The WTO at 20 — a message from DG Azevêdo

20 years ago, on 1 January 1995, the WTO opened its doors for business. Since then this organization, and the system of transparent, multilaterally-agreed rules that it embodies, has made a major contribution to the strength and stability of the global economy. Over the years the WTO has helped to boost trade growth, resolve numerous trade disputes and support developing countries to integrate into the trading system. It has also provided a bulwark against protectionism, the value of which was made plain in the trade policy response to the 2008 crisis, which was very calm and restrained in contrast to the protectionist panic that followed previous crises. Indeed, when the global economy is more interconnected than ever, it is difficult to imagine a world without the WTO.

Our organization has evolved since 1995. We have welcomed 33 new members, ranging from some of world’s largest economies to some of the least developed. Today our 160 members account for approximately 98% of global trade. Moreover, at our 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali in 2013, we took our first major step forward in updating multilateral trade rules. The measures agreed in Bali were a real breakthrough for the WTO, and they will provide a significant economic boost. In December 2014 WTO Members came together to recommit to implementing all aspects of the Bali package.

So as we look to the year ahead there is a lot of work to do — and many challenges to meet. While we have delivered in many areas, and despite the success of Bali, the pace of negotiations remains a source of frustration. In future we know that we need to deliver more outcomes, more quickly. In addition, we know that our poorest members are still not adequately integrated into the trading system, so again we need to do more to help them reap the benefits that the system can offer.

2015 is set to be an eventful year for the WTO. We will be holding our 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi from 15 to 18 December — the first time the WTO has ever held a Ministerial Conference in Africa. Heads of international organizations will convene at our headquarters in Geneva to participate in the 5th Global Review of Aid for Trade from 30 June to 2 July, and we will welcome business people, NGOs, academics and others to discuss our work and a range of trade issues at the WTO's annual Public Forum from 30 September to 2 October. Moreover, we will be working to implement all aspects of the Bali package and we already have a full negotiating agenda — including a deadline of July to conclude a detailed road map to tackle the remaining issues of the Doha Development Agenda. We will also be seeking to make progress in negotiations on trade in environmental goods and on an agreement to remove tariffs on a wide range of information technology products.

Success in each of these areas would be the best way to mark our 20th anniversary — and to reaffirm the contribution that the WTO has made to improving people’s lives and prospects over the last two decades.

I would like to wish everyone a happy 2015.


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