Tuesday, October 9, 2018 — 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.
It is in light of such occurrences that the OECS Commission recently convened a meeting to engage Member States in discussions on the subject of trade and natural disasters, in an effort to raise awareness on the link between natural disasters and trade and to ensure that the needs and interests of the OECS and other vulnerable states are safeguarded and advanced in the multilateral trading system.
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 of the meeting 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.
This initiative, spearheaded by the OECS in the wake of the devastating impacts of the Category 5 hurricanes of 2017, seeks to:
a) secure the support, including flexibilities with respect to commitments of disaster-impacted Small and Vulnerable Economies - this may include permitting measures inconsistent with the Member's obligations under the WTO but deemed necessary for post event re-building and recovery; and
b) incorporate issues of climate change and trade vulnerability in relevant negotiating areas/topics at the WTO.
The meeting built awareness 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 post event recovery and resilience building.
Participants were appraised of the steps taken by the WTO in response to advocacy on the OECS, these include the convening of a symposium in April 2018 to raise awareness on ‘trade and natural disasters’ as well as follow-up surveys currently being undertaken in identified WTO Member States.
The study identified three countries (Barbados, Dominica and Saint Lucia) which were subsequently visited by the WTO survey team in August 2018.
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 establishing a more fulsome account of the region’s experience and expectations on this important area of research and policy development.
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.
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