Statement by Roberto Azevêdo, Direcor-General
We meet today at a crucial moment. I'm honoured to be speaking to you as your Director-General. As far as critical moments go, we have to figure out new ways of saying it. We've been saying we are at a critical moment, at a difficult juncture, on the brink — we have all those expressions that we have been using for a long time — every meeting that I go to, I try to figure out a different way of saying it, but at the end of the day, this is true. The world economy is in a very difficult moment, it is in flux. Many economies, particularly developed economies are still struggling to recover from the effects of the financial crisis. Other issues continue to emerge, and they keep changing the way that we do things, fundamentally shifting the landscape of the world economy. Meanwhile, the challenges of development are still huge. In these changing times, I believe that the role we play here in the WTO is even more important. The multilateral trading system remains the best defence against protectionism and the strongest force for growth, recovery and development.
Yet, as I take on this role, it is clear that the system is in trouble. Progress has stalled. I pledge that I will do all I can to rebuild trust and faith in this organisation and in the multilateral trading system. I will spare no efforts to restore our ability to deliver on that vital mission of supporting growth and development around the world. But this is not something I can do alone. We have options for the path ahead: I can suggest the direction, but we must choose our path together. The strength of the Organization is found in you. It is you that hold the wheel of the ship.
I have also met with the Secretariat to deliver a similar message. A message that recognises the prominence of the human factor and the power of teamwork. I assured them that I would work closely with them, including on various pressing issues of management. My work with them will not lose sight of the main objective which is to ensure that the WTO remains a centre of excellence, at the forefront of organisations servicing the international community. I will be an inclusive Director-General, working closely with everyone — from the Geneva representatives to ministers; from the secretariat to wider stakeholders, from the smallest to the largest delegations. I will also have transparency as a fundamental yardstick in all areas of work, also in administrative matters.
We must work together to fix and strengthen the system, and to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of the entire membership and of an evolving global economy. And if we are going to be successful, we must be honest about the problems we face. Our negotiating arm is struggling. We all know that this is just one part of the work that we do here. We all know that. But the WTO, as we know, has been defined by what we have been doing in the negotiating front. This is how the world sees us. There is no escaping that. It doesn't matter how much we say that we do more than negotiate, that we have a number of other things going on here, which are extremely important to the world even though the world doesn't know it. People only see us as good as our progress on Doha. That is the reality. And the perception in the world is that we have forgotten how to negotiate. The perception is ineffectiveness. The perception is paralysis. Our failure to address this paralysis casts a shadow which goes well beyond the negotiating arm, and it covers every other part of our work. It is essential that we breathe new life into negotiations. We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the world that the WTO can deliver multilateral trade deals.
That’s why success at the Bali Ministerial Conference is vital — this has to be our first priority. Success in Bali would bring huge benefits, improving people’s lives, including for the poorest amongst us, and boosting trade at a critical moment for the global economy. I won’t rehearse the benefits here. But I will say this: while the benefits of success would be great, the consequences of failure would be even greater. It would strengthen current negative perceptions, setting us back in all areas of our work. Our ability to respond to the demands of an ever-changing world is under threat. The future of the multilateral trading system is at stake. And if the system is not working, then, in the end, everybody loses. Those who lose most are the smallest and most vulnerable economies. We have a duty to deliver for them.
The world will not wait for the WTO indefinitely. It will move on. And it will move on with choices that will not be as inclusive or efficient as the deals negotiated within these walls. This is the message I took to the G20 Leaders in St. Petersburg last week. Those Leaders gave their strong backing to our efforts to reach a deal in Bali. I will be reaching out to other groupings in the period ahead and I will be asking for their support as well.
Of course the WTO has other priorities too. We must continue to strengthen the implementation and monitoring functions of the WTO to maintain vigilance against protectionism. This is one of the most important aspects of our work. The dispute settlement mechanism is under heavy demand. This is yet another sign of the importance of the WTO system in uncertain times. It is a key part of the system, so we must make sure that it works well and that it works for everyone, including for the poorest. Aid for Trade and the Enhanced Integrated Framework must also be strengthened and improved. Let me assure you this: I understand the importance of all of the organisation’s key functions and I will not lose sight of any of them. But today we must focus on the here and now. We must look towards delivering on our first priority: Bali.
