I would like to welcome all of you to the WTO’s 2013 Public Forum! We are glad to open our doors to those of you who have come to observe, learn, share, question or challenge — you are all very much welcome.
A special welcome too to our keynote speaker, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, to our moderator this morning, Julie Gichuru, and to our panelists Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, Luo Feng, Francis Gurry and Alexander Stubb.
The Public Forum is one of the most important events on the WTO’s calendar.
In assembling representatives from a wide spectrum of civil society, the Public Forum offers the world a window on the WTO, its activities and its challenges.
For the WTO, the Public Forum is a reality check, as it provides us a great opportunity to learn from you how we might do things differently.
In hosting these events, the WTO does more than just talk about transparencyand openness. As Director-General, I will do whatever I can to ensure that they continue to guide our work in the Organization.
This year, the Public Forum will focus on trade and innovation. In particular, we will concentrate our efforts in addressing key issues related to expanding trade through innovation and the digital economy.
Innovation and trade are clearly connected and are mutually supportive: innovation fosters trade and trade helps innovation.
This is clearly a two-way process: Innovation is an important driver for trade flows. New processes, products and services find their consumers — be them companies, governments or individuals — through trade. I doubt we would have the much-needed incentives for innovation if its fruits could not be traded or if target markets were domestic only.
Seen through the other perspective, it is only fair to say that for innovation to flourish we need openness to share and exchange. Resources needed for innovation, material or immaterial, are rarely found exclusively within the borders of one single country.
Trade and innovation are also both well-placed in government strategies for economic growth. Both trade and innovation have the potential to create new opportunities, by increasing productivity and competitiveness. The two of them have as well a role to play in promoting social inclusion and development.
Yes, the connection between trade and innovation is undeniable. But we want to encourage you to go beyond that and think what role the WTO should play in fostering those links in a positive manner, by ensuring that our development goals are met through trade and innovation.
Innovation related to trade itself is one aspect often overseen in relation between trade and innovation. In that area as in others, not all innovation has been flashy and high tech. In fact the development that has arguably influenced trade most profoundly over the past 50 years was… a box! The invention of the humble standardized container facilitated the rapid transfer of cargo from ship to truck. The cost of shipping was slashed and trade grew exponentially. Within 20 years, the percentage of the world’s countries operating container ports rose from 1% to 90%.
I am sure there are many aspects related to trade that would benefit from innovation. Just to mention one, innovation in trade finance is clearly needed, especially for small economies facing the consequences of this severe economic crisis.
Finally, I would like to highlight what I see as the most important feature of the relation between innovation and trade, particularly the multilateral trading system.
The fast pace of innovation is at odds with the outdated trade disciplines that still govern us. At the end of the Uruguay Round, there was basically no commercial use of the internet yet. Yes, you got it right: current WTO rules were conceived in a world with no internet connection.
The multilateral trading system is in urgent need for update if it is to be relevant; if it is to stimulate innovation and development. WTO members face the common challenge of responding in timely manner to the new way business is conducted across the globe.
The Ministerial Conference in Bali in December is the key opportunity for WTO members to show their commitment to the multilateral trading system. Certainly, a lot else will have to be done after Bali. In any case, by reaching an agreed outcome in Bali, members will send a powerful message to the world about our capacity to update and enhance trade rules, making them more adequate to the needs of today.
Being at the heart of the WTO’s attention, Bali negotiations had to be part of the Public Forum debate. There will be a full day dedicated to the topics that we are currently negotiating in these premises.
Ladies and gentlemen, I count on you to contribute to the debate on these issues — this is your Forum. Your input during the next couple of days will be of great value to this Organization and its stakeholders. I wish you all a very insightful and productive Public Forum. And I now invite Ambassador Froman to join me on the podium and deliver his keynote speech.