Thank you Ambassador Chambovey, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.
Let me start by thanking the Friends of MSMEs, in particular Ambassador Cancela of Uruguay, as coordinator of the Group, and Ambassador Chambove, of Switzerland, as organizer of today’s meeting, for their kind invitation. I appreciate the remarks of Vice Minister Rodolpho of the Philippines for outlining the steps that his government is taking to foster participation by MSMEs in international trade.
I am very pleased to be here and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you all for the impressive work done over the last few months to give life to this important initiative.
The launch of the Informal Working Group on MSMEs was one of the highlights of MC11, and I am glad to see that you are now actively working on a roadmap of activities for 2018. It seems that the year ahead will be a busy one for the MSMEs Informal Group!
What you do in this forum, in this room, is extremely important to the world trading system because it is vitally important to the citizens of every WTO member - without exception.
This is an age of populism. It may last indefinitely, largely due to displacements, in part due to technological change, and in part due to concerns over globalization. The question is increasingly asked of government "what are you doing for me?", the individual.
One thing that each of us can do is to engage here at the WTO on common challenges. So the question naturally is asked of us: "Is the WTO, with its rules and procedures relevant to my concerns, as an individual?"
We talk about the objective of inclusiveness. In this body, you can help deliver on the promise of meeting that objective.
The question of access to information that we are discussing today is a crucial one. Finding the right information is essential for companies that want to trade internationally but it bears a cost. And because much of this cost is independent of how much a firm exports, the cost falls heavily on small firms.
Numerous studies - by the WTO, the ITC, the USITC, the EU Commission, the IBRD and the OECD - confirm that lack of transparency and poor access to information by potential MSME exporters on distribution channels, export markets and applicable procedures are major barriers to MSMEs' participation in international trade.
I am therefore not surprised that you chose to organize your first open-ended meeting on this important issue. There is clearly a strong need.
It is to help meet this need that the Global Trade Helpdesk was launched in Buenos Aires and that is presented at today’s meeting.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the International Trade Center (ITC) which has been a driving force behind this project. It has mobilized a large team, with the financial support of interested members to transform what was a simple idea a few months ago into reality.
We look forward to working with the International Trade Center (ITC) and with UNCTAD to further develop the Global Trade Helpdesk over the coming months and years to make its coverage truly global. This is a long term but crucial endeavour.
Much of the success of this initiative will also depend on your engagement, and on the engagement of all WTO members to make information related to trade accessible so that it can be fed into the Global Trade Helpdesk. Without members’ support, this initiative will not achieve its aim of providing MSMEs with the critical information they need to trade internationally.
You, as Friends of MSMEs, can help raise awareness about this project and call on WTO members to support it by taking concrete actions at the national level to improve access to information.
There are five actions that I urge you to take:
- First, reach out to different ministries in capitals that should have an interest to raise awareness for your initiative. They will be able to contribute both ideas and practical guidance for implementation of whatever is ultimately achieved in the WTO.
- Second, reach out to national legislators, to the small business committees, to the press, to social media, to build political support.
- Third, promote experience sharing and best practices, not only on the question of access to information.
- Fourth, help improve the tool by providing feedback on a regular basis. And,
- Fifth, consider establishing institutional links with key organizations that work on issues that matter to MSMEs.
An example of this last point is forming links with standards-setting organizations. In February, I went to a meeting of the World Standards Cooperation. While standards can help MSMEs, they can also create costs that affect small players disproportionally. Relevant questions include whether these organizations could facilitate access to draft standards for free. Could they provide access to standards via a single portal? These are questions that you may want to explore with them.
You will have additional ideas. Many governments are increasingly focusing on accessibility of information but is it in a form that is readily useable to MSMEs? There is always room for improvement.
You stated very clearly in your Buenos Aires declaration that you wish to continue striving for a multilateral outcome. To build further support, it is important that you focus your work on concrete actions and deliverables that demonstrate the value-added of this Group. Exploring challenges and discussing issues are important; tangible results, however, are essential. MSMEs need your support, and they need action.
Of course, you can count on the Secretariat to assist you in your endeavours. I know that you are determined and I am confident that working together, the WTO and its members, working collectively and individually, can promote a more inclusive and more efficient trading system that benefits all, even the smallest companies.
I am struck by the fact that all of us in this room participate in these activities only for a time and then move on – so we each should do our utmost to make a difference. With this initiative, we can do so.I thank you for your attention and I wish you a successful and productive event. I look forward to hearing about today’s meeting and about your work in the months to come.