Influencing Outcomes in a Changing Environment at the WTO: A Commonwealth Developing Country Perspective
The worsening of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020 triggered a sudden shift from in-person to virtual and hybrid forms of diplomatic communication and negotiation, including at the World Trade Organization (WTO). This paper identifies the challenges and opportunities that this shift presents to least developed countries (LDCs), small states and sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries in the Commonwealth. These include technical issues, negotiating design and format issues, and geopolitical questions. The paper draws on interviews with officials, diplomats, and other experts and stakeholders located in Geneva and in Commonwealth capitals. After identifying and analysing the major issues and problems raised by virtual and hybrid modes of diplomacy, the paper makes recommendations for improving the immediate practicalities of virtual and hybrid negotiating, the need to survey and prepare to adopt new technologies to facilitate online and hybrid negotiating, and how to upgrade training and capacity building for a future in which virtual and hybrid negotiating will play an ongoing part.
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