H.E. Ahmed bin Sulaiman Al-Maimani, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for Administrative, Financial and Regional Affairs, Dr Ali bin Saud Al-Bemani, Vice Chancellor for Sultan Qaboos University, Her Highness Dr Mona Fahad Al Said, Assistant Vice-Chancellor of the International Cooperation Office, Professor Anvar Kacimov, Dean College of Agricultural and Marine Sciences, Dr Houcine Boughanmi, incoming WTO Chair holder and academic coordinator of the WTO Regional Trade Policy Course, Sultan Qaboos University Faculty Members, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, I have the honour and great pleasure to officially launch the WTO Chairs Programme at Sultan Qaboos University and at the same time launch the first Regional Trade Policy Course (RTPC) for the Arab and Middle East region organized jointly between the Sultan Qaboos University and the WTO Secretariat.
The WTO Secretariat has several programmes aimed at contributing to the development and strengthening of capacities in academic institutions in the field of trade policy and WTO-related issues.
Today’s ceremony is testimony that our trade-related technical assistance (TRTA) programmes and capacity building efforts are an important component of the WTO’s work and contribute to the Aid for Trade work programme. The main objective of the WTO’s trade capacity building programme is to enhance the human and institutional capacities of beneficiaries to take full advantage of the rules-based multilateral trading system (MTS), to deal with the emerging challenges and to enforce their rights and obligations. The WTO has continuously strengthened its cooperation with universities and academic institutions engaged in WTO-related research and analysis either as partners or beneficiaries of the WTO’s TRTA.
The establishment of the WTO Chair at the Sultan Qaboos University and the fact that the university was selected to host an eight-week RTPC is recognition of the university’s commitment and leadership to educate generations of leaders in Oman and in the Arab region. This is testimony to the dedication of its leaders to academic excellence, and preparing the new generations for the challenges of tomorrow.
WTO Chairs Programme
In 2010, the WTO launched the WTO Chairs Programme (WCP), which aims at supporting academic institutions from developing countries in curriculum development, teaching, research and outreach activities. The programme is part of the technical assistance activities of the WTO. It is mainly targeted at academic institutions because they help the WTO raise awareness on trade issues and form the knowledge base for effective decision-making by policy makers.
Academics, through their work and applied research, can play a key role in disseminating trade-related information and therefore contribute to enhancing the quality and level of participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system and their ability to benefit from it. Academics have the intellectual freedom to analyse and disseminate the impact of trade agreements and strengthen analytical capacities for formulating sound trade and economic policies based on empirical evidence.
Academic institutions have helped raise awareness of trade issues in the national context and among trade officials and contribute to ensure a solid base of skills and knowledge for effective decision-making. The role of academic institutions remains essential in creating capacity at home through local academic training programmes.
In 2010, 15 Chairs were initially allocated on the basis of a competitive bidding process, with now 14 remaining. During this first phase, the programme has produced significant outputs in terms of curriculum development, research and outreach. Many of these outputs are publicly available for the academic community. As an illustration, a recently published book by the WTO Secretariat entitled “Overcoming Supply Side Constraints: Issues for Policy Makers” is the direct result of work undertaken by the Chairs and encapsulates the national experiences of the WTO Chairs in support of countries’ efforts to integrate into the multilateral trading system. It provides valuable insights into how to achieve this objective. This is the kind of work the Secretariat promotes through this programme, thus facilitating communication and exchanges between academics and policy makers.
An additional seven institutions were selected for the second phase of the Programme in 2014. I am very pleased to welcome the Sultan Qaboos University as one of the seven WTO Chairs awarded in 2014 through a highly competitive selection process involving 77 academic institutions. The WTO Secretariat was assisted in the selection by an external Advisory Body, comprised of 21 experienced scholars whose role is to ensure the academic quality of outputs generated by Chair holders and perform as advisors to the Chairs Programme.
The WCP provides financial and scientific support to beneficiary institutions for a period of four years. This second phase of the Chairs Programme is being funded by the Netherlands, and I would therefore also like to take this opportunity to express the WTO’s gratitude for this funding. It will allow us to pursue the goals and objectives of the programme and build on the excellent work already undertaken by the Chairs in the first four years of the programme.
We want to create a network of academic and research institutions to share knowledge and experience. Sultan Qaboos University now joins a network of 21 Chairs and will now be one of four universities located in the Arab and Middle East region. In addition to Oman, this includes, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. As you would agree, knowledge is not produced to be compartmentalized or segmented but, on the contrary, our role is to act as a catalyst to support the dissemination of all kind of pedagogical materials produced and related to trade policy analysis.
