The meeting was attended by ministers and representatives from around 30 WTO members, including developed, developing and least-developed members. It was organized by Australia and chaired by Australia’s Minister Steven Ciobo. The focus of the meeting was how to build greater resilience in the trading system, while also advancing negotiations.
DG Azevêdo said:
"The rising trade tensions and the risk of escalation are of very real concern. It is positive that Members are talking to each other and taking up their concerns at the WTO. The system was built to resolve these problems in a way that prevents further escalation. We have done so very successfully on many previous occasions – and we stand ready to play this role once again.
"In 2008 the WTO was tested by the biggest economic crisis the world had seen for almost 80 years. It didn't just weather the storm – it did the job it was created to do in preventing a rush to protectionism. We saw then the resilience of the system, and its fundamental value to the global economy. But this should not lead us towards complacency.
"The system will only remain resilient and functional to the extent that its members want it to. You have to use the system, work to improve it and raise your voices in its defence. I think this was the sentiment behind the comments we heard from President Macron yesterday. I agree entirely with his assessment on the need to strengthen the WTO and to make it more effective in addressing the trade challenges of today. The way forward on this is in the hands of WTO members, and I stand ready to support you where I can.”
The Director-General also raised the systemic importance of the WTO's dispute settlement function and urged ministers to redouble their efforts to resolve the blockage in appointments to the Appellate Body.
Regarding the question of how to advance negotiations in the WTO, DG Azevêdo stressed the need for flexibility. He cited the success of flexible approaches, such as the Trade Facilitation Agreement, and the range of different approaches for which the system allows.
The Chair's statement from the meeting is available here.