INTRODUCTION: BUILDING BACK BETTER AND TOGETHER AFTER COVID-19
In 2021, the WTO appointed a new Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African and the first woman to lead the organization. With this new leadership and vision comes a renewed emphasis on the role that trade can play in improving livelihoods, creating opportunities for full employment, and achieving sustainable development in line with the objectives outlined in the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. This commitment to making trade and the work of the WTO centred on people is one the main reasons why the work of the organization has been devoted to building back a stronger and more inclusive global economy, and reviving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has also been strongly reflected in the work done by the Director-General to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and has been translated into concrete steps to ramp up and diversify production in developing countries, particularly on the African continent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put massive stress on the world trading system. This started with lockdowns, which generated a severe reduction in economic activity, leading to a temporary collapse of global trade. In 2020, the value of global trade in goods and services in nominal dollar terms fell by 9.6 per cent, while global GDP fell by 3.3 per cent, in the most severe recession since World War II. But a quick recovery of merchandise trade flows followed in 2021. The WTO predicted a growth of 10.8 per cent of world merchandise trade volumes in 2021, followed by a 4.7 per cent rise in 2022, as shown in Figure 1. However, following the Ukraine conflict, the WTO Secretariat revised its trade forecast for 2022 in its report assessing the impact of the war, released in April 2022 and titled The crisis in Ukraine: Implications of the war for global trade and development.1 Using a global economic simulation model, the WTO now forecasts that the conflict and related policies could knock 0.7-1.3 percentage points off global GDP growth, bringing it to somewhere between 3.1 and 3.7 per cent. Using the same simulation model, global trade growth this year could be cut almost in half, from the 4.7 per cent forecasted in October 2021 to between 2.4 per cent and 3 per cent.