ITC and partners at the WTO Public Forum 2021
After a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19, the WTO Public Forum was back this year with over 100 sessions held over four days from 28 September to 1 October. Speakers and participants visibly enjoyed the opportunity to come together in person as well as online, to discuss ‘Trade beyond COVID-19: Building resilience’.
ITC sessions focused on collective action in sustainability standards; AfCFTA implementation; inclusion of women entrepreneurs through access to digital tools; innovation by youth ecopreneurs; investment facilitation; transformation of food systems; and more.
ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton provided the keynote address in the plenary ‘MSMEs and COVID: Enhancing resilience’, moderated by H.E. Ambassador José Luis Cancela, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the WTO and Coordinator of the Informal Working Group on MSMEs at the WTO. She noted that ‘an unequal recovery can and will exacerbate existing inequalities. We cannot afford to leave small businesses behind.’
One of those small businesses was represented by Mechi Amaah, founder of Black and Natural Cosmetics in Cameroon. She shared how she grew her business by 30% during the pandemic by sourcing locally, replacing packaging with environmentally friendly product solutions, and improving branding. As one of the winners of a video competition organized by the ITC Ye! Community last year, she benefited from ITC coaching and training and access through the Ye! Community to other young entrepreneurs across the world.
The need for continuous private sector engagement and empowerment, especially for small businesses, was echoed throughout the Public Forum. In a session co-hosted by ITC, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and the Permanent Mission of Finland, an important message was conveyed: ‘The pandemic showed us that reinforcing the resilience of MSMEs before shocks hit can really pay off – and we need to be learning those lessons now, so MSMEs are prepared for future crises, including those spurred by climate change.’
The right support structures, public and private, for small businesses remain key to their ability to connect to regional and global value chains and take advantage of e-commerce. Women entrepreneurs and young entrepreneurs especially face challenges such as skills gaps and lack of access to finance. This is also the case for entrepreneurs at the forefront of innovation such as young ‘ecopreneurs’ whose goal is to contribute to the green transition.
ITC was also present at the Geneva Trade Week, which was designed to complement the WTO Public Forum. With the Government of the United Kingdom, ITC’s focus was on putting green business at the heart of trade. In the opening plenary on Trade for Peace, ITC highlighted the importance of support for small business in building stability in conflict-affected and vulnerable economies.
The recordings of the WTO Forum sessions are available here.