At the 2023 Annual WTO Conference organized by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard delivered a keynote speech highlighting the transformative effects of technological developments on international trade. She emphasized the growing role of services, particularly digitally-delivered services, in the global economy and how new technologies have facilitated trade and enhanced transparency. Additionally, she provided insights into the ongoing negotiations to update WTO rules. The following is an overview of her speech:
Ms. Ellard expressed her gratitude for the invitation from BIICL to deliver the opening speech and commended the institute for its work on pressing legal and policy issues, including international trade and the WTO.
Technological advancements are reshaping international trade in complex ways, influencing policy decisions at both the national and international levels.
Ellard provided three examples to illustrate these changes. Firstly, she noted the significant growth in global services exports, reaching $7.2 trillion in 2022, with potential for further expansion. The rise of digitally-delivered services, which surged by 30% in 2021 compared to 2019, played a crucial role in this growth. Ellard highlighted that trade in services is expected to continue increasing as the world enters the era of "digital globalization."
Secondly, technology tools like Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, and customs e-declarations are streamlining cross-border flows of goods, reducing trade costs, and simplifying customs clearance processes. She emphasized the importance of harmonization with international standards to ensure interoperability and the safe deployment of digital technologies.
Thirdly, Ellard discussed the use of technology within the WTO to enhance transparency, reduce trade frictions, and modernize working practices. The E-Ping platform, for instance, enables WTO Members to submit notifications of regulatory changes, promoting transparency. Ellard also mentioned tools like the agenda platform, which has improved the efficiency of committee meetings.
Ellard underscored that the technological revolution goes beyond facilitating trade volume; it has the potential to integrate developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) into the global trading system. It can also empower Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs), women, and youth to participate more effectively in global trade, fostering inclusivity.
To fully realize this potential, an enabling ecosystem is required, encompassing connectivity, skills development, logistics, payment systems, and favorable policy frameworks. Removing impediments to trade in services, such as barriers to cross-border payments and data flows, is crucial.
Ellard noted that the current WTO framework was established in 1995, and the organization is actively working to adapt existing tools and develop new ones to reflect the evolving nature of trade.
She elaborated on several areas of work, including the moratorium on e-commerce and the work program focused on electronic commerce. She emphasized discussions around the potential extension of the moratorium on customs duties on electronic transmissions, highlighting divergent opinions on its scope and economic impact.
Additionally, Ellard highlighted three joint initiatives within the WTO: Services Domestic Regulation, E-commerce, and Investment Facilitation for Development. These plurilateral initiatives aim to establish rules for services, e-commerce, and investment facilitation, with the participation of willing Members.
Regarding technology and the green transition, Ellard emphasized the role of open trade in providing affordable access to advanced environmental technologies. She noted the importance of reducing barriers to trade in environmental goods and services to facilitate the transfer of climate mitigation and adaptation technologies.
Ellard concluded by acknowledging that technology has also become a source of trade tensions, particularly in the context of national security and geopolitical frictions. She cautioned against excessive isolationism in supply chains, advocating for international cooperation and diverse supply chains to enhance resilience.
In summary, Deputy Director-General Angela Ellard emphasized the transformative impact of technology on global trade, the need for adaptable rules and policies, and the role of the WTO in facilitating these developments.