Geneva Peace Week 2019

Trade, jobs and peace: Highlights of the ILO-WTO dialogue

News | 15 November 2019
A joint ILO-WTO event was held at the Palais des Nations on 8 November 2019 in the context of the Geneva Peace Week. The event, which took the form of a panel discussion, brought together specialists on trade and employment to explore the convergences of trade and job creation and their contribution to peace. While it is well known that trade is essential for a country’s development, it is not fully understood how trade can be strategized to rebuild nations that are fragile, or emerging from conflict, to also create jobs and contribute to peace. The discussion therefore focused on ways of making trade beneficial in creating jobs for strengthening peace, particularly in countries that are part of the WTO accession process.

In his opening remarks Ambassador Wayne McCook, Senior Advisor to the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), reminded the audience of the important correlation between trade and peace. Historically, the rules-based multilateral trading system has played a fundamental role in supporting sustainable development, peace and stability at the global level. While trade may not prevent war, it does give peacebuilding processes a better chance to succeed. Since 2018, the WTO has brought together the trade and the peace communities to exchange ideas on how fragile and conflict-affected countries can use trade, the WTO and its accession process to create jobs, spur faster growth and foster an enabling environment conducive to the consolidation of peace. The Trade for Peace through WTO Accessions Initiative, inspired by the g7+ WTO Accessions Group, convenes fragile and conflict-affected countries that aspire to use trade and integration into the global economy as a tool to build their nations, create greater stability and enhance their ability to sustain peace. Highlighting the relevance of trade for poverty reduction, job creation and the attainment of the sustainable development goals, Ambassador McCook concluded by welcoming the WTO-ILO collaboration on sustaining peace through trade and jobs.

Mr. Katsuro Nagai, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Chairperson of the Working Party on the WTO Accession of Sudan, moderated the panel discussion. Mr. Nagai delivered a keynote speech centred on the importance of job opportunities created by trade and how they helped Japan reducing unemployment after the devastation of World War II. In 1950s, recognizing the necessity of promoting trade for economic self-reliance, Japan used the free trade system to support its economic growth and create decent jobs for its population. Japan’s full commitment to trade as a pillar of the peacebuilding process directly contributed to reducing internal unemployment (from 40% at the end of the war to 1.5% in 1968) and improving the lives of its people, demonstrating that trade can boost job creation and lay the foundation for sustainable peace.

Mr. Nagai then introduced the panellists and asked them to share their perspectives on how trade can (re-)build a nation affected by fragility and conflict.

From left to right: Mr. Abdi Dorre, Ambassador Wayne McCook, Mr. Luigi Narbone, Mr. Katsuro Nagai, Mr. Tamim M. Baiou, Ms. Mito Tsukamoto.
The first speaker, Mr. Tamim M. Baiou, Chargé d'affaires, Permanent Mission of Libya to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland, presented Libya as a country with a long history, placed in a strategic geographical location, rich in natural resources but unfortunately affected by protracted instability and conflict. He shared his view of how a peace process could help Libya develop a prosperous economy. Stressing the importance of trade for the country, Mr. Baiou highlighted the need for, in particular (a) promoting SMEs, (b) investing in infrastructure (in sectors like technology, transportation, housing), including through privatization, and (c) improving the education system to meet labour market demands. Mr. Baiou welcomed collaborations with international organizations such as the WTO and the ILO to help Libya access peace and prosperity, trade and jobs.

