Over recent years, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has established a tradition of holding annual public events where participants from government, parliament, civil society, the business sector, academia and the media jointly reflect upon the functioning of the multilateral trading system and analyse the institutional state of the WTO. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has been associated with WTO public forums on a number of occasions, having organized parliamentary events within their overall programme.
WTO Public Forum 2009 was held on WTO premises in Geneva from 28 and 30 September, under the overall theme Global Problems, Global Solutions: Towards Better Global Governance. As part of the Forum's programme, which included a great number of separate events, the IPU and the European Parliament organized a Parliamentary Panel entitled Can protectionism protect trade? The legislator's perspective.
As the world is mired deeper into the economic crisis and collapsing international trade, parliaments are faced with pressures from various sectors of the economy and the population who demand protection from economic hardship and social recession. What room for manoeuvre is there for policymakers to support national producers without awakening the demons of all-out protectionism? What is the responsibility of parliaments in the face of trade-restricting measures taken by other countries that appear to be merely shifting their problems to their neighbours? How to ensure uninterrupted aid-for-trade flows to developing countries and in particular the least developed nations, which bear no responsibility for the current economic crisis but rely heavily on exports to drive their growth? What is the role of the WTO in providing a mechanism to monitor trade and trade-related measures taken in the context of the crisis, and how can legislators make effective use of this mechanism?
Parliamentarians have a major stake in the success of coordinated international efforts to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis. Their role is to ensure accountability in the way nations are governed and to provide - as part of the system of checks and balances - essential scrutiny of government policies, commitments and plans, including in the area of international trade. The best kind of support a parliament can offer to its government is, in fact, stringent oversight. The panel considered, from a parliamentary perspective, policy responses to growing pressures to restrict trade as a way of surviving the global crisis.
The panel took place on Wednesday, 30 September 2009, from 9 to 11 a.m. in Room CRI at WTO Headquarters (Centre William Rappard). The panel was open to all parliamentarians and other participants duly accredited to the WTO Forum, subject to the limits of the room's seating capacity. Interpretation into English, French and Spanish was provided by the WTO Secretariat.