The WTO promotes research and pertinent curriculum development on WTO-related issues, and reinforces the relationship between the WTO and the academic community both at the national and regional level. The Chair in Sultan Qaboos University will certainly contribute to enhancing the participation of Oman in the multilateral trading system but I believe also that the Chair will play a critical role at the regional level. The RTPC for the Arab region will be an important complementary element in this regard and I am confident that you will continue to play a leading role in your region.
RTPC and capacity building
Turning to the Regional Trade Policy Course, the WTO membership places great value on the reinforcement of human resource capacity. Particularly in the current challenging global economic and trade context, I wish to emphasize the Secretariat’s commitment and determination to continue and strengthen the effectiveness of the WTO’s technical assistance programmes through optimal use of limited human and financial resource.
The WTO is a member-driven organization and countries need to be prepared to articulate and defend their interests and legitimate expectations for the interest of their people. Countries can do so only when their trade policy officials are knowledgeable about the multilateral trade agreements and well acquainted in trade policy matters. It is in that context that both the Chairs Programme and the RTPCs can make a useful contribution to building the capacity of trade policy officials, enabling them to effectively promote and defend the interests of their countries and this region at the WTO. This includes both inputs into the regular work of the WTO as well as the Doha Round of trade negotiations.
The RTPC is one of the WTO’s flagship technical assistance programmes and it serves multiple objectives. As with many other WTO training and technical assistance activities, they aim to build capacity by deepening government officials’ understanding of the WTO agreements and by strengthening their ability to undertake WTO work. However, RTPCs are unique in placing a specific focus on the regional trade policy context and its linkages with the WTO. This is done through the participation of regional academics and policy specialists who co-lecture with officials from the WTO. This is a unique venue where joint presentations between academics and WTO officials are proposed and discussed. The involvement of regional experts in the RTPC is carefully designed to allow the development of regional expertise in trade policy matters, with a view to increasing the institutional knowledge in the Arab and Middle East countries about the WTO and the multilateral trading system. In this respect, the partnership with the Sultan Qaboos University is key to assuring the regional component of the RTPCs.
I would add a special word for the participants of the RTPC coming from various countries of the region. You were selected on the basis of your prior successful completion of the pre-requisites. You will spend eight weeks together in the campus and I encourage you to take full advantage of this course and the great facilities provided.
Oman’s role in the global economy and multilateral trading system
Oman joined the WTO in November 2000. During the last decade, Oman’s economic performance has been consistently positive, with robust real GDP growth and an open and transparent foreign trade regime. The economic forecast for this year and 2015 are around 4.2 per cent. However, given Oman’s high dependency on oil, its economic outlook depends, to a great extent, on the evolution of the world oil market.
Oman is a strong supporter of the multilateral trading system and has played an important role in the “recently-acceded members” (RAMs) group and in the WTO Arab group. I have to stress here the important contribution of your experts posted in your mission in Geneva and their active role in all regular committees of the organization. More particularly, let me emphasize the commitment Oman has shown in providing trade-related technical assistance to acceding governments. Hilda al Hinai, Deputy Permanent Representative of Oman to the WTO, deserves particular recognition. As chair of the Working Party on the accession of the Seychelles, she has just successfully led the Working Party to conclude its work. This sets the stage for final action on this accession by WTO members at the December meeting of the WTO General Council. I want to take this opportunity to thank Hilda for the great support and commitment she has shown in this and in many other ways during her time in Geneva.
Oman was one of the first Gulf countries to come up with a long-term strategic plan, outlined in its Vision 2020 and the recent one of 2040. The macroeconomic picture shows that the country is experiencing positive results. Oman’s main economic goals are to support inclusive growth, diversify production and exports away from oil, and create more employment opportunities. As a result, Oman continues to invest significantly in infrastructure, including for instance the development of tourism facilities, railways and ports. As an illustration, let me mention the opening of Salalah port in the southern part of your country in 1998 as a major container transhipment hub. Recently, in 2013, throughput at Salalah was 3.3m twenty-foot equivalent units, making it the second-largest container port in the Middle East after Dubai. Another illustration of such infrastructure development is the first phase of the major new port at Duqm on the Arabian Sea opened in March 2013. This is a key instrument in the strategy to develop and enhance a vast industrial zone and explain why Oman has specific interest in the NAMA [non-agricultural market access] negotiations. This equally shows the strategic interest that your country has in the ongoing Doha trade negotiations and especially the implementation of the Bali Package which could create important trading opportunities for your country as well as the broader GCC region.
