T20 Japan Associated Event

T20-G20 Roundtable Discussion on "Digital Trade, WTO Reform, and Trade and Investment for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth" (Summary)


  • Time and Date: April 9, 2019 (Tuesday) 12:00-16:30
  • Venue: Toranomon Hills Forum, Hall A (Toranomon Hills Mori Tower 5th Floor, 1-23-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo)


The world economy has enjoyed rapid growth as it has become increasingly integrated. The world trading system which has supported such growth nevertheless is showing growing signs of stress, and the world trading system seems to be approaching a crossroads. About 120 participants both from T20 and G20 extensively discussed three major issues - digital trade, WTO reform, and trade and investment for sustainable and inclusive growth, one day before the 2nd G20 Trade and Investment Working Group meeting in Japan. The T20-G20 Roundtable Discussion was co-organized by RIETI and GDI.

The 7 Policy Briefs by the T20 Trade, Investment and Globalization Task Force were presented.

Below is a summary of each session.

Section 1 – Digital Trade

T20 and G20 participants extensively exchanged views on various aspects of digital trade. The session acknowledged that

  • Digital trade has the potential to provide massive benefits resulting in inclusive growth of the global economy
  • It is necessary to avoid digital divisions between countries as well as between different regions within a country

The efforts by T20 and the analyses of the T20 Policy Brief and its recommendations were well received despite some comments expressing reservations. In particular, the session discussed

  • On the issue of data flows, there was strong support in the session on positioning "free flow of data" as the logical basis and benchmark for the development of digital trade disciplines, although some expressed reservations.
  • To realize the "free flow of data," the session acknowledged that policy and regulatory measures need to be carefully examined based on economic logic that protectionist impulses must be avoided in their formulation.
  • The session also discussed methods of realizing international rules on digital trade. There was strong support by the session for accelerating efforts for creating global rules on digital trade.

Based on the engagement of T20 and G20 today, the session looks forward to further elaboration of the framework and ways ahead in G20. Although no consensus was reached, the session also unanimously emphasized the necessity of capacity building efforts and collaboration with T20 business societies.

Section 2.1 – WTO Reform

Speakers, discussants and the audience shared their views on the many current issues surrounding the WTO. The session agrees that

  • The WTO has been successful but it is in crisis that requires structural and strategic reform
  • There is no rational alternative or substitute for the WTO and it is in the interest of all G20 member countries to sustain the WTO in a multilateral manner while also making developments in new areas such as digital trade etc.

The views presented by speakers and the audience bellow are only some of many opinions shared, and are generally supported by the participants.

  • It is important to avoid power-based rule making and checks and balances are important in global economic governance.
  • While there is little optimism for the current WTO situation, it is also important to highlight that the problems are solvable.
  • There is no prefect plan for the WTO and organic change is the key to reform
  • Prioritization and immediate actions are required, especially for Appellate Body reform.

Despite the current situation of the WTO, there still is a possibility that like-minded countries can make multilateralism work. As suggested in one of the policy briefs, it is important to have a multilateral approach with multispeed implementation. It is of crucial importance for G20 leaders to break through the current deadlock situation and resolve the current issues both for the benefit of the WTO and the world trading system as a whole.

Section 2.2 – Trade and Investment for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth

The session, while reconfirming the benefit of GVCs for both developed and developing countries, raised concerns of an increased intolerance toward globalization. The discussion evolved around three issues

  • Trade and investment, rather than a problem, is the solution to achieve sustainable development. Therefore, it is important not to increase trade and investment barriers or protectionism, and to pay adequate attention to services that will facilitate the development of GVCs.
  • While the disruptive effects of a trade war among giant economies has been discussed extensively, it is also important to recognize the potential negative effects of managed trade among these giants on the inclusivity of smaller economies and smaller actors such as Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
  • It is also important to reduce the inequality in the distribution of benefits of globalization by improving domestic policies and governance in order to build a safety net for those social groups that might be negatively affected by globalization.

In terms of practical approaches, the sessions recommends two measures.

  • Although a world input-output table is a useful tool to visualize GVCs that is helpful in policy making process, current data do not cover enough countries and sectors. Support for data collection and research on this issue is highly recommended.
  • Investment facilitation should be added to the agenda of TWIG and it is highly recommend to both adopt the Guiding Principles on Investment Facilitation for Sustainable Development and to help ensure that these efforts result in effective, coherent, and development-oriented outcomes.