Singapore Business Community joins Asia-Pacific Business Leaders to support WTO’s rules-based multilateral trading system

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) was part of an APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) delegation that visited the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva from 6 to 8 October to highlight business support for open markets and rules-based multilateral trading system.

Representing the Singapore business community, SBF CEO Mr Ho Meng Kit and SBF Assistant CEO Ms Joanne Guo met with the Geneva-based ambassadors from APEC economies and Mr Roberto Azevêdo, WTO Director-General to underscore ABAC’s strong support for the WTO.

"The [ABAC] urges APEC economies to engage constructively to support and reform the WTO including to reflect evolving business needs and models," said the Advisory Council in a statement released in April this year (see Annex A).

The April statement also underscored the pressing need to reform trade rules to make sure that the WTO remains relevant, urged APEC economies to address the impasse in appointing members of the Appellate Body, and welcomed the WTO negotiation on trade-related aspects of e-commerce.

During the visit to the WTO, SBF also joined the Global Services Coalition (GSC), a coalition of business associations that represent the services industry from major economies, in its call for WTO members to intensify negotiations on a high-standard WTO agreement on e-commerce in time for next year’s WTO Ministerial Conference held in Kazakhstan (see Annex B for ABAC’s media release on the visit).

Besides supporting the binding commitments that prohibit discrimination between men and women, the ABAC delegation also expressed support for the permanent prohibition on customs duties on electronic transmissions prior to next year’s WTO Ministerial Conference. The moratorium prohibits the imposition of tariffs on cross-border data flows and has been in place since the WTO’s Second Ministerial Conference in 1998.

As the services industry now accounts for half of global trade on a value-added basis, much of the current and future growth of services trade is tied to the growth of digital trade and the rise of digital enabled services. The moratorium has become a critical part of the global foundation of the digital economy. As a shining example of how the multilateral system can promote policies that foster innovation and growth, particularly for small and medium size enterprises, the moratorium should not be allowed to lapse when it expires at the end of the year.

SBF CEO Mr Ho Meng Kit said, “The WTO, with its rules-based multilateral trading system, has underpinned decades of prosperity in the world. The WTO is very important to small economies like Singapore. We cannot afford to take the WTO for granted, especially in the current times of global trade tensions.

“Having said so, there is a need for the WTO to reform its trade rules and accelerate its new rule making. It needs to ensure that its rules are fit for purpose and recognise modern business models. It also needs to allow micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to access the opportunities and benefits of the global economy, and ensure that women are not discriminated against. The WTO would also have to strengthen its governance and accountability and establish a robust dispute settlement mechanism.”

Wednesday, 16 October 2019