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The Chair of the Conference, Chile's Finance Minister Andrés Velasco, underlined the stabilizing effect of the WTO rules and commitments during the current economic crisis and said that they have prevented a protectionist spiral similar to that of the Great Depression. He said that the role of the WTO has clearly been reaffirmed in this crisis, despite doubts about the functioning of international institutions.

Also addressing the Conference were the Chair of the General Council, Chile's Amb. Mario Matus; UNCTAD Secretary-General Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon; WIPO Director-General Dr. Francis Gurry; and International Trade Centre Executive Director Patricia Francis.

The Chair thanked the assistance of the three Vice-Chairs of the Ministerial Conference: Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, Minister of Economic Affairs of Switzerland; Indonesia's Trade Minister Dr Mari Elka Pangestu; and Egypt's Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid.

Noting that Federal Councillor Leuthard was due to be elected as President of the Swiss Confederation the following day, the Conference elected Norway's Foreign Affairs Minister Jonas Gahr Støre to serve the rest of her term. Also noting that Minister Rachid was obliged to return to his capital for official business matters, the Conference elected Zambia's Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister Felix Mutati to take up his functions.

On agenda item 1, “Overview of WTO Activities”, the Chair, in keeping with WTO tradition, invited representatives from hosts of previous Ministerial Conferences to address the Conference (Singapore, Switzerland, United States, Qatar, Mexico and Hong Kong, China).

The other speakers in the plenary session were ministers from the following members: the European Communities, Sweden, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Tanzania, Malaysia, Cuba, Egypt, China, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Panama.


Director General's opening statement

Chairman Velasco,
Dr Supachai, Mr Gurry, Mrs Francis
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The year 2009 will go down in history as a moment of great global insecurity. Millions of citizens lost their jobs. Many more lost their savings. Many of the development gains of the last decades vanished.

But at the same time we saw nations coming together as never before. The world united to find a response to the global economic crisis.

The multilateral trading system has also been tested as never before. It has stood firm and showed its value.

Though trade has contracted, the WTO's rules and commitments have ensured that there was no general rush to protectionist measures. As long as members continue to follow responsible policies at home, the WTO system should continue to provide a global insurance policy against protectionism.

The WTO system can also be an important plank in the platform for recovery. Getting trade moving again and keeping trading opportunities open is vital to the progress of all our members, especially the poorest. This is why we have worked hard with other stakeholders on trade finance to counter shortfalls in liquidity which imperil the trade of developing countries.

The value of the WTO dispute settlement system has also been highlighted by the crisis. The ability to resolve trade disputes peacefully, without resorting to uncontrolled retaliation, is a huge asset that our forebears lacked in previous economic crises.

The WTO is you, the 153 members. You have subscribed to the principles of advancing and defending open trade within a non-discriminatory and transparent framework. At Doha, you also agreed to put development at the heart of the multilateral trading system.

You are united in the belief that trade can contribute to sustainable development in the widest sense. That it can generate growth. That it can help provide decent jobs. That trade can be a powerful tool for developing countries to fight poverty.

But trade in itself is not a magic potion. For trade to work, it has to be rooted in a bedrock of domestic policies that enable its potential gains to be realized. The commitments we negotiate here need to complement and support these domestic policies. Now, more than ever, it is time to reinforce the message that open trade is not a zero-sum game.

And the WTO is more than a forum for agreeing on market opening and rules. It is also about ensuring that our existing rules and agreements work properly. It is about settling our disputes peacefully. It is about furthering coherence with other policy priorities, starting with climate change. It is about making the case for more open trade. It is about capacity building.

These are all part of the insurance policy to which you have collectively subscribed in the WTO. And while the crisis has proved the value of this policy, it has also shown that it needs to be adjusted to changing risks. You will be sharing views on this issue over the next days and providing guidance for our work.

The single largest adjustment we need to make is to conclude the Doha Round successfully and soon. This is not just about its economic benefits, it is also about our collective ability and determination to preserve and strengthen the global public good, which is the multilateral trading system.

There is more than eight years' work on the negotiating table. This is already a major storehouse of assets. It contains trade-offs that you have all fought hard for, compromises you have crafted, interests you have protected. Of course, the final balance needs to be found, and there is still hard negotiating ahead. Time is running out, and it is not credible at this stage to see issues in isolation from the work and the achievements of the past eight years.

The moment of truth is fast approaching when you will have to decide whether the 2010 target can be met. Political leaders are practically unanimous that they want to meet it, but reaffirmation is not enough. Now we need action, concrete and practical action, to close the remaining gaps.

The Round occupies centre stage in our minds, as it should; but other necessary updates to our collective WTO insurance policy must not be overlooked. We need to improve the ways in which we maintain our existing agreements. We also need to do more to help improve the trade capacity of developing and least-developed countries.

Updating our collective WTO insurance policy includes extending its coverage. This means giving more attention to enlarging the WTO family through accessions, attention both from members and from those working to become members. There may be no short cuts, but we should all work to see accessions move steadily and positively.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

A Chinese proverb says “Zhong Zhi Cheng Cheng”: Unity is Strength. My sincere hope is that we follow these words of wisdom. That we come out of the next few days stronger, more united and with a clear determination to conclude the Round in 2010.

Good luck and thank you for your attention.

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Disclaimer: Interpretation serves to facilitate communication and does not constitute an authentic record or translation of the proceedings. The floor (original) language is the only authentic version. No liability shall be incurred by the interpreters in the exercise of their function.

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