WITA Webinar: Trade Negotiations and the WTO in the Age of COVID
Wendy Cutler with the Washington International Trade Association (WITA)
On Thursday, May 28th, the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), along with the Washington International Trade Association (WITA), cohosted a webinar about trade negotiations and the WTO in the age of COVID-19. ASPI Vice President Wendy Cutler and WITA Executive Director Ken Levinson were joined by Nigel Cory, Associate Director of Trade Policy for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Mark Linscott, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and Terence Stewart, the former Managing Director of Stewart & Stewart.
Cutler began the conversation by discussing two challenges facing the WTO that have recently emerged: the selection of a new Director-General and the increasing need for the WTO to move to digital work. The current WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, plans to leave the WTO by the end of August, which Cutler called "a very short period" of time. She added, "This comes at a critical time for the WTO." And Cutler explained that, even without a vacancy at the top, the WTO system was facing multiple challenges. "The dispute settlement, the negotiating, and the monitoring functions of the WTO are under serious strain," she said.
Cutler asked "whether the full nine months of this process is needed, or can this process be truncated" so that it will be finished ahead of Azevêdo's departure.
The group then turned to the challenge the WTO is facing as it tries to move toward more digital work. Cutler noted that that "the WTO seems to be behind other international organizations in embracing technology for its work." Cory agreed and said that the COVID-19 pandemic would require the WTO to fundamentally change how it operated in the past. He outlined a recent article, co-authored with Cutler, which argued that the WTO would benefit from embracing the digital world rather than putting negotiations and rules updates on hold during the pandemic.