ROME - The ghosts of protectionism are always lurking, but the tariff war of the Trump era is now behind us. There is every indication of a thaw between the United States on one side, and China and the EU on the other. It is now a matter of working to reform the rules of the game in the WTO, the World Trade Organisation. The appointment is at the end of November in Geneva. That is the commitment entered into by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who will be chairing the G20 Trade Ministers' Meeting in Sorrento today. He explains it in this interview with "Il Sole 24 Ore ".
The pandemic, and the need to manufacture and distribute vaccines around the world, has revealed the negative effects of protectionism on world trade. In that sense has the fight against Covid led to a rediscovery of the irreversibility of a multilateral approach?
"The Covid-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down with its burden of suffering, uncertainty and economic contraction, but it also taught us an important lesson about the relationships between states and the management of international relations. It demonstrated, if there ever was any need, the interconnectedness that now exists on the global scene, and consequently the need for a collective, multilateral response to emergencies such as the pandemic. The same obviously also extends to the area of trade, where I believe there is awareness of the need, for example, to create secure global supply chains for medical and pharmaceutical products. With that in mind we need to use initiatives that should also be promoted within the WTO, such as customs facilitation, the elimination of export restrictions and increasing production capacity, or discussions on intellectual property rights".
The new US administration is intent on turning the page on the Trump-era tariff wars. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has laid the groundwork with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He for a "responsible" trade relationship. Beyond these declarations of principle, has the American position really changed in terms of content?
"There are various signs that do go in the direction of overcoming protectionism, and these are to be welcomed: the agreement between the European Commission and the Biden administration on the Airbus-Boeing dispute, the first meeting of the EU-United States Council on Trade and Technology, and the dialogue between Washington and Beijing on tariff issues. The news of the suspension of the travel ban by the American authorities is equally important. All of this has significant repercussions on the general framework of international trade, from which a country like Italy, which is traditionally devoted to exports, can only benefit. I discussed all these issues with Katherine Tai just yesterday".
What should we expect from the G20 Sorrento trade meeting? Will it not be difficult to arrive at a final declaration that covers the different positions on state aid expressed by countries like India, South Africa, and China, or on the green transition as seen from the viewpoint of countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia?
"The most recent meetings have confirmed the distance that exists between the members of the international community on various aspects of trade. We in Italy are fully committed, and I am convinced, that the G20 Sorrento trade meeting can act as a driving force for a positive outcome at the next WTO Ministerial meeting in Geneva at the end of November, which is configured as a key moment for the relaunch of the multilateral trading system. Sorrento is a very valuable opportunity because the G20 platform gives us a timely and effective forum for informal discussion to stimulate dialogue and bring the different positions closer together. We have provided political impetus to put WTO reform at the heart of the agenda by engaging in a constructive dialogue for institutional reforms that include both the negotiating function and the dispute settlement system. All with the protection and promotion of people, the planet, and prosperity at the heart of the negotiations: the watchwords of our G20 presidency".
Before the G20 ministerial meeting, the Italian presidency inaugurated a new format, the G20 Innovation League. What is it all about?
"It is a completely new global platform, strongly desired by the Foreign Ministry as a way of bringing together start-ups, investors and large companies with the aim of attracting new investment flows for the benefit of innovative companies in the G20 countries. Enabling start-ups to get better access to venture capital funds responds to the need to invest in their creativity, and to identify high-tech solutions to global challenges such as clean technologies, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, healthcare, smart cities, and the future of mobility, all of which we have placed at the centre of the Innovation League. I am very pleased by the enthusiasm with which this special event was welcomed, as further confirmation of the importance, which is increasingly felt, of stimulating new synergies and public-private partnerships on these crucial issues".
With the G20 presidency, can our country be an example for encouraging innovative start-ups and providing the tools that small and medium-sized enterprises need?
"The best proof of this was the success of this first event in Sorrento, where more than 150 start-ups from about 30 countries met in person and online for the first time with innovative ideas in areas such as clean technologies, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, the future of mobility and healthcare. In fact we now intend to consolidate this appointment, by agreement with the future Indonesian G20 presidency, so as to give continuity to the focus on start-ups and SMEs that is a characteristic feature of our contribution to multilateral discussion forums on sustainable development, innovation, prosperity, and caring for people and the planet".