Success in Bali will be a boost to everything we do, allowing us to make progress across the board. A successful 9th Ministerial Conference will give us back the confidence that we are on the right track. But Bali is not the end of the road. Delivering on Doha has to be a part of any future agenda. We need to discuss some of the contentious issues that have divided us for so long. We must look with fresh eyes at possible options. I have ideas about how we can do this — but before we discuss the wider agenda we must restore trust among us and confidence that we can deliver agreements and build a viable path forward on Doha. We need to start this now.
So how are we going to go about this?
First, I am going to be transparent, open and inclusive. This will be a key part of how we move forward. As we work towards Bali, I will be doing everything I can to ensure that all Members are involved and that all voices are heard. I recognise that Members are not equally affected by the different issues on the table. I will, of course, calibrate our efforts and consultations accordingly. But, whatever path we follow, I will want to hear from you. My door will always be open to you — and so will the doors of my entire team.
As you know, I have already announced the appointment of my Deputy Directors-General. They are trade professionals. They are familiar to all of you. They will serve the membership and will help advance our shared aims. I am grateful that they have agreed to join us. As I told you in my presentation to this General Council last January, I will be a hands-on DG. I will roll up my sleeves and I will be by your side at the table. Between now and Bali, I will be away from Geneva only when strictly necessary. My full priority will be to ensure that we achieve a successfully negotiated outcome in our 9th Ministerial.
Second, I want to set out a clear process to deliver success in Bali. Time is short. Our work must start here and now. That’s why I will be commencing intensive consultations with members immediately, starting this week. So be ready. This will be in a variety of formats and configurations at Ambassador level. We will focus on the three key areas of trade facilitation, development and some elements of agriculture. My intention is to have a rolling set of meetings, giving the opportunity for everyone's voice to be heard across all these issues. There will also be regular TNC meetings, which I will convene as necessary.
We need to bring the three Bali elements together now. They must move simultaneously in our so-called horizontal process. We need to tackle the difficult issues to identify, early in the process, where the possible trade-offs may lie. And we must constantly be reviewing progress. Many of the big issues that divide us are political. As time is limited I also want to start getting capitals more involved in order to overcome impasses, to narrow gaps and to move us closer towards an agreement. Senior officials must be ready to come to Geneva at certain junctures over the next few weeks. Since I took office I have already had the opportunity to speak to a number of Leaders and Ministers both in St Petersburg and on the phone. I will continue to reach out to others as well. The development component will be vital in this process, and I will be listening closely to the developing and to the least developed countries to make sure their interests are taken into account. Indeed the process I will be running will be closely coordinated to the work in the negotiating groups. I have already been consulting with relevant Chairs on how this can be done.
I say again: time is short. There are just 84 days until the Ministerial Conference. All aspects of this work must start to deliver results quickly. Flexibility will be key. I know that as trade negotiators we are always tempted to the last drop of blood. That’s what we do. But that cannot be the case here — we must all be ready to live with some compromises. We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. We should always remember the consequences of failure and that it would set us back in all areas of our work, undermining the WTO, and compounding the sense that we can’t negotiate. Some capitals are already looking elsewhere towards other solutions which won’t be multilateral — second best solutions, which leave many of the big challenges unaddressed. That’s not in the interests of all of us here and it’s not in the interests of the world.
We must be committed to deliver a deal before we get on the plane to Bali. It is vital that we succeed. All of us need the WTO. Ordinary people need it too even though they don't know it. Ultimately we should judge our performance on the difference we make to people’s lives. I believe that the multilateral trading system can be the preeminent force supporting growth and development in the world — lifting people out of poverty, improving living standards and helping to put the global economy back on track. We have a unique opportunity to restore the WTO to its proper place at the heart of this system, and to realise the mission of this organisation.
The intermission is over: it’s time the WTO was back at the centre of the world stage. The stakes couldn’t be higher. We have to deliver. And, if we work together, I know that we will.
Thank you — I look forward to working with you all.