Eashan Karnik
, Head Delegate
Helen Hanbidge, Media & Communications Coordinator
Katie Wynen
Louis Gauvreau
Sebastian Muermann
Lauren Webber


This September, Young Diplomats of Canada (YDC) sent six young leaders to Geneva, Switzerland as members of the YDC Delegation to the World Trade Organization’s Public Forum 2017. This three-day forum brought academics, parliamentarians, trade spokesmen, and corporate & civil society representatives from around the globe to discuss major trade issues and present solutions. The YDC Delegation consisted of: Head Delegate, Eashan Karnik; Media & Communications Coordinator, Helen Hanbidge; Katie Wynen; Louis Gauvreau; Sebastian Muermann; and Lauren Webber. This diverse group of young Canadians hold professional backgrounds in trade policy, climate action, food security, finance & investments, and global affairs.  

With over 100 workshops and working sessions held in the span of the 3-day conference, the delegation attended a variety of panel discussions on topics that covered everything from international trade issues, to the effects of specific industries in select countries. After an initial plenary session that opened the Forum, attendees were free to join the many sessions offered which provided insight and elaboration on issues facing trade today. The diversity of our delegation is obvious in the array interests evident in each delegate’s session selections. Some panel discussions, such as those conducted by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the WTO, were attended by the entirety of the delegation and live-streamed on social media. During breaks, the delegation congregated to discuss topics and thoughts on attended sessions. 

Prior to arriving in Geneva, our delegation discussed connecting and engaging with Canadian youth to hear their thoughts on trade as to better represent them at the WTO. A survey was created by the Media & Communications Coordinator which was distributed to several networks for maximum exposure. The findings of this survey were analyzed to show where the interests of Canadians lie regarding issues facing the economy, indigenous groups, women, and the environment. This analysis was used, in connection with the knowledge gained from the sessions, to create recommendations for the WTO and YDC.  

In addition to attending the sessions, our delegation had the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Stephen de Boer of the Permanent Mission of Canada to the WTO. After an initial breakfast meeting with Canadian diplomats, lobbyists, and foreign service workers at the Mission’s residence, the delegation joined the Ambassador for a private discussion on issues facing Canadian trade as well as youth participation at the WTO. During the Forum, individual delegates took the opportunity to meet with various representatives in organizations such as United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations in Geneva, as well as delegations from other nations. 

The successes of this delegation included having the opportunity to meet with the Canadian Ambassador to the WTO, as well as being able learn more about international trade and its effects on local populations and under-represented groups. The delegation shared challenges on securing high-level meetings, seeing transparency and value in certain areas of the WTO’s governance, and being strategic in sessional attendance. While delegates found value in attending the Public Forum 2017, recommendations were made for improvement for future delegations to the WTO. 


Session 2: “How Trade Can Help Achieve Sustainable Development Goal #5 - Gender Equality”
Session 2, on “How Trade Can Help Achieve Sustainable Development Goal #5 - Gender Equality,” offered an interesting analysis of the amendment to the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement, which added a chapter acknowledging the importance of incorporating a perspective on gender to trade agreements. Indeed, during some trade negotiations, there is increasingly a move towards the consultation of women’s groups and the inclusion of chapters on gender. However, as Counsellor Don McDougall of Canada’s Permanent Mission to the WTO highlighted, there are also issues with gender-based data collection and analysis related to trade. Other panelists, including Leslie Griffin of UPS, argued that regardless of whether chapters on gender are included in free trade agreements, women should be able to more easily identify their businesses as women-owned. Ultimately, to truly achieve Sustainable Development Goal #5, it is important that women be included in all conversations on trade and not just those that explicitly relate to gender.

Session 17: “Will Protectionism Trump Inclusive Trade? Why protectionist policies are on the rise in the developed world and the potential impact on the international economic system.”
Aside from a not-so-subtle play on words, this session was an objective and critical analysis of protectionist sentimentalities and their relation to trade and the economy. By investigating specific nations and their relationship with protectionism, the panel was able to enlighten the attendees with a holistic demonstration of the challenges that stem from isolationist trade practices. Protectionist policies may seem valuable to those within the nation, but their impact on trade systems and relief systems abroad must be considered and confronted. With globalization affecting the global economy, protectionist policies may reverse the tides of cultural and economic intersectionality. This session was a particular favourite as it addressed a leading and highly controversial issue with an academic lens that provided the audience with lots to ponder.  

Session 18: “Trade Policy: Unlocking opportunities for women”
In light of Canada’s focus on feminist foreign policy and gender-based analysis, gender-focused sessions and particularly those considering best practices in considering gender impacts in trade were among the most valuable sessions of the WTO Public Forum. The first, Trade Policy: Unlocking Opportunities for Women (moderated by Canadian ambassador to the WTO Stephen De Boer) focused on the idea that including women in international trade is beneficial to economies as a whole. While there were debates as to how best to implement this idea (including questioning whether standards are set high enough to ensure they have an effect), the overwhelming consensus was that governments and advocates need to fight against an unwillingness to act and convince practitioners and businesspeople that increasing female participation in trade actually increases “the size of the pie” to be shared through trade.

