> DG report on trade-related developments



Statement by DDG Agah

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Good morning, colleagues. Let me at the very outset express, on behalf of the Director-General, his regret of not being able to be here this morning. As you know, the DG attaches great significance to this monitoring exercise — as a transparency tool and as a platform for candid discussion of trade and trade-related developments among delegations. He has asked me to represent him today and to report back in detail on our exchange of views today.

The trade monitoring report for this meeting was circulated to Members on 27 June.  As always, the DG  presents this report under  his own responsibility with the aim of providing Members with an assessment of the main trends in terms of trade measures implemented from mid-November 2013 to mid-May 2014. It is  the DG's hope that this report, like previous ones, contributes to enhancing the overall transparency of the multilateral trading system.

I would like to begin by briefly providing some background to the report before you today.

At our Ministerial Conference in December 2011 Ministers recognized the regular work undertaken by the TPRB on the monitoring of trade and trade-related measures; they took note of the work initially done in the context of the global financial and economic crisis, and directed it to be continued and strengthened.  Ministers asked the TPRB to consider the monitoring reports in addition to the Annual Overview of Developments in the International Trading Environment. In addition, Ministers committed to cooperate with the Secretariat, duly complying with the existing transparency obligations and reporting requirements needed for the preparation of these monitoring reports.

I would like to thank the delegations who participate in the WTO’s trade monitoring exercise by providing relevant information on time and by ensuring the subsequent verification of reported measures.  These inputs not only help expand the coverage of this report, they are crucial in ensuring the accuracy of the information contained in the report.

As has been the case in the past, information on the measures included in this report has been collected from inputs submitted by Members and Observers, as well as from other official and public sources.  I am pleased to note that the rate of reply to  the DG's initial request for information for this report is up slightly from last year's edition and now stands at 37% of the membership. The WTO Secretariat has drawn on these replies, as well as on a variety of other public and official sources, to collect information to be included in the report.  All recorded country-specific information on trade measures was sent for verification to the delegations concerned. Requests for verification of information were sent to 50 delegations (counting the EU as one) and 56% of them provided replies in time for the finalization of the report. This represents a welcome ten per cent increase compared to the last report. As with previous reports, where it has not been possible to confirm the information, this is noted in the annexes.

This report, like the reports circulated in 2013, contains three annexes which provide information obtained on trade in goods from mid-November 2013 to mid-May 2014. Annex 1 lists the measures that clearly facilitate trade, annex 2 lists trade-remedy measures and annex 3 other trade and trade-related measures. During the period under review a total of 320 measures were recorded in these three categories.

Finally, and to wrap up the background to the report, it is worth noting that the country-specific measures listed in the annexes to the report are new measures implemented by governments during the period under review. For those of you interested in checking the compilation of all measures implemented before mid-May 2014 the Secretariat has put in place its Trade Monitoring Database which can be easily accessed from the Members' website or from the WTO public website.

Allow me now to briefly turn to some of the key substantive observations of the document before you.

This report comes at a time where world trade and output have continued to grow inconsistently, with expansions in the fourth quarter of 2013 followed by setbacks in the first quarter of 2014. If the most recent GDP growth forecasts hold, it is expected that the volume of world merchandise trade will grow by 4.7% in 2014 and by 5.3% in 2015. On the positive side, this is significantly larger than in 2013. Yet, the projection for 2014 remains below the 5.3% average of the last 20 years and the 6% average of the 20 years leading up to the financial crisis. It will not come as a surprise to any of you that most of the risks associated with this trade outlook are on the downside.

Of the 320 trade and trade-related measures included in this report, 159 trade-remedy actions were recorded. This figure comprises 83 initiations of new investigations and 76 terminations of either investigations or existing duties. In line with previous reports, the majority of these trade-remedy actions were anti-dumping measures (119). In the category trade-facilitating measures, 86 measures were recorded during the period under review. Most of these trade-facilitating measures consist of a decrease or elimination of import tariffs, others relate to the streamlining of customs procedures. Regarding the final category of other trade measures, 74 cases were compiled, more than one-third of which consist of tariff increases. Twenty-seven per cent of the measures listed under this final category were applied to exports. Although Members have introduced new restrictions, the pace at which new trade restrictions have been introduced has not accelerated during the period under review.

In the area of services, a wide range of measures affecting trade in services has been introduced by several WTO Members in the period under consideration, but no clear sectoral or policy trend can be identified. Rather, policy developments in services seem to have responded to specific domestic contexts and objectives. There have also been some developments regarding the supply of services through the movement of natural persons.

From a substantive as well as process point of view, this report underscores the need for greater transparency regarding trade-policy measures. Importantly, and the Chair alluded to this in his opening remarks, the response rate for this report accounts for only 37% of the total membership of the WTO. Although this is broadly in line with previous reports, I think it will be important to increase the participation in and therefore the transparency of this exercise.

This report also shows that, while we appear to be picking-up the majority of the border measures, our ability to reflect "behind-the–border" measures, such as subsidies and other economic support measures remains weak. The information that has been made available by delegations on subsidies and economic support is very limited. As the DG has stated on previous occasions, the regular monitoring of this type of measure is a considerable challenge due to difficulties in obtaining relevant information. In the interests of transparency and predictability I would like to encourage delegations to be as forthcoming and cooperative as possible in sharing information on such measures.

Finally, this report also provides a quantitative snapshot of Members' compliance record with their WTO notification obligations in a number of WTO areas during the period under review. In line with recent reports, the document before you shows that the record of members' compliance with their notification obligations is patchy and far from satisfactory in areas such as agriculture, quantitative restrictions, subsidies, state trading enterprises and trade in services. This is an issue of systemic importance to which the DG attaches great importance – precisely because it is about transparency and predictability – and I would like to reiterate  the DG's call to Members to improve on this situation.

These, Mr Chairman, are some of the key observations outlined in  the report before the TPRB today. I would again like to thank those delegations which continue to actively participate in this endeavour and at the same time urge others to assist us in continuing to make this a factual and credible exercise in transparency. I am convinced, and the DG's  recent meetings with business groups have confirmed this, that Members must accept their collective responsibility for promoting the transparency and predictability which importers and exporters demand.  

Although this monitoring exercise was originally created to keep up surveillance of trade and trade-related measures in the context of the financial crisis which began in 2008, the regular monitoring of trade measures will continue to promote and improve transparency in the multilateral trading system – even as the world slowly emerges from the shadows of the crisis.  This mechanism has helped us all to gain a better understanding of the emerging trends and to obtain up-to-date information on trade measures taken by Members and Observers. And equally important, this exercise continues to drive home the point that we have to remain vigilant in the face of the continuing accumulation of trade restrictive measures.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I am convinced that the multilateral trading system remains the best defence against protectionism and an important driver of economic growth, sustainable recovery and development. The successful outcome of the WTO's 9th Ministerial Conference has provided an important opportunity to strengthen and reinvigorate the multilateral trading system. Implementation of the decisions reached in Bali, and developing a work programme by the end of this year on the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda are the next steps in strengthening the multilateral trading system. This will deliver a boost to trade around the world and help to alleviate the concerns regarding obstacles to global trade flows. It will also help to deliver global growth, though protectionist pressures are bound to remain in a context of slow uneven recovery and persistent high levels of unemployment.

I look forward to hearing your views and assessments regarding the main recent trade policy trends outlined in this report.  Thank you.

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