Geneva Virtual Visits 2021: WTO and UNCTAD at GBSB Global

March 2021 was extremely abundant when it came to GBSB Global welcoming various renowned visiting Guest Speakers, including this year’s Geneva Virtual Visits. Held on March 15th, with not one but two world’s biggest international trade organizations joining GBSB Global students and staff online for a 3 hour-long live session.

The first guest was Ivy Zhang from the World Trade Organization (WTO) - the only international organization dealing with the global rules of trade since 1995.

Ivy is currently WTO's Communications Officer at their Information and External Relations Division. Ivy began her workshop with a general introduction to the organization, sharing its start up and developmental history since 1944, followed by WTO’s key functions, main principles, the secretariat structure, closing with WTO’s main challenges and resolutions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In brief, WTO’s main function is to ensure a non-discriminatory world trading system, so that global trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible, ensuring assurance and stability for all import and export operations, contributing to a more prosperous, peaceful and accountable economic world. Being a truly global international organization, WTO encompasses 164 members, accounting for 98% of world trade. Therefore, similarly to GBSB Global, WTO is a byword for globalization!

Based in Geneva, the Secretariat comprises 600+ staff members, representing 82 nationalities, of which over 50% are female, including the new Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, since 1st March 2021. As a Nigerian-American economist and international development expert, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala made history together with WTO, as she became the first woman and the first ever African to hold the office!

Aside from administering the WTO trade agreements, organizing global forums for trade development negotiations, handling multisided trade disputes between global players, and monitoring trade policies, WTO also provides various technical assistance and training, including E-learning, for developing economies via cooperation with other international organizations.

Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented economic disruption, especially in the world trade sector, with import and export put on hold, as production and consumption were scaled back across all nations. A World Bank stated that the global economy contracted by 4.3% in 2020, representing the fourth most severe global recession in the past 150 years!

Some of the trade-related measures taken by WTO members in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, included negotiating with government bodies in favour of lifting numerous trading bans, so crucial for life support across many developing countries, especially in terms of medical and food goods provision. Additionally, WTO negotiated providing state aid schemes, from dedicated financial aid/support to specific sectors, postponement of rent payment to loan guarantees, transfers, preferential credit lines and much more across various nations worldwide.

All in all, WTO aims to continue to push for open trade for the benefit of all. If you want to find out more about this inspiring organization, follow them on Social Media, and study their website for many annual internship and ‘Young Professionals’ opportunities. Alternatively, fly out to Geneva to attend the next Trade Forum yourself – all students are welcome!

Image about United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

The second guest was Daniela Magalhães Prates from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) - a permanent intergovernmental body established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964. Promoting development for over 56 years, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, UNCTAD is part of the UN Secretariat, comprising almost 500 staff members, 195 state members, with over 200 projects across 57 world countries.

Working at the national, regional, and global levels, UNCTAD’s mission is to support developing countries and provide them with access to benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively, for greater economic integration and globalization. To do this, UNCTAD provides analysis, facilitates consensus-building, and offers technical assistance, to promote trade, investment, finance, and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development, measuring progress by the Sustainable Development Goals, from climate change adaptation, to increasing access to digital technologies and promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation. Again, something that GBSB Global holds at the core of all operations.

As Senior Economic Affairs Officer at UNCTAD’s Debt and Development Finance Branch, Daniela spoke about the developing countries’ external debt vulnerability in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, and discussed the role of the UN, as a platform advancing multilateral proposals for a development-friendly international debt architecture works.

Every year, UNCTAD prepares an official report to the General Assembly on external debt, which reviews the most recent developments and analyses key issues related to the external debt of developing countries.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having emerged when the developing countries were already grappling with unsustainable debt burdens, it sure posed further struggles, as external debt stocks reached US $9.9 trillion - their highest level on record, with worsening risk profiles. The main issues caused by the simultaneous health and economic shocks were: the increased pressure on the government internal budgets due to increased expenditures and shortened revenues in response to the global economic recession – a trend seen across all nations. But, in the case of developing countries, the financial situation was worsened even further when it came to their external accounts. Their sources of foreign currency earnings and external capital flows were also majorly reduced in face of the global economic crisis.

The role of the UN in regulating debt issues is that it acts as a long-standing forum to advance creditor-debtor dialogue in regard to sovereign debt crisis prevention and resolution, providing space for democratic discussions across nations. Working on various financing for development projects, UNCTAD analyses, manages and provides technical cooperation for capacity-development in debt management.

For more information on what they do and how to join them, make sure to visit their website and follow them on Social Media.

Lastly, if you are interested in Finance and Trade, make sure to check out our available Bachelor, Master and MBA programs!

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