A New Report Analyses the WTO’s Technical Assistance Activities in the Post-Pandemic Era

Date:

News by AUN News correspondent
Wednesday, June 01, 2022
AUN News – ISSN: 2949-8090

As a reader interested in global trade and economic cooperation, you will want to explore the findings of a recently published report analysing the World Trade Organisation’s technical assistance programmes implemented since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The wide-ranging report provides crucial insights into how the WTO has adapted and intensified its technical assistance activities to support developing countries struggling with the economic fallout of the health crisis.

Through surveys, interviews, and data analysis, the authors of the report aim to shed light on the impact and effectiveness of the WTO’s pandemic-related technical assistance. With international trade declining in 2020 for the first time in decades due to border closures and supply chain disruptions, the report suggests the WTO’s support is critical for many countries. However, the report also identifies areas where additional technical and financial assistance may still be needed as the world economy emerges from the crisis.

For those monitoring the role of multilateral institutions in fostering global economic cooperation, this report offers a data-driven overview of how the WTO reoriented its technical assistance programmes to be responsive and impactful. The findings highlight both the promise and the limitations of the WTO’s capacity to support member states, especially the most vulnerable, during an unprecedented global crisis. Overall, the report provides a useful roadmap for how the WTO’s technical assistance mandate may need to evolve to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic trading system.

An Overview of the WTO’s Technical Assistance

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) offers technical assistance and training programmes to help developing countries build their trade capacity and implement WTO agreements. According to a new report, the WTO aims to expand these critical initiatives in the post-pandemic era.

  • An overview of key programmes The WTO administers several technical assistance programmes, including the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), the Aid for Trade programme, and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF). These programmes provide funding, training, and guidance on trade policy and regulation.
  • Priorities and funding The WTO’s technical assistance priorities include supporting least-developed countries, building supply-side capacity, empowering small businesses, and promoting sustainable economic growth. Funding comes from WTO member contributions as well as partnerships with other organisations like the World Bank and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
  • Challenges posed by COVID-19. The economic impacts of the pandemic have underscored the need to strengthen developing countries trade capacity. Travel restrictions have also forced many technical assistance activities to move online, requiring investments in virtual learning and remote collaboration tools.
  • Opportunities for growth Looking ahead, the report recommends expanding online training programmes, developing new e-learning modules, leveraging partnerships to increase funding, and improving monitoring and evaluation of technical assistance projects. By prioritising inclusive trade capacity building, the WTO can support developing countries on the road to economic recovery.

Overall, while the WTO faces significant challenges in the coming years, its technical assistance programs remain vital to ensuring the benefits of global trade are shared by all. Continued progress in this area can help build a more prosperous and equitable trading system.

How WTO Technical Assistance Adapted During the Pandemic?

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) provides technical assistance and capacity-building programmes to help developing countries integrate into the global economy. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the WTO adapted these initiatives to continue serving members remotely.

The WTO has transitioned all technical assistance activities online, including workshops, seminars, and webinars. Over 260 virtual activities were held in 2020, reaching more than 15,000 participants across various time zones. The WTO also developed e-learning courses and video tutorials on trade topics that were accessible on demand.

To address challenges with remote participation, the WTO set up a helpdesk to provide technical support and facilitate question-and-answer sessions during virtual events. Presentation materials were shared in advance, and recordings of sessions were made available afterwards. The WTO continues to improve the interactivity and accessibility of online programmes based on feedback from members.

Bilateral technical assistance was also provided remotely through video conferences and the exchange of documentation. The WTO Secretariat worked with members to adapt work plans and find alternative ways of delivering planned technical support during travel restrictions. Over 90 developing members received customised assistance from WTO experts on trade-related issues in 2020.

The pivot to virtual modalities allowed the WTO’s technical assistance programmes to continue largely uninterrupted during the pandemic. Valuable resources and best practises have been developed to enhance the quality and inclusiveness of online activities even as in-person events resume. The WTO’s experience in adapting technical assistance during this crisis will help strengthen support for developing members in an increasingly digital world.

Key Findings and Recommendations in the New Report

The report examines the WTO’s technical assistance programmes following the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. It provides several key findings and recommendations for improving initiatives going forward.

Streamline and Consolidate programmes.

The WTO currently administers over 60 technical assistance programmes with overlapping goals. The report recommends consolidating programmes with similar objectives to reduce redundancy and improve efficiency. Streamlining programmes will allow the WTO to provide higher-quality support with available resources.

