It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 24th Session of Geneva Week.
This week’s programme has been carefully prepared to allow for discussion on many of the key issues under the WTO’s portfolio as well as to respond to requests made by you, the non-resident members and observers.
Let me begin with a brief assessment of the global economic context in which the WTO is currently operating. I will be frank. The outlook for the global economy has not improved since I last addressed you. Our projections indicate that trade growth will further decelerate this year to 3.7 per cent, down from 5 per cent in 2011.
Moreover, the WTO’s most recent monitoring report from mid-June shows that governments are implementing new measures which restrict or potentially restrict trade. This situation is further aggravated by the relatively slow pace with which governments are rolling back existing, trade-restrictive measures.
The accumulation of these trade restrictions is now a matter of serious concern. Trade coverage of the restrictive measures put in place since October 2008, excluding those that were terminated, is estimated to now represent almost 3 per cent of world merchandise trade. This situation is adding to the downside risks to the global economy.
In light of these risks, we must urgently redouble our efforts to avoid unilateralism, strengthen multilateral cooperation and find global solutions to the current global economic difficulties. This is the same message that I delivered just a few weeks ago to the G-20 Summit of Heads of State in Los Cabos, Mexico.
At that G20 Summit, leaders extended the pledge to avoid protectionist measures until 2014. Keeping markets open and trade flowing is an important pillar in working ourselves out of the economic malaise that exists today. For small developing countries that can ill-afford to implement protectionist measures, it is even more crucial that markets are open for your goods and services.
It is also necessary for us to remain vigilant and to be creative in improving multilateral transparency and surveillance and the instruments at our disposal for conducting peer reviews. I have urged all members to engage in the consultations that the Chair of the Trade Policy Review Body will be undertaking to improve the WTO peer reviews of the regular monitoring reports produced by the Secretariat.
Another message which I conveyed at the G-20 Summit is the importance of ensuring availability and affordability of trade finance. The Expert Group on Trade Finance as well as the Aid for Trade and Trade Finance workshop which took place on 15 May stressed the importance of keeping multilateral development institutions engaged in trade finance, bearing in mind the development dimension of their programmes. As I have stated before, trade finance is one of the least risky forms of finance but one of the most critical for producers and traders in developing countries.
I also attended Rio+20 where I continued to stress that open trade is part of the solution to our collective sustainability challenges, not part of the problem. While trade opening can support the green economy, the WTO also serves to keep green protectionism in check. The WTO rulebook is designed to allow WTO members to pursue legitimate environmental and sustainable development goals, without causing arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination, or creating disguised restrictions on trade.
I would like to touch briefly on where we stand in regard to the follow-up work on the various decisions which Ministers took at the WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2011.
Since December, Montenegro and Samoa have become the 154th and the 155th members of the WTO. We are still awaiting the final word on Vanuatu’s ratification proceedings and expect that the Duma in Moscow will ratify the WTO agreements later this month.
Also at MC-8, Ministers adopted a number of decisions, with three of them of particular relevance to the least-developed countries - the LDCs. On the mandate to clarify and strengthen the guidelines for LDC accession, I am very pleased to report that just last week members validated their decision on this issue taken at the Sub-Committee on LDCs. Now, all that remains is for the General Council to formally adopt it at its upcoming meeting on 25 July. I do believe the adoption of this decision will bring greater confidence and build more trust in the ability of WTO members to address the specific needs of LDCs. It is the spirit of flexibility shown by members which allowed us to arrive at a text that sets benchmarks on goods and services market access and operationalizes the notion of “restraint” when seeking commitment from acceding LDCs.
Work is also proceeding to reinvigorate the work programme on small economies and to strengthen the development focus of electronic commerce.
Let me now turn to the Doha Development Agenda. To find new momentum, members have agreed to explore new negotiating approaches that might open the way to results, starting with those areas of negotiations that might be ready for early conclusion. All the Chairs of the various negotiating groups have been consulting with members in their respective areas, but there are some areas where work is more intense than in others.
One of these areas is trade facilitation, where negotiations are continuing constructively at the technical level in line with the work programme agreed in the Negotiating Group in January. A multilateral agreement on trade facilitation can bring tremendous dividends to the multilateral system and to members at the local and regional level. The examples of better trade facilitation leading to greater economic efficiency, ease of import and export, better revenue collection and greater investment confidence are abundant.
You would have seen the recent statement released by the presidents of the World Bank and the regional development banks. They noted that inefficiencies in processing and clearing goods in developing countries put them at a competitive disadvantage, leading to high transaction costs, long delays, and an additional 10 to 15 per cent on the cost of getting goods to markets. And this is even greater for landlocked countries. According to a report by the World Bank, an improvement in customs procedures in countries with below average trade facilitation, just in the area of port efficiency, could increase global trade by USD 117 billion. These studies and more show the impact that effective trade facilitation can have on local, regional and global trade.
The Trade Facilitation Symposium which will be taking place this week will be an excellent opportunity to further discuss your needs and expectations on a future WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. I also urge you to participate in the Aid for Trade discussions in the Committee on Trade and Development, given the important synergies between Aid for Trade and trade facilitation.
On special and differential treatment, the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development has intensified his work, focusing on the three areas mandated by Ministers at MC8: i) the monitoring mechanism; (ii) the 28 Cancun Agreement-specific proposals; and (iii) the six Agreement-specific proposals. It is also important that you engage fully in this area.
I also hope that members will turn their attention to a number of other important development-related areas in line with the outcome at MC8, such as duty-free quota-free, cotton and the implementation of the LDC services waiver.
On the review of the Dispute Settlement Understanding, work has continued to progress. As part of the on-going work, a group of developing countries has recently presented a conceptual paper on dispute settlement issues of interest to them. This is a welcome development.
One other area where our efforts continue to be successful is in Aid for Trade. The overarching theme of the 2012-2013 Aid for Trade work programme is “deepening coherence” and preparations are under way for the fourth Global Review of Aid for Trade in 2013. Our vision for the future of Aid for Trade is to progressively move towards an “aid and investment for trade” concept with a strong private sector development component. This will be the central theme for next year’s Global Review. Preparations for this event include the organization of dedicated events on private sector development and global value chains, foreseen for the second half of 2012.
Before I conclude, let me say a few words about the future of the Geneva Week activity itself. Following the evaluation and technical cooperation audit of the Geneva Week in 2011, an inter-divisional task force led by the Development Division was set up to implement some of the actions recommended. The task force sought input from all WTO divisions to implement changes which Geneva Week participants recommended as part of their evaluations.
Some of these changes have already been introduced. They include organizing Geneva Week events around major topics and themes of systemic importance to the WTO and its members, such as tomorrow’s Trade Facilitation Symposium. Other changes include allocating more time for you to hold individual consultations with WTO Secretariat staff, other members or with experts from Geneva-based intergovernmental organizations.
Additionally, the value of Geneva Week will be assessed through the use of results-based management (RBM) principles. RBM is now being applied across the entire gamut of the WTO’s technical assistance activities, and Geneva Week is no exception. Meanwhile, the objectives and aims of Geneva Week have been updated. Achieving the objectives will now be measured through newly developed indicators. Further changes include encouraging you and future participants to be more active users of e-training to prepare for your respective visits to Geneva. There will also be a more careful and systematic monitoring of attendance of registered participants at the various committee meetings and briefings conducted over the five days of Geneva Week.
I hope this week will be productive and informative for all of you and that you take full advantage of your presence here in Geneva. Geneva Week continues to be an important part of the assistance that the Secretariat provides to you, the non-residents, and its members.
Thank you for your attention and I look forward to your questions and comments.