WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

DEPUTY DIRECTORS-GENERAL


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Dear Vice Chancellor of the North-West University of Potchefstroom
Dear Deputy Vice Chancellor,
Dear Rector,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today I have the honour and great pleasure to officially launch the WTO Chairs Programme at the North-West University of Potchefstroom. Not only is the WTO Chairs Programme one of the WTO's flagship products in terms of trade capacity building, it is a fabulous way to reach out to the academic community and make links to the policy world.

The WTO Chairs Programme is part of the technical assistance and training programme that the WTO delivers with a view to enhancing the quality and level of participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system and their ability to benefit from it. This will help disseminating and strengthening analytical capacities for formulating sound trade and economic policies based on empirical evidence. Academic institutions have helped the WTO raise awareness on trade issues and contributed to strengthening the knowledge base for effective decision-making.

The Chair at the NWU is one of only seven WTO chairs awarded in 2014, through a tough and highly competitive selection process, involving some 80 academic institutions. The WTO Secretariat was assisted in the selection by an external Advisory Body, comprising 20 academics, who act as advisors to the Chairs Programme. The NWU thus joins an already existing network of WTO chairs, established in Phase I which was first launched in 2010. It now includes a total of 21 chairs around the globe, including eight chairs on the African continent, with Namibia and Mauritius being the two that are nearest to you. The other African chairs are located in Kenya, Benin, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia.

The WTO Chairs Programme also provides some financial support to beneficiary institutions for a period of four years. It facilitates continuous interaction between these institutions and other think-tanks and academic institutions across the world. Phase II of the Chairs Programme is funded for the next four years (2014-2017) by the Netherlands. The WTO is very grateful for this generosity, which 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 year period of the programme, i.e. in Phase I. The second phase also looks very promising with an outstanding selection of seven chairs that won the competition.

I see the establishment of the WTO Chair at the North-West University in Potchefstroom as recognizing the commitment of the academic community in South Africa, which has played a vital role in educating, training and analysing matters related to trade policy and international trade, not only at the national level, but also at the regional and international level.  I note with pleasure that your university is one of the largest universities in South Africa, with close to 65,000 students and with a strong focus on research, training and education, including full-time and distance learning programmes. It has numerous research centres and institutes and a very large number of researchers. Hence, we very much look forward to a close cooperation with the University.

The role of academic institutions is essential in creating capacity at home through local academic and training programmes. The WTO Chairs Programme (WCP) has three main pillars, i.e. curriculum development, research and outreach. The aim of the programme is to support academic institutions by associating individual scholars from developing countries in course preparation, teaching, undertaking research and outreach activities. Joint capacity building efforts undertaken simultaneously by the WTO and the academic institutions enhance both the capacity of the WTO and the academic institutions to train government officials and build institutional and human capacity for such training. It also contributes to the development of WTO-related curricula in academic institutions of higher learning, and promotes WTO-relevant research intended to strengthen national and regional negotiating capacity.

The Chairs Programme contributes to building a world-wide network of academic and research institutions, sharing knowledge, experience, good practices and pedagogical material between the chairs.  The process of interaction by the Chair will involve students, civil society and other stakeholders to develop a deeper understanding of trade policy issues, disseminate research and information, promote discussion on international trade and trade cooperation, and provide analytical input into the formulation and implementation of trade policy. This is what we have already begun today with the lectures given this morning. The WTO Secretariat stands ready to provide its expertise and advice in the course of the next four years.

It is through transferring the ownership of knowledge-based analysis that the population at large can access academic education, and that specialized training for trade officials in particular can be effectively provided. The WTO wants to promote research on WTO-related issues among young economists, and to reinforce the relationship between the WTO and the academic community both at the national and regional level. Through your analytical input into the formulation and implementation of trade policy, your chair will contribute to enhancing the participation of South Africa into the international trading environment. I would like to emphasise again the significant role that South Africa already plays in the evolving global governance regime and the support that the NWU can provide in this regard through academic work and research.

A major effort at the WTO to enhance opportunities for all is the Doha Round of trade negotiations which aims to substantially improve the multilateral trading system in which South Africa plays a lead role. Work on the negotiations progressed significantly recently with major outcomes at the ninth Ministerial Conference held in Bali, including specific and tangible results in certain areas of agriculture and development as well as for trade facilitation. Indeed, the Conference result on trade facilitation will be the first multilateral trade agreement since the creation of the WTO if Members are able to agree to initiate the process of its ratification.  The results achieved in Bali were not only important in their own right but were also important in building momentum to complete the Doha Round negotiations as a whole.