Increase Virtual and Remote offerings

Travel restrictions highlighted the need for virtual and remote options for technical assistance. The report recommends continuing and expanding online courses, webinars, and remote advisory services post-pandemic. Virtual offerings can supplement in-person programmes and reach government officials who are unable to travel. They are also cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Enhance Monitoring and Evaluation

The report notes a lack of thorough monitoring and evaluation of technical assistance impacts and outcomes. It recommends developing a rigorous monitoring framework to systematically collect data on programme effectiveness, outcomes, and benefits. Enhanced M&E will allow the WTO to refine, improve, and strengthen technical assistance initiatives based on evidence and insights.

Address Capacity Gaps

The pandemic revealed significant gaps in member capacities regarding e-commerce, digital trade, and other emerging areas. The report recommends addressing these gaps through new or expanded technical assistance focused on building knowledge and skills in new domains of trade. Targeted support for e-commerce, digital trade, and related topics will help members take advantage of opportunities in the post-COVID economy.

By following these recommendations, the WTO can build on the lessons of the pandemic to improve technical assistance for developing members. Streamlining programmes, increasing virtual offerings, enhancing monitoring, and addressing key capacity gaps will help the WTO support members needs in the coming decades.

Insights on Developing Countries and LDCs Technical Assistance Needs

Developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) have unique technical assistance needs that must be addressed to facilitate their integration into the multilateral trading system.

Capacity Building

Many developing countries lack the capacity to fully implement WTO agreements and take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the multilateral trading system. The WTO’s technical assistance activities aim to strengthen institutional and human capacities through training programmes, workshops, and internships. These capacity-building initiatives equip government officials with knowledge and skills about WTO rules and negotiations.

Access to Information

Developing countries often struggle to access information on the latest developments in the WTO due to a lack of resources and technological infrastructure. The WTO’s technical assistance programmes work to bridge the information gap by providing key WTO publications and documents in print and electronic formats to beneficiaries. The WTO also operates a dedicated website for developing countries with resources tailored to their needs.

Participation in Negotiations

Some developing countries have difficulty effectively participating in WTO negotiations due to limited expertise in trade policy and international trade law. The WTO’s technical assistance helps address this challenge through preparatory briefings and simulation exercises on negotiating scenarios. These activities are geared towards enhancing developing countries’ negotiation skills and ensuring their interests are represented during trade talks.

The WTO’s technical assistance to developing countries and LDCs plays an integral role in promoting inclusive trade growth in the post-pandemic era. Sustaining and increasing support for capacity building, access to information, and participation in negotiations will be key to enabling developing countries to benefit from trade opening and integration in the coming decades. Overall, the WTO’s targeted technical assistance is helping to create a more balanced and equitable multilateral trading system.

The Future of WTO Technical Assistance: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead

The WTO faces both opportunities and challenges in providing technical assistance to developing countries and LDCs in the coming years.

Continuing Virtual Engagement

The WTO successfully transitioned many of its technical assistance activities to virtual formats during the COVID-19 pandemic. These online engagements can continue supplementing in-person workshops and training in the future, expanding the reach of WTO technical assistance to more government officials and stakeholders around the world. Virtual sessions are also often more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable.

Responding to Evolving Needs

The WTO must adapt its technical assistance to address issues highlighted or exacerbated by the pandemic, like supply chain resilience, e-commerce, and the digital economy. New programmes focused on these critical areas could help developing countries build better after COVID-19 and participate more fully in the global trading system. The WTO may need to review and update its current roster of technical assistance offerings to match the shifting priorities of beneficiary countries.

Improving Coordination and Cooperation

The WTO should continue strengthening its relationships with other international organisations, donor countries, and NGOs involved in trade-related technical assistance. Enhanced coordination can help avoid duplication of efforts and provide more comprehensive support for developing countries. The WTO may explore co-organising more technical assistance activities with key partners or developing joint programmes focused on specific issues like trade facilitation, SME access to global markets, and women’s economic empowerment.

Securing Additional Funding and Support

The WTO’s technical assistance mandate relies on voluntary contributions from member countries and donors. Additional funding will be necessary to expand virtual and in-person technical assistance, respond to new needs, and strengthen partnerships. The WTO must make a compelling case to members and donors that these investments in technical assistance and capacity building are critical for integrating developing countries into the multilateral trading system and achieving a sustainable economic recovery after the pandemic.

Conclusion

This report provides insightful analysis into how the WTO adapted and innovated its technical assistance programmes to continue supporting developing countries during an unprecedented global crisis. The findings highlight the WTO’s responsiveness and flexibility in transitioning activities online, forging new partnerships, and tailoring initiatives to evolving needs. While the long-term impacts remain to be seen, the WTO’s technical assistance efforts have been crucial for many countries navigating economic recovery. As the world begins to emerge from this crisis, the WTO’s role in strengthening trade capacity and connectivity between nations will only become more vital. Overall, this report demonstrates how global cooperation and multilateralism can foster resilience even in the face of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

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