Session 40: “Can gender-sensitive trade policies hinder the spread of anti-globalisation movements”
Building on these ideas, a later session on gender-sensitive trade policies co-hosted by UNCTAD and the Government of Sweden discussed best practices in considering gender in making trade a tool for sustainable development (and building toward UN Sustainable Development Goal #5, increasing Gender Equality). Simonetta Zarrilli of UNCTAD presented their organization’s gender toolbox, a set of questions and exercises that allow policy-makers to ask “what would happen to women if a given trade policy were implemented?”. By considering the direct effects of trade decisions on vulnerable and underrepresented groups like women, trade agreements and domestic policies can better determine how to mediate these effects and work toward more inclusive trade policies.

Session 43: “Out of the Box: Innovative Partnerships for Inclusive Trade”
Inherently, the World Trade Organization’s mandate is to encourage partnerships between states and other stakeholders to increase economic growth. In Session 43, the panelists discussed unique partnerships developed by some organizations to make trade more innovative. As Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre described, trade should do three things: 1) Be more transformative; 2) Generate sustainable shared benefits, and; 3) Integrate social, economic, and environmental considerations. This means, according to the panel, that any partnerships for inclusive trade should guarantee decent work and ensure benefits to trade are shared by all. To achieve this kind of radical transformation, there should be systemic partnerships between businesses, governments, and other stakeholders who work together to provide leadership on more sustainable and inclusive trade.

Session 72: “The Truths About Regional Integration: NAFTA as a Living Example of the Benefits and Challenges of Regional Trade Agreements”
This session was particularly insightful as it shed light on a current and controversial trade topic heavily affecting Canadians and our North American neighbours. With speakers from Mexican non-profits and think-tanks, the panel addressed how regional trade agreements can bring forth challenges in tandem with any benefits. Focusing on the meat, textile, and aircraft industries and how NAFTA has impacted them, the speakers discussed how future changes in the NAFTA agreement can solve issues. While talk of improvements was littered throughout the session, unsurprisingly, the bulk of the panel remained resolute on the idea of NAFTA remaining the primary trade agreement between the three nations.

Session 74: “Testing the legitimacy of global trade: What works, what needs work?”
In Session 74, on the legitimacy of global trade, there was significant discussion around new technologies and their effects on the trade policies. From ecommerce to intellectual property, markets are changing and states need to have better domestic policies to benefit from them. During this panel, the Young Diplomats of Canada delegation was able to discuss how cooperation and collaboration can drive capacity-building for SMEs and even for developing countries with Anabel González, a Senior Director with the World Bank Group. As one panelist concluded, “It’s not very fashionable, but multilateralism is something we need [to improve the legitimacy of global trade].”


Prior to attending the 2017 WTO Public Forum, the Young Diplomats of Canada circulated a survey to learn more about the priorities and interests of young Canadians with regard to trade and international policy. This data was used to help inform our priorities as a delegation, particularly with regard to the questions asked in key sessions and meetings and in the sessions we chose to attend as delegates. 

As a whole, participants demonstrated a desire for more open trade agreements and relationships for Canada. Participants were also concerned with the intersection of trade and environmental and social concerns, with particular attention paid to inequalities and environmental considerations. This proved an informative way of learning more about the priorities of the many young Canadians who were not able to attend the Public Forum and, with more time to engage, would recommend similar engagement in the future. Over the course of the week leading up to the WTO Public Forum, here is what participants shared with us:

When asked what issues they think are of greatest importance to Canada today, 67.8% of participants ranked environment and climate change among their top concerns. 

When asked about their priorities for Canada in trade, the top three answers were “ensuring trade agreements include environmental considerations”, “increasing free and open trade”, and “increasing trade relationships outside of North America”.

When asked about their top concerns in trade and economics, nearly fifty percent of respondents selected either addressing socioeconomic and income inequality (28.8%) or job availability and stability (20.3%).


In terms of the composition of survey participants, respondents ranged broadly in age (with Canadians between 18 and 30 targeted) and represented numerous regions of Canada (with a majority responding from Ontario). Respondents were largely students or employed full time, and respondents represent a variety of minority or underrepresented groups.



1. A constant theme of the WTO Public Forum was the challenge of promoting trade and its benefits in an increasingly protectionist world. And yet, youth, who will be the ones most impacted by the development of trade policies and trade agreements, are very rarely included in conversations about trade policies.

In order to better engage youth in the development of trade policy, international organizations like the WTO, governments, and other stakeholders should:

  • Ensure that youth voices are included in events like the WTO Forum and Ministerial Conferences;
  • Further develop initiatives like ‘Business Women in International Trade’ to support historically marginalized groups that have not always been a part of the development of trade policies;
  • Increase engagement with youth on social media through technologies such as livestreams;
  • Continue collaboration with educational and business communities to ensure the benefits of trade are more adequately understood, and;
  • Allow delegates representing youth and other marginalised groups input on trade negotiations.

2. The WTO Public Forum has consistently gathered leaders and representatives from around the world. The panels, workshops, working sessions, and plenaries hold discussion on the future of trade and how it can be improved. While the Forum primarily serves as a method of educating the public and creating transparency, having such a diverse group of individuals representing various countries and perspectives creates a gold-mine of knowledge and debate. 

With this in mind, the WTO should utilize the discussion held during the 3 days of this Public Forum to build a Comprehensive Report that:

  • Addresses trade issues affecting the global market;
  • Discusses potential solutions that address these issues;
  • Consolidates and analyzes the panels and discussion that took place at the WTO during the Forum;
  • Provides recommendations and improvements for future Forums.