Informal Learning and WTO Renewal Using Thematic Sessions to Create More Opportunities for Dialogue. Bertelsmann Working Paper 24/02/2020


WTO has held over 100 “thematic sessions” in the past three years. Thematic sessions are a broad class of meetings that are sponsored by or associated with a WTO body in some way, but that are not part of its formal meetings. The appendix contains a database of all thematic sessions from the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2019. Thematic sessions bring dynamism to WTO by allowing committees to consider what works well under an agree-ment, including sharing experiences with implementation, what is not working, and what is next on the agenda. We found variation in how meetings are organized, which is related to the type of session, and we found variation in how themes are chosen, participation (who speaks), the degree of transparency, and funding. Comprehensive improvement is needed: some committees never hold thematic sessions, participation by capital-based officials from developing countries is uneven, and too few sessions have a forward-looking agenda. En-hanced use of thematic sessions can contribute to strengthening the pipeline between Geneva and capitals, and to better understanding in Geneva of what is happening on the ground. Recommendations for the WTO General Council to generalize best practices as part of the WTO reform process include: Addressing substantive gaps in the themes addressed, notably with respect to subsidies, the systemic impact of RTAs, and implications of dispute settlement reports for a committee’s work Creating a central budget to fund increased capital-based participation More support for technology to allow virtual meetings Forward planning on topics and dates as an element of the Annual Report submitted by every WTO body

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