B20 and ICC Convene Global Business Leaders to Discuss Important Role of Trade and WTO in Addressing COVID-19

21 May 2020

The B20 Saudi Arabia and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) recently convened a virtual trade dialogue with business leaders, facilitated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The discussion was focused on the role of the private sector, trade policy and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in tackling the health and economic implications of the COVID-19 crisis.

B20 Chair Yousef Al-Benyan and ICC Secretary General John W.H. Denton AO co-hosted the meeting, which took place on May 19, and convened over 70 senior business leaders from various companies and sectors across the globe.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has added to challenges in international trade and underscored the need for policy-makers, business and society to be resilient, to be well prepared and take coordinated action. It has also highlighted the role of global trade and the importance of global supply chains in responding to the crisis.

Yousef Al-Benyan, Chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia said, “As the world contends with COVID-19, the role of global trade and importance of global supply chains has never been more heightened. Through a coordinated international effort, unrestricted trade and investment can be part of the solution to this crisis and is critical to help us prepare for a recovery.”

The B20 Saudi Arabia has made the transformation of the international institutions to the benefit of societies across the globe a priority. Our leaders, specifically under the Trade & Investment Taskforce, have urged G20 leaders to take immediate actions to support the supply and appropriate movement of critical goods and services, such as front-line medical products and supplies, as well as offer support and assistance to all companies, but in particular MSMEs, which have been heavily impacted by this crisis.

“Only through close international collaboration can we foster a resilient trade environment and diversified global supply chains to confront the challenges of both today and the future,” continued Mr. Al-Benyan.

The dialogue supported these proposals and a concentrated action plan to address the pandemic and its impact on trade.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said, “Cooperation among governments, businesses, international organizations and other stakeholders will be critical for an effective policy response to COVID-19…Companies of all sizes made concrete recommendations for policy action, including on trade, that would lay the groundwork for a strong and inclusive economic recovery. It was heartening to hear so much support for the predictability and certainty fostered by the multilateral trading system — as well as interest in ongoing efforts to update the WTO rulebook.”

John W.H. Denton AO, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce, echoed by saying, “Maintaining a functioning trading system is vital to protect lives and livelihoods tA full summary of the issues raised at the meeting is available here.hrough the COVID-19 crisis. Governments and businesses must unite to resist protectionism taking root in the global economy. The private sector is uniquely placed to advise governments on how trade policy can be used to speed the response to the pandemic and enable a rapid economic recovery.

“In this context, we also need to move from talk to action on WTO reform so that it can once again live up to its founding promise of liberalising trade, opening up markets and enabling fair competition. That means finally completing fisheries subsidies negotiations, creating new rules on digital trade and e-commerce, providing greater support for small businesses, and improving the inner workings of the WTO so that it can operate quickly, flexibly and with its ultimate users in mind — business.”

A full summary of the issues raised at the meeting is available here.

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