The Bali decisions and the implementation of the Bali Package
The last Ministerial Conference of the WTO held in December 2013 in Bali was an important moment for the international trading system as for the first time after decades of unsuccessful trade talks, members agreed to move collectively by concluding specific and tangible results in certain areas, such as a number of development-related issues, public stockholding for food security and the Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Ministerial’s result on trade facilitation is the first multilateral trade agreement completed since the creation of the WTO. The results achieved in Bali were not only important in their own right but were also important in building consensus to complete the Doha Round negotiations as a whole.
However, we have run into serious difficulties in implementing the Bali outcomes due to a major impasse related to two of the Bali decisions: the decision on public stockholding and the Trade Facilitation Agreement. Despite significant efforts, members were unable to meet the 31 July deadline set by ministers to agree on the protocol required for ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement. It is critical that members find a constructive way forward, especially as the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement has major implication for growth, economic development, jobs and poverty reduction, as recently mentioned by DG Azevêdo during the launch of our World Trade Report. This is a priority especially at a time when after a worldwide downturn, global growth remains fragile, and many least-developed countries will not reach the Millennium Development Goals. This is a matter of deep concern and we cannot be satisfied by this trend. We have to do more, and quickly. Indeed, the benefits of the Bali Package could provide a significant boost to the global economy. According to some estimates, it could generate up to $1 trillion per year to the global economy — and increase by 21 million the number of jobs across the developed and developing world. There also is evidence that such an agreement could contribute to diversify the exports of developing countries, offer new market opportunities and ultimately reduce the external vulnerability of some economies. In line with the strategy of Oman to diversify its export structure, once implemented the Bali Package could contribute in achieving your 2040 strategy.
The importance of moving forward on trade was well on display in recent trade data. We recently reduced our forecast for world trade growth in 2014 to 3.1 per cent (down from the 4.7 per cent forecast of several months ago) and cut the estimate for 2015 to 4.0 per cent from 5.3 per cent previously. Volatile growth and persistent geopolitical tensions remain a downside risk. What we need is to boost trade to boost growth for more jobs. This is our raison d’être and why we believe that finalizing the current round of negotiations is a key parameter in the global post-crisis strategy.
I would like here to quote the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon, in opening the 2014 WTO Public Forum on 1 October in Geneva, who said that “an ounce of trade can be worth a pound of aid and that concluding the Doha Round remains the best route to a fairer, development-oriented trading system”.
In conclusion, the WTO is deeply grateful to the Government of Oman, especially the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, for not only their invaluable support in hosting the regional course but also in ensuring excellent facilities especially for the RTPC’s participants. I want to express our sincere gratitude to the staff of the Sultan Qaboos University for the professionalism and dedication in the preparation and organization of this first RTPC. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the first outputs of the Chair as well.
I would like to thank Dr Anvar Kacimov, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, Dr Houcine Boughanmi, WTO incoming Chair Holder and Head of the Department of Natural Resource Economics and Academic Coordinator for the RTPC, Mrs Fatma Ali Mansour AL-Khuzairi, Head of the Coordination and Follow up Department in the Office of International Cooperation and Mr Mahmood Al-Kindi, Head of the International Relations Department. In addition, I would like to extend a special thanks to Her Highness Dr Mona Fahad Al Said. She has actively contributed since the initial signing of the letter of intent in 2009 to enhance the WTO’s partnership with Sultan Qaboos University. Let me thank also Mr Salahaddin Al-Saadi, Deputy Director of the International Cooperation Office.
When I arrived at your wonderful campus, I read an information note about your university. I noticed a paragraph stating that “during the design period of the Campus, the University landscaping was carefully considered and the original plantings have since become verdant gardens and flower beds”. I can definitely conclude that it is perfectly true and there is in this campus a conducive and productive environment; And I have no doubt that the Chair located in this campus will continue to flourish and to produce important contributions for not only your country but also for the region. I also trust that the Chair will work closely with the other Chairs and especially those from the region in order to foster synergies.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1758 that “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”. I am sure that both investment in the Chairs Programme and in the RTPC will pay the best interest not only for the students, officials and academics but also for the people that we serve both at the national, regional and global level.
On behalf of the Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, I have the great pleasure to award a WTO Chair to the Sultan Qaboos University and to open officially this RTPC for the Arab and Middle East region.
Congratulations and good luck!