Ms. Mito Tsukamoto, Head of the Development and Investment Branch of ILO’s Employment Policy Department, recalled the ILO’s foundational principle that universal and lasting peace can only be established on the basis of social justice. Building on this, and on the experience and evidence gathered during several decades in responding to crisis situations, in 2017 the ILO adopted Recommendation No. 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience, which represents a key milestone for ILO’s work in conflict and fragility. Ms. Tsukamoto clarified that promoting decent work does not only mean reducing unemployment or underemployment, but is also about eliminating exploitative, precarious and informal work, and ensuring respect for fundamental principles and rights. Grievances that fuel conflict arise from inequality, exclusion, the non-respect of human and labour rights, the lack of participatory mechanism and dialogue, sentiments of injustice. Decent jobs can help address these grievances by providing, besides income security, identity, dignity, opportunities and connections, with profound implications for family and society, politics and ultimately peace. Decent jobs are at the centre of the humanitarian development nexus through investments that support local economies and institutions, creating social capital and contributing to restore families, communities and societies. In fragile and conflict situations, the combination of job creation with effective infrastructure investments (environmental, social and physical assets and services), which have a productive and transformative effect on the labour market, contribute to sustainable development and increased resilience. In this context, Ms. Tsukamoto observed that, in order to strengthen the link between decent jobs and peace, trade requires active and coherent policy measures. For example, trade should be linked to strategic sectors that have a large job creation potential (as demonstrated by ILO’s STRENGTHEN project); trade policies should integrate skills, training policies, and social protection considerations; trade policies and agreement should include decent work concerns. On this basis, the ILO and the WTO can work together to ensure that globalization is inclusive and fair. Ms. Tsukamoto concluded by stressing the need for and the important role of multilateralism in bringing different actors together to make peace an objective, and a reality.

Mr. Luigi Narbone, the Director of the Middle East Directions Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, former Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation to Saudi Arabia, and non-resident Ambassador to Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, shared his reflections about reconstruction and stabilization efforts in the Middle East and North Africa, where protracted conflicts have caused destruction of economic facilities but also repercussions in terms of global security, regional instability, migration, terrorism, low economic growth and lost opportunity for development. In the international community the debate is open about which strategies and actions should be pursued to end conflict and foster stabilization and development in the region. While democratization, institution building, governance reform are recognized tools to address fragility, state weakness, and root causes of conflict, the political economy of war economies – which reinforces corruption, informality and illegal activities – can jeopardize the effectiveness of these approaches and contribute to prolonging the conflict. Undertaking reform in these contexts requires strong efforts from the part of all stakeholders. Mr. Narbone observed that socio-economic issues are key as both triggers and solutions for conflict cycles. Appropriate policies for productive investment, inclusive and sustainable development, conducive business environment are needed to address unemployment, especially youth unemployment, inequality, marginalization of peripheral regions, and unequal distribution of resources. Recognizing the strategic position of MENA countries in relation to trade flows, stabilization and reconstruction can be supported through stronger linkages between peace, trade and jobs by seizing opportunities for trade integration, increased connectivity through infrastructures (e.g. digital, transport, logistics...), integration in the global value chain. To sustain high value added economic sectors and job creation while fighting exclusion and inequality, policies need to focus on education as a top priority, encourage local investment, for instance in SMEs and employment intensive works, and promote trade liberalization in ways that benefit all layers of society. This integrated approach to development is essential to increase the resilience of communities.

The final panellist, Mr. Abdi Dorre, the Managing Director of Somali Chamber of Commerce (SCCI), provided the private sector’s point of view of a fragile setting such as Somalia. Before talking about his own country, he mentioned that conflicts in Africa all have global dimensions linked for instance to the exploitation of the natural resources or the strategic geographical position of a country. The complexity of conflict dynamics in an interconnected world need to be fully understood in order to establish positive linkages between trade, jobs and peace. In a country such as Somalia, affected by international terrorism and characterized by a predominantly young population, trade can bring peace only if it is solidly based on decent work principles. More importantly, trade and job opportunities need to be accompanied by substantial efforts to change the mindset of young Somalians so as to contrast the messages portrayed by terrorist organizations. Only through the institutionalization and systematization of this approach, with the support of national labour institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce, can trade and decent work contribute to peace.

Mr. Nagai delivered his concluding remarks by encouraging the WTO and the ILO in their joint efforts to build peace through trade and job creation in fragile and conflict settings, and wishing the two organizations a fruitful institutional collaboration and partnership in this area.