The WTO Chairs Programme is a technical support activity included in the 2022-2023 Technical Assistance Plan of the WTO. Through this programme, universities in developing countries and LDCs partner with the WTO Secretariat and trade authorities to provide tailored research, policy input and training to governments and other stakeholders in their countries.
Speaking at the event, Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica Manuel Tovar said that the Universidad Nacional and the Costa Rican government share a long-standing relationship, having worked together on different activities related to trade policy seminars. “Our Ministry supported the University’s candidacy for this Programme, which prospered on its own merit, highlighting the work which it has carried out for many years through the generation and dissemination of knowledge geared towards civil society,” he said.
Deputy Director-General Anabel González highlighted that one of the Programme’s goals is to create a network of global trade experts and enlarge the knowledge frontiers on WTO-related issues.
“The Chairs network gives governments access to expert assistance and research within their own countries and in collaboration with other academics who ensure that a regional and cross-regional perspective are included in the knowledge produced. I would like to stress that this kind of cooperation is the backbone of the work done at the WTO,” she said.
The event also marked the launch of the Chair’s Trade Policy Think Tank which includes members from government, academia, and businesses. Several representatives from this think tank, including from the Chamber of International Trade, the Chamber of Technology and Sciences, and other stakeholders, participated in a roundtable discussion on the rise of digital trade and its opportunities and challenges, along with experts from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
On behalf of the Programme’s donors, Cassandre Nonque, Deputy Head of the International Trade and Investment Rules Unit at the Ministry of the Economy and Finance of France, expressed her country’s support for the WCP and the activities in Costa Rica. “The work of the Chairs, experts in the field, will encourage political decision makers to think outside the box and facilitate the endorsement of innovative positions that will lead us to concrete results at the WTO,” she said.
Cynthia Zimmermann, Director-General at the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs of Austria, noted that to fully and effectively participate in discussions at the multilateral level, it is crucial that developing and LDC members have access to technical support and relevant analysis of issues that are of most interest to them. “The WTO and other international institutions can provide some of this support. However, I am convinced that nothing can replace tailor-made expertise developed domestically at universities and research institutions in various WTO members,” she said.
The WCP launch in Costa Rica came at an important moment for the WTO, following the successful conclusion of the 12th Ministerial Conference, which took place on 12-17 June, where members secured an unprecedented package of outcomes.
“Having just finished negotiating this package, I can attest to the vital importance that experts and tailored research and advice provide to delegations in the negotiating process — this is what the WCP was created to facilitate,” said Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta of Costa Rica, chair of the WTO agriculture negotiations.
Francisco González, Dean of the Universidad Nacional, and Ronald Saborio, member of the WCP Academic Advisory Board, congratulated Professor Hernández and her team for their outstanding achievement. They join a network which includes seven other Chairs in Latin America and 36 Chairs in total. The growing network provides the opportunity for collaboration on issues of priority for the region and the WTO membership, including further economic and trade integration.
The first year of activities under the WCP in Costa Rica will focus on several key topics, including the impact of the pandemic on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Central America and the importance of digital trade in ensuring their survival and resilience.
The event concluded with a roundtable discussion among the Chairs from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Costa Rica on the current challenges confronting international trade.