DEPUTY DIRECTOR-GENERAL ANABEL GONZÁLEZ
It is a great pleasure to join you today, and to receive your Policy Statement.
More than ever, we need to hear the voices of all stakeholders in the trade debate.
The voice of the business community, with its real-life experience of trade, could not be more important.
I welcome your Confederation's strong call for a successful global trading system.
You represent the interests of over 150 million businesses from across Asia and the Western Pacific.
I thank you for the hard work that has gone into the Policy Statement and the accompanying Report.
For your commitment to the WTO.
And for the strength of your message ahead of the WTO's 12th Ministerial Conference later in the fall.
Today I would like to talk about two things:
First, the value of the WTO, especially in times of crisis.
And second, the need for the WTO to evolve and improve.
On the first point.
It can sometimes feel as if the global trading system — so painstakingly built in reaction to the greatest crises of the 20th century — has lost much of its relevance in the 21st century.
Recent years have seen a rise in trade tensions.
The pace of domestic trade reform has slowed.
And the WTO is struggling to negotiate new rules and fix its dysfunctional dispute settlement system.
There are indeed some very real challenges facing the global trading system — and I will come to them shortly.
There is no doubt that the WTO must evolve and improve, as your Report makes clear.
And yet, in a time of crisis, the global trading system once again proved its worth.
Not because the WTO achieved a major breakthrough.
But rather because the WTO is part of a global system of rules-based economic cooperation.
A system that, over several decades, has toiled quietly in the background.
To keep trade protectionism in check.
Markets broadly open.
And governments from engaging in the mutually destructive beggar-thy-neighbour behaviour of the 1930s.
Without the WTO, the world would be more fragmented, more uncertain and more vulnerable to shocks.
That would reduce the potential of trade to grow your own businesses and make them thrive.
To pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, as trade has done over the past three decades.
And to fight the twin health and economic crises we face today, as trade is doing now.
In early 2020, trade went into free fall. Lockdowns and quarantines, travel restrictions and border closures shut down economies around the world.
But by the end of 2020, goods trade had bounced back. The WTO's latest forecast, released earlier this month, is for goods trade to increase by almost 11 per cent in 2021, more than double the forecast for GDP growth this year.
Services trade is showing tentative signs of recovery. The pandemic continues to affect some services disproportionately, not least tourism.
But other services — in particular those supplied digitally like telecommunications, computer and information services — are booming.
Put simply, trade is driving the economic recovery.
And that owes much to the WTO.
Because the institution is doing what it was created to do.
To tilt the balance of trade measures by governments in favour of openness and facilitation instead of restrictions and red tape.
The figures tell the story:
Of the 380-odd trade measures introduced by WTO members in response to the pandemic, the majority — 65 per cent — made trade easier and less costly.
And of the 130-odd restrictive measures, the better part of one-half had been rolled back by the middle of 2021.
We expect to hear about further good news once the WTO updates its monitoring report in the coming weeks.
But the picture is mixed.
Even though the trade recovery is strong, it is also unequal.
Our most recent estimate is that, by the end of this year, exports from Europe and North America will have fully recovered the ground lost to the pandemic.
Exports from Asia will have done even better, increasing by almost 15 per cent relative to their pre-COVID level.
But exports from Africa and the Middle East are forecast to remain depressed until sometime in 2022.
That mirrors the K-shaped recovery in global economic output.
Where some regions — those with access to vaccines and sufficient fiscal firepower — are recovering strongly, while others with mostly unvaccinated populations are lagging behind.
The strength in global trade offers an opportunity for developing countries, especially those that are not able to provide fiscal stimulus, to jump-start the economic recovery.
But trade growth will not automatically translate into faster growth unless developing countries reactivate domestic trade reforms.
The economic crisis is just one side of the pandemic. The other side is the health crisis.
And here too, trade and the WTO are playing a critically important role.
When the pandemic started last year, the headlines were full of stories about the global scramble for masks and other protective gear used by front-line medical workers.
Almost two years into the pandemic, the mismatch between global supply and demand is still making the headlines.
Only that this time the stories are not about masks and other PPE, but about everything from computer chips and electronics, to exercise equipment, to paper, to clothing.
Worries over the risks of globalized supply chains have grown exponentially. And so has the pressure on companies to shift from just-in-time to just-in-case production, and on governments to intervene to bring production home.
Globalized supply chains are indeed under enormous stress.
But look behind the headlines, and you will see that the story is not one of trade as a source of vulnerability.
