Geneva — In a compelling address at the WTO Public Forum, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a transformative era of international cooperation and renewed commitment to multilateralism. The event, attended by a diverse audience, including WTO ambassadors, Swiss authorities, leaders of intergovernmental organizations, representatives of non-governmental organizations, business leaders, and academics, was launched by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Mr. Brown, who also serves as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, underscored the historical significance of the multilateral institutions established in the 1940s. He noted that these institutions, conceived and nurtured against considerable odds, have successfully shaped international relations for decades. In the face of current challenges, he emphasized the imperative of reimagining international cooperation.
"I want to suggest now is the time for reconstruction, for a new era, even if it may seem at first sight we are striving against the odds," Mr. Brown stated. He emphasized the need for a "new multilateralism," especially as international cooperation encounters resistance from various quarters.
Highlighting the recent G20 summit, Mr. Brown lamented the impasse in coordinating global economic policy, despite the looming threat of low economic growth. He pointed to the absence of new G20 financing for climate mitigation and adaptation, limited progress in regulating artificial intelligence, and inadequate efforts to address debt relief and famine in Africa.
Mr. Brown emphasized that international institutions designed to combat extreme poverty have not been as effective as they could be. From the UN Security Council to the World Food Programme and humanitarian aid programs, these institutions face mounting challenges while dealing with fewer resources.
The former UK Prime Minister called for global coordination to address challenges such as climate change, pandemics, financial instability, poverty, debt, famine, and trade—a range of issues that transcend national borders. He urged the world to create a platform for a "new multilateralism" to tackle these global problems effectively.
Mr. Brown pointed to three significant geopolitical shifts—moving away from a unipolar world, shifting from neoliberal economics, and departing from a hyper-globalization paradigm—that have contributed to the need for a new multilateralism. These shifts are underpinned by a resurgence of nationalism, characterized by increased border controls, customs duties, immigration restrictions, civil wars, secessionist movements, and physical barriers separating countries.
In Mr. Brown's view, this focus on narrow self-interest has hindered international cooperation at a time when it is most essential. He cited a WTO estimate that if the world were to split into two economic blocs, international trade and productivity losses could result in a long-term reduction of real incomes by at least 5%, with low-income countries facing the most severe consequences.
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala commended Mr. Brown's remarkable contributions to pressing global issues and acknowledged his vital role in advocating for solutions. She emphasized the importance of reimagining and revitalizing globalization and expressed her gratitude for Mr. Brown's insights on enhancing trade for the benefit of people and the planet.
Following the lecture, Mr. Brown engaged in a conversation with Director-General Okonjo-Iweala and the audience to explore the future of international trade amid economic, political, and environmental uncertainties.
This call for a new era of international cooperation and multilateralism serves as a rallying cry for the global community to address pressing challenges collaboratively and forge a brighter future for all.