in: G20 Hangzhou Summit 2016: proposals for trade, investment, and sustainable development outcomes, Geneva: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), 25-31
Since the first meeting of the G20 at the leaders’ level in Washington in November 2008, trade has been an integral part of their agenda. This first meeting took place at the peak of the global financial and economic crisis, which led to a strong contraction of world trade. Remembering the global economic crisis after 1929 and the following wave of protectionist measures, the G20 countries made the commitment not to erect new trade and investment barriers. In addition, the verbal commitment to the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda—the current round of multilateral negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization—has been part of the standard repertoire of G20 summit declarations. Until now, reforms of the world trading system have only played a subordinate role at the G20 summits. The summit declarations contain only vaguely drafted commitments to strengthen the multilateral trading system, or commitments that bilateral, regional and plurilateral trade agreements should be complementary and in conformity with the rules of the WTO.1
We argue in this article that the G20 should assume a more proactive role with regard to the future of the WTO and the reform of the world trading system. Such a reform is needed in light of the growing fragmentation of the system. At the same time, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations calls for sustainability to be the core principle of global cooperation, including in the context of international trade. Among other things, the 2030 Agenda calls for “a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization.” Bridging the gap between the realities of the international trading system and the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda is a formidable challenge that cannot be tackled effectively either in the context of the WTO or the UN and the 2030 Agenda alone. The G20 is a suitable forum to bridge that gap.