26 Oct 2019

Multilateralism at risk – fruitful debate at World Trade Forum 2019

The 2019 World Trade Forum on the topic ‘Multilateralism at Risk' has drawn to a close after two days of lively discussion.

Hosted by the World Trade Institute (WTI) and co-organised with the European University Institute (EUI), Florence, and the Swiss Network of International Studies (SNIS), the two-day conference at the University of Bern was attended by over 160 trade practitioners, scholars, and representatives of international and non-governmental organisations.

This year's focus was on the factors putting the multilateral trading system at risk. 

Professor Manfred Elsig of the WTI said he was very happy with how the forum had gone. “The debates were very interesting and fruitful. I think we have developed a lot of good new ideas,” he commented.

In his closing remarks, WTI Professor Peter Van den Bossche said there was no question mark in the title of the forum because mulilateralism is indeed at risk. "At the same time the crisis of multilateralism gives us a unique opportunity to look forward and adapt to the needs of the 21st century," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done by the next generation but I'm hopeful because over the last two days I've heard lots of good ideas about how we can adapt our rule-books." 

High-level discussions

The forum began on 25 October with high-level round tables addressing the international economic dispute settlement crisis; cross-regime learning in the areas of climate change, trade and investment; and China and the multilateral trading system.

Plenary sessions on the second and final day of the forum dealt with the issue of special and differential treatment for developing countries, and the ILO at 100, the fourth industrial revolution, trade and employment. 

In the first of the two plenaries panellists debated the meaning of the term ‘developing country’ given that levels of development can vary within countries and industries, and considered how best to help economies develop. 

The second panel considered the achievements and effectiveness of the ILO in its centenary year and the challenges posed by technological advance, digitalisation, climate change and the casualisation of work. There was general consensus that the ILO still has a vital role to play in ensuring social justice around the world.

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.