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Occasional and Commissioned Papers

Celebrating a Century of Canada–IPU Collaboration

Selected Key Themes Addressed in IPU Assemblies

The Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organization

The WTO wanted to set up its own network, it wanted to have something that would only basically be supportive of the WTO in its entirety. We felt it was more important to make sure that the views of those who disagree were also represented. — Paddy Torsney, former MP, 2012

The IPU and the European Parliament have jointly held sessions of the Parliamentary Conference on the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2003. Canadian parliamentarians have been involved in the event from the start, both as members of the steering committee and as Conference participants.

Origins and Objective

At the fourth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Doha (Qatar) in 2001, a small group of parliamentarians adopted a declaration calling on the WTO to demonstrate greater transparen­cy by involving more parliamentarians in its activities. A steering committee was established, and met twice in 2002 to organize the first Parliamentary Conference on the WTO.

The Conference’s objective is to strengthen democracy at the international level by bringing a parliamentary dimension to multilateral cooperation on trade issues. It enables parliamentarians with an interest in trade issues to meet with senior WTO officials and negotiators, and offers a forum for presentations, debate and discussion on the progress of negotiations. Parliamentarians have the opportunity to learn more about current WTO activities such as dispute resolution, and about such issues as building trade capacity and the role of trade in the global economy. At the same time, they can express the views of their constituents and their government to the WTO.

Conference Activities

Six sessions of the Parliamentary Conference took place between 2003 and 2008, two of which were held at the same time as the fifth and sixth WTO ministerial conferences. Since 2008 and the slowdown in the Doha Round of trade negotiations, only one Conference session has been held, in 2011.

As an extension of the Parliamentary Conference, the IPU and the European Parliament hold parliamentary panel discussions during the WTO Public Forum, an annual event that provides a platform for various representatives of civil society to discuss new developments in world trade and suggest ways to enhance the multilateral trade system. These panel discussions are open to the public and are generally very popular, as they offer lively evidence of how parliaments connect governments and citizens.

Canada’s Participation

Canada has a seat on the Parliamentary Conference steering committee, which is made up of delegates from 22 countries and representatives of the European Parliament. The steering committee is responsible for all issues related to organizing the Conference. It receives information and updates from senior WTO officials and drafts the final declarations at the end of the annual sessions.

Since 2003, the steering committee meetings have been attended regularly by Paddy Torsney, MP, (until 2006) and Senator Donald H. Oliver. Senator Oliver has been the co-chair since March 2011. Senator Mac Harb and Ted Menzies, MP, have also attended several meetings.

Canadian delegates have made a significant contribution to the committee. For example, Senator Oliver obtained members’ support for instituting regular updates to WTO negotia­tors on the committee’s views and discussions. These updates take the form of brief declarations made at the end of each meeting.

Photograph of Pascal Lamy, WTO Director General, with Senator Donald H. Oliver, President of the Canadian IPU Group, and Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary General, during the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO in 2011

Pascal Lamy, WTO Director General with Senator Donald H. Oliver, President of the Canadian IPU Group, and Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary General, Parliamentary Conference on the WTO, 2011 Courtesy of the IPU

Canadian parliamentarians often take part in the panel discussions held during the Conference. In Brussels in 2004, for example, Ms. Torsney gave a presentation on trade in services from a developmental perspective, showing that improving market access for service providers can be an important lever for economic growth. She also emphasized that parliamentarians have a role in moving negotiations forward, particularly by promoting awareness of the issues at stake in the Doha Round.

For parliamentarians to be more effective in addressing trade issues, certain mechanisms need to be institutionalized so that the stages of trade negotiation are matched by parliamentary debates and committees. In certain instances, legislation is required to enact trade arrangements. This provides parliamentarians with direct democratic input. That said, input is at times muted if ratification is required to avoid the loss of credibility internationally. For this reason, it is particularly important that committee activities and parliamentary debates are undertaken with foresight and on an ongoing basis. — Senator Grant Mitchell, 2005

At the 2005 Parliamentary Conference in Hong Kong, Senator Grant Mitchell was one of five panellists discussing best practices for parliamentary monitoring of trade negotiations and policies. He outlined Canada’s experience and suggested ways to increase understanding of trade policies, including through public consultations by parliamentary committees and making negotiators accountable to parliament. He also stressed the IPU’s role in helping parliamentarians to democratize trade negotiations.

At the 2006 Parliamentary Conference in Geneva, Senator Oliver tabled and discussed a working paper on regionalism and multilateralism in trade policies. He highlighted the advantages of each approach and noted that it is in Canada’s best interest to support multilateralism. He added that Canada would be well advised to pursue trade liberalization at every level, given the slow pace of WTO negotiations.

Senator Oliver chaired the 2011 Parliamentary Conference, which was held on the premises of the WTO for the first time. During steering committee discussions, senators Oliver and Harb played an important role in developing a consensus that led to the final declaration issued at the conclusion of the Conference.

For the first time in its eight-year history, the Parliamentary Conference is holding its session on the premises of the WTO. … For parliamentarians, … this is a long-awaited and politically symbolic step along the way to endowing the WTO with a meaningful parliamentary dimension. By playing host to a meeting of legislators specializing in international trade, the WTO has shown its willingness to enhance its transparency and open itself to a greater degree of democratic oversight and accountability. — Senator Donald H. Oliver, 2011

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© Library of Parliament 2012