Regrettably, the Protocol required for ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement was not agreed by WTO members in July as foreseen and members are assessing the situation, including its broader implications for WTO negotiations.  It is critical that members find a way forward. At the last African Union forum, DG Azevêdo stressed that the Trade Facilitation Agreement would contribute to removing barriers which prevent countries' integration into global value chains. Here again, the NWU can play a lead role in conducting research and analysis in support of the right policies to be pursued.

Allow me to make a few observations with respect to South Africa as a key player in international trade. South Africa is the second largest economy on the African continent today, with GDP of USD 350 billion and a gradual growth of the middle income class. South Africa has a relatively diversified economy, with an emerging services sector that provides huge potential for economic growth and development. The manufacturing sector provides a locus for stimulating the growth of other activities, such as services, and achieving employment creation and economic empowerment.

Developing countries have historically used opportunities through international trade to promote deeper domestic diversification and greater value added in their agricultural and industrial production. South Africa too seeks to achieve these objectives together with more employment, income and investment in the services sector, building on its rich potential resulting from technological progress and innovation. To achieve these objectives, South Africa has recognized the importance of improved domestic capacities, physical infrastructure, initiatives for closer economic links with various markets, improving international trade opportunities, and addressing concerns relating to the international trading system.

I am pleased to say that South Africa has taken strides to integrate into several global value chains (GVCs). It is an important hub in the global mining value chain, a regional assembly hub in the global automotive value chain and a key player in the regional finance and retail value chains. According to the joint OECD-WTO trade in value added database, South Africa ranks second amongst the BRICS countries in terms of the content of foreign value added to exports.

The combined efforts in connecting to global markets should lead to raising economic growth, improving production capacities in agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors, diversifying domestic production and skill patterns, and deepening the coverage of higher-value added activities.

South Africa not only is a WTO member, it is party to various regional groupings such as SACU, SADC and the AU. Notably, it dominates the regional economic activity, accounting for 41 per cent of all SADC trade and about 63 per cent of its combined GDP. SACU - being the oldest world customs union — offers lessons for other African regional groupings. Regional efforts can ease the flow of goods and services beyond national borders.

One of the key functions of the WTO is to undertake periodic reviews of members' trade policy regimes. In light of this, the SACU trade policy review is scheduled for 2015. It will take stock of new developments in SACU member trade policies and practices since the last review in 2009.  This will again provide an excellent opportunity to address some of the trade policy challenges, and the academic community and more specifically the NWU will have a role to play.

Allow me to say a few words on the Aid for Trade initiative, which is co-ordinated by the WTO to help implement demand driven projects for enhancing capacities and addressing domestic supply constraints to efficiently engage in international trade. We have conducted a total of four Aid for Trade global reviews, the latest one having been conducted in July 2013. The next review is scheduled for 2015. The WTO chairs, with the support of the WTO Secretariat, made an important contribution to that event, which resulted in a publication containing the research work produced by the chairs and entitled 'Connecting to Global Markets — Challenges and Opportunities: Case studies presented by WTO Chair-holders'.

This book was officially launched by WTO Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who, in launching the WTO book on 11 February 2014, said: “By demonstrating the contribution that the academic community can make to policymaking, this book makes a powerful case for the WTO Chairs Programme itself. It shows the value of building this academic capacity in developing countries, where it can sometimes be in short supply.” He underscored that the clearest message is just how much academics can contribute to policymaking in developing countries.  Academics are in a position to approach issues with a breadth and depth of analysis which is simply not a practical possibility for many others — such as politicians for example. Academics have space to consider changes in the global economy so they can identify not only today’s challenges and opportunities, but also those of tomorrow. They are not bound by the silos of specific responsibilities which can exist in government — therefore enabling them to take a broader view of holistic issues like economic welfare.

Freedom from day-to-day policy-making means they are better placed than many to take the long view — an essential virtue for those dealing with economic development, which as we all know is not achieved overnight.  And they can assist policymakers by employing — or creating — more precise methods to measure the impacts of their policies and programmes. As did the DG at the launch of the book, I would like to again paraphrase Lord Kelvin, who made valuable contributions to numerous fields of science: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

Therefore, I have great pleasure, on behalf of Director-General Azevêdo, to award a WTO Chair to the North West University of Potchefstroom.

I would also like to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dan Kgwadi, Professor Herman van Schalkwyk, Rector of the NWU, and in particular the WTO Chair holder, Professor Wilma Viviers, who, together with her team, has done an excellent job in submitting a high quality proposal for the Chairs Programme. This will provide the basis for a long standing and mutually beneficial relationship between the WTO and the NWU. We look forward to a strong collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship with you.

Thank you for your attention.

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