In his remarks, the Director-General said that while the effective suspension of appellate review of WTO dispute rulings is a serious challenge to the global trade body's adjudication function, it “does not mean the end of the multilateral trading system”.

“Existing WTO rules still apply. WTO disciplines and principles will continue to underpin world trade. And members will continue to use WTO rules to resolve trade conflicts — in regular WTO bodies, through consultations, via dispute settlement panels, and through any other means envisaged in the WTO agreements,” he said.

Members have important decisions to make, with implications for the WTO and for their respective economies, DG Azevêdo said.

“Where we go from here is in your hands. What we do — or just as significantly, what we fail to do — will define the trajectory of this organization.

“On rule-making, your choices could contribute to restoring certainty in the global economy, and help governments manage interdependence in a fast-changing world.

“On the implementation of existing commitments, you have scope to make regular committee work an even more effective vehicle for fostering compliance and addressing concerns about each other's trade policies.

“And on dispute settlement, you could restore the impartial, effective, efficient two-step review that most members say they want. 

“Alternatively, your choices could open the door to more uncertainty, unconstrained unilateral retaliation — and less investment, less growth, and less job creation.”

The DG welcomed a compromise reached in the Committee on Budget, Finance and Administration on the WTO's budget for 2020. The committee's favourable recommendation has been forwarded to the General Council for endorsement during its 9-11 December session.

“The proposed budget compromise is the result of flexibility and cooperation among members, both here in Geneva and in capitals. It represents a pragmatic response that preserves the WTO system amid turbulence in the wider international system — turbulence that we cannot wish away. I am counting on your help with approval in the General Council.”

Looking ahead to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in June 2020 in Kazakhstan, the DG urged members to focus on what is realistic and doable, both in terms of prospective outcomes at MC12 and guidance for post-ministerial work. “Achieving meaningful substantive outcomes will demand flexibility, contributions, and political will on the part of all members,” he said.




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