If you climb the main staircase of the WTO building, the Centre William Rappard, you will come to a glass case containing the Havana charter of the International Trade Organization.  The text is open to the signature page.

In the atrium this week, you can see photographs of many of the signatories of the Marrakesh Declaration at the creation of the World Trade Organization, and those who led and sustained the WTO over the past two and a half decades.

We stand on the shoulders of the founders, and our other forebears, some well-remembered and some not, and we build for the future.

Our collective purpose, as was true of the generations that came before us, is to form a better multilateral trading system, a more perfect union of sovereign nations intent upon improving the condition of humanity through more open trade under internationally agreed rules.

Our focus today should be firmly set on the future.  While dealing with current crises, we must anticipate future ones and put into place institutional and substantive changes needed to carry out our mission.  We — Member government officials, the ambassadorial corps here and the Secretariat — have the joint responsibility to make sure that the world trading system which has been entrusted to us is left, when our time of service comes to an end, in better condition than that in which we found it.

I do not for a moment doubt that the nations of the world will ultimately come together in a spirit of international cooperation to create a stronger multilateral trading system, more responsive to the concerns of humankind, more fit for purpose. That must be our common objective; that must be the goal that we strive to reach.

What will the future of the WTO be like?

  • Our Membership, already accounting for 98% of World Trade, will become universal through accessions.
  • The WTO of the future will promote peace by creating economic conditions that bring greater stability to fragile and conflict-affected lands.
  • The WTO of the future will address our joint responsibility as stewards of the planet, by making agriculture more agile to serve areas in need, by smoothing the path for trade in environmental goods and services, by helping save the world’s fish stocks, by taking action to curb plastics pollution, and by serving a circular economy.
  • The WTO of the future will reduce inequality among and within nations through increased participation in trade.
  • The WTO of the future will deliver fairness, with a new social contract for trade:
    • Empowering women in trade,
    • Spreading the benefits to micro, medium and small enterprises,
    • Providing for workable trade remedies where needed,
    • Disciplining industrial subsidies,
    • Fostering economic development, particularly for the least-developed countries, and
    • Creating more opportunities for the young.
  • The WTO of the future will subsume preferential trading arrangements, taking the best of what they have to offer, and discarding the discrimination.
  • The WTO of the future will provide for enforceability of obligations through binding and accountable dispute settlement procedures acknowledged as legitimate by all.
  • The WTO of the future will bring nearly complete transparency to make visible measures which promote and those which impede or distort trade.
  • The WTO of the future will prepare for and meet future crises through strategic foresight and strategy, first using trade to help overcome the current one, the COVID 19 pandemic, and then promoting recovery from the vast economic damage that it is causing.

The WTO of the future will be more effective and resilient, with improved governance by its Members, served by a proactive independent secretariat that acts as the guardian of the world trading system, tasked with monitoring, providing analyses, initiating proposals and increasing accountability with WTO disciplines.  

I stand here today acting in the place of a Director-General, speaking on behalf of my three colleagues, the Deputy Directors-General, and the nearly 700 professionals who make up the Secretariat of the WTO, to celebrate the future of the World Trade Organization.  Within a few short months, the first woman will occupy the office of Director-General of the WTO and that in itself is a milestone.

The path forward will most often not be easy.  A very substantial investment of time and energy will be needed from all WTO Members, imbued with a renewed sense of common purpose.  Serious divisions will have to be bridged.  But all will come to understand that the multilateral trading system, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, may the worst form of international economic order, but for all the others. 



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