managing Director Joseph Francois and Bernard Hoekman of the EUI who thanked the sponsors and referred to the interdisciplinary nature of the proceedings and the relevance of the theme under discussion.

The first plenary session considered 'The future of international economic dispute resolution'. It was chaired by Isabelle Van Damme of sponsor Van Bael and Bellis, and the panellists were Karen Alter, Northwestern University; James Flett, European Commission; Jae Sung Lee, UNCITRAL; Gabrielle Marceau, University of Geneva; and Stephan Schill, University of Amsterdam. It looked at the crisis in the UN dispute resolution system and weighed the bilateral and regional approaches as alternatives to multilateralism.

'Climate change, trade and investment: cross-regime learning?' was the subject of the second plenary, chaired by Professor Thomas Cottier and including panellists Marie Claire Cordonier Segger, University of Cambridge; Arancha Gonzalez, International Trade Centre; Jürgen Kurtz, EUI; and Simon Lester, Cato Institute. Speakers noted that the scientific consensus about the scale of environmental damage had helped change the playing field: the trade, environment and investment communities were moving closer together and were involved in a multidimensional conversation.

The first day ended with a third plenary on the 'Clash of economic models: China and the multilateral trading system'. It was chaired by Christian Bluth, Bertelsmann Stiftung, and the panellists were Kathleen Claussen, University of Miami; Lionel Fontagne, University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne; Kurt Haerri, Schindler; Monika Rühl, economiesuisse; and André Sapir, Université libre de Bruxelles. The panel believed the tension was unavoidable given the rapid transformation of China and considered the incompatibility of WTO rules with the Chinese system.

The proceedings of the 2019 World Trade Forum will, as in previous years, be published in book form by Cambridge University Press.

For more information, see the link to the programme and the World Trade Forum section on the Events page.