The World Trade Organisation – More Important Now Than Ever

The World Trade Organisation – More Important Now Than Ever

 Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP 

Trade is the lifeblood of the global economy – it brings countries and people together and can transform our lives for the better.  I’m proud that the UK’s trading offer to Nigeria and over 60 other countries is amongst the most generous in the world thanks to our Developing Countries Trading Scheme.   

 Globally, no country has lifted itself out of poverty without increasing its trade with the world and over the last three decades, we have seen more than a billion people escape poverty as exports from developing countries have doubled.  

At the heart of this success story is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and its outstandingly successful leader Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Since 1995 it has set the global trading rules which provide a common, predictable, level playing field for businesses around the world. 

So far 164 countries accounting for over 98 per cent of world trade have joined the WTO and its framework for trade have driven export-led growth and job creation in countries from Vietnam to Bangladesh to Ghana. 

As Ministers from over 150 countries gather this week in Abu Dhabi for the WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), the importance of the WTO for global trade and growth is clear.  It is here that the rules that will power the global economy into the next decade must be agreed. It is here that we find the opportunity to make the global trading system work better for the world’s poorest countries and ensure that we all benefit from the transformational impact of trade. 

The UK wants to see a WTO which works for everyone, including the developing countries which make up almost two thirds of its membership. As set out in last year’s International Development White Paper, the UK puts the interests of developing countries at the heart of its approach to the WTO. 

We are championing calls to extend lower tariffs and flexible rules for Least Developed Countries and to introduce new rules on investment facilitation that have the power to boost investment in developing countries and across the globe $250 billion.  

We have been arguing for an agreement that protects our oceans and delivers sustainable fisheries, protecting coastal communities in developing countries, and we are trying to tackle food insecurity by removing harmful export restrictions on food. And we have backed up this advocacy with financial support to enable all LDC governments to attend MC13.

Of course, the WTO rules will only deliver for development if we stick to them and can challenge one another when we don’t. This requires a fully functioning Dispute Settlement System to ensure that smaller economies are not taken advantage of by bigger states engaging in unfair, unjust trading practices. 

This is a priority for the UK as is ensuring that all countries have a clear voice in WTO negotiations – since 2011 the UK has provided legal, technical, and financial assistance to developing countries at the WTO, most recently to Ethiopia to help prepare for its own accession.  

The UK has a long history of economic cooperation with Nigeria and we want to do more. As a continued commitment to building on our already strong trade relationship, the UK’s Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Rt Hon. Kemi Badenoch, recently signed an Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership (ETIP) with her counterpart  the Rt Hon. Dr Doris Uzoka-Anite.

 The ETIP builds on the commitments made under the Economic Development Forum (EDF) and highlights the key sectors of focus that will see increased trade and investment wins for both nations.   

I’ve been impressed by the energy and commitment from negotiating teams, including Nigeria, in the run up to MC13. We now need to seize the opportunity before us to make the rules that bind us both stronger and fairer so that everyone can prosper, and no one is left behind. 

And we already support many businesses operating in Nigeria and UK businesses wishing to come to Nigeria. For example, we are supporting the UK-Turkish construction firm, Zeberced Ltd on their $144mn industrial park project in Abuja. This will be the first industrial park in the capital and set to create 40,000 jobs, and provide a base for major firms to access central and northern Nigeria.   

Under the previously mentioned Developing Countries Trade Scheme, we are making it easier for Nigerian firms to export duty-free goods to the UK. This includes removing tariffs on nearly 3000 Nigerian goods and products such as cocoa, cotton, tomatoes, and plantain, benefitting both Nigerian exporters and UK consumers. The goal is to make it quicker, easier, and cheaper for UK and Nigerian firms to trade – no doubt an ambition that both nations share.

*The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP writes from London. He is the UK’s Minister of State for Development and Africa.

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