Press Release:- The recent passage of Tropical Storm Kirk, and the 5.6 magnitude earthquake that rattled several OECS Member States directly following the storm, served as a reminder of the urgent need for resilience building within the region and the importance of international responsiveness and support to recovery efforts in the event of a disaster.
The meeting, held on October 4, 2018 via video conference, was attended by senior officials from the relevant departments (including trade, agriculture and the environment) of the six OECS WTO Member States and Monserrat; the Commission’s Trade Policy and Facilitation Unit, Environmental Sustainability Cluster, Agricultural Development Specialist, the OECS Geneva Mission, the Hub and Spokes Programme; and representatives from the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The two main objectives were:
- to enhance discussions on the OECS initiative under the WTO framework on the impact of natural disasters on trade; and
- to provide details of the ongoing WTO survey on ‘trade and natural disasters’ including the administration of the survey questionnaire in OECS Member States.
The OECS initiative under the WTO, which came in the wake of the devastating impacts of the Category 5 hurricanes of 2017, seeks to:
a) secure the support and flexibility of the multilateral trading system to any measures undertaken by disaster-impacted Small and Vulnerable States which may be contrary to their obligations under the WTO rules but deemed necessary in the enhancement of economic re-building efforts; and
b) incorporate issues of climate change and trade vulnerability in all negotiating areas/topics under the WTO.
As an outcome, the meeting enlightened participants on the linkages between natural disasters and trade, including the trade creation/diversion effects of disasters as well as the role of trade and trade-related measures in response to disaster occurrences; support of recovery efforts; and resilience building in Vulnerable Economies.
Participants were appraised of the steps taken so-far around the OECS initiative under the WTO; which include a symposium convened by the WTO Secretariat in April 2018 to raise awareness on the subject of ‘trade and natural disasters’ and the follow-up surveys currently underway in selected WTO Member States.
Originally, the study earmarked only three countries in the Caribbean region which were subsequently visited by the WTO survey team in August 2018 (Barbados, Dominica and Saint Lucia), therefore this meeting was critical to allow for participation of all OECS Member States in the survey.
OECS Member States which had not originally received the WTO Survey Questionnaire (namely Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) will now be expected to complete the questionnaire – a welcome step towards the provision of a wholesome account of the region’s experience and expectations on this important subject area within the WTO framework.
OECS Member States were also informed of the second symposium currently being organized by the WTO Secretariat on the same subject to be held before the end of the year, and a research/project conference scheduled for early 2019 where findings of the study will be shared.
Finally, the meeting took note of initiatives being pursued by other international agencies and cooperating partners for resilience building and disaster response enhancement in related areas (including in agriculture) across the region.