The World Trade Organization (WTO) has inaugurated a new extension building and renovated headquarters in Geneva. The ceremony took place on Sunday as WTO chief Pascal Lamy prepares to hand over the reins by the end of summer.
Lamy, Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann and Geneva cantonal president Charles Beer cut the ribbon to celebrate the renovation and expansion of the historic Centre William Rappard headquarters, originally built in 1926 to house the International Labour Organization.
The SFr130 million ($137 million) project adds 20,000 square metres to the lakeside complex and includes a five-story energy-efficient glass building for 300 employees, allowing all 1,100 WTO staff to be housed on a single site.
The development includes a new conference room, a dozen modern meeting rooms, training centre, underground car park and new restaurant which will be open to the public from autumn. A huge interior courtyard has also been transformed into a meeting place for delegates.
The new extension and renovations were funded through CHF60 million in interest-free loans from the Swiss government that the WTO will have to pay back within 50 years; Switzerland will pay the rest.
The controversial project went ahead after 61 per cent of Geneva residents backed the plans in a city-wide vote in 2009. At the time, critics said it would damage the city’s lakeside promenade and park.
Lamy, who hands over the reins at the end of August to Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, said the new modern transparent building was a sign that “we didn’t want to lock the WTO behind barriers”.
In an interview looking back at his eight years as secretary-general of the trade body, the 66-year-old said the WTO had generally fulfilled its objectives.
“International trade figures have doubled over the past decade and developing countries have largely benefited,” he declared, while adding that the inability to modernize trade rules and failure of the Doha round of trade negotiations were a “disappointment”.
The out-going secretary general commented that despite its position as European headquarters of the United Nations and host to 30-odd international organisations like the WTO, so-called International Geneva’s primary status was not guaranteed in the future or “automatic”.
“It will remain the second international centre after New York if it continues to provide international organisations the living conditions, security and competitive salaries compared with what other sites may offer,” he declared.
Founded in 1995 on the basis of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) and comprising 153 members, the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulates trade relations between nations. It is the keystone of the legal and institutional multilateral trading system. It has an annual budget of SFr196 million.
Contributing to just 2% of world trade but with every other franc earned abroad, Switzerland considers the international regulations (legal certainty) upon which it relies as vital.
The WTO, in particular, is a forum where existing agreements are developed and new agreements on international trade law are negotiated.
Launched in 2001, the Doha Round addresses about 20 issues. Among them, trade, agriculture, industrial goods, services, strengthening of WTO rules, trade and the environment, and the development or protection of intellectual property.
swissinfo.ch and agencies