It is one of trade as a source of resilience.
Take trade in medical products. Even as the value of world trade in goods fell by almost 8 per cent in 2020, trade in medical products rose by 16 per cent.
Trade in personal protective equipment grew by nearly 50 per cent. And trade in face masks by 480 per cent.
Every day hundreds of specialized inputs to produce COVID-19 vaccines are traded back and forth along tightly knit supply chains that often criss-cross 12 or more international borders.
Trade, backed by the stability and predictability created by the WTO, is helping to bring all those products to where they are needed.
To get the one-and-a-half billion vaccine doses being produced every month off the production line, out the factory gate and into people's arms.
Here too, we have made progress. But much work remains.
Even though supply chains for COVID-19 vaccines are up and running, equitable access to vaccines is still a long way off. Less than 5 per cent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated. In low-income countries, not even 2 per cent of people are.
That's why the WTO has been helping governments to coordinate their trade policy responses to the pandemic.
And that's why the WTO is also working with manufacturers to monitor supply chains and identify bottlenecks that impede access to vaccine inputs, add uncertainty to vaccine delivery timeframes, and increase the cost of vaccines.
Alongside those efforts, WTO members are working on a framework to keep supply chains open and running, not only during this pandemic, but during futures ones too.
An outcome on trade and health at our Ministerial Conference next month would be an important step in the right direction.
But it would just be the beginning of the road, not the end.
And that brings me to my second point — the WTO must improve and evolve.
Three big transitions are reshaping global trade in the 21st century:
The transition to a digital and services economy.
The transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy.
And the transition to a more inclusive economy.
The WTO must respond to all three transitions to ensure that it can continue to carry out its core mission.
That mission is as important as ever.
To use trade to raise living standards, create jobs and foster sustainable development.
Or as Dr Ngozi, our Director-General, puts it: to make people's lives better through trade.
The good news is that WTO members are already working hard to equip the WTO for the three big transitions of the 21st century.
In some cases, they are getting ready to deliver results at our next Ministerial Conference.
That includes the digital transition.
Digital technologies are transforming how goods and services are produced, traded, delivered and consumed.
The figures show that there is tremendous potential for trade.
Even before the pandemic hit, global e-commerce was already a 26.7 trillion-dollar market with around 1.5 billion consumers.
Between 2007 and 2017, cross-border data flows increased more than twenty-fold.
And trade in services has been growing at more than double the rate of trade in goods for several years. Today, services represent nearly one-half of the total value added in global trade.
So it is encouraging that groups of WTO members are working on developing global rules in three key areas of the digital transition: services regulation, investment facilitation and electronic commerce.
On services regulation, 65 WTO members are within touching distance of finalizing an agreement on services regulation.
The agreement would address many of the practical challenges that affect the ability of services providers to operate in a foreign market.
It contains a set of disciplines to make the process of obtaining authorization to supply a service more transparent, predictable and free of red tape.
An outcome here would be very significant. The agreement could save businesses as much as 140 billion dollars per year in G20 countries alone, providing a boost to the productivity of the entire economy.
Small businesses would benefit the most, as they have fewer resources to deal with opaque and costly requirements and procedures.
The work on investment facilitation and electronic commerce is also advancing, although it will not be concluded by the Ministerial.
The transition to low-carbon and sustainable economies will also have a major impact on trade.
Governments, businesses, investors and consumers are increasingly reacting to the growing threat of climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, and other global environmental challenges.
Consumers increasingly demand information about the carbon and environmental footprint of the goods and services they buy.
A growing number of companies are adopting climate strategies and redefining business models to tap into sources of green demand and manage growing risks to their supply chains.
Investors increasingly recognize that putting their money in sustainable solutions creates value and are calling for better disclosure of climate-related risks and opportunities by corporations.
And governments are putting in place more ambitious plans to cut emissions across all sectors of the economy, from energy, to manufacturing, to agriculture, to transport.
That confluence of forces is reshaping global trade.
It is also putting a focus on how the global trading system can help move the needle on reducing carbon emissions.
And it has highlighted the need to bolster the capacity of the poorest countries to grasp the potential trade benefits of the low-carbon transition.
Groups of WTO members are trying to react to these fundamental shifts.
They are considering a work plan to ensure that trade plays a full role in supporting the sustainability transition.
From promoting trade in climate-friendly goods and services, to eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, to ensuring that climate ambition is not undermined by trade fragmentation and conflict.
Another sustainability issue that is high on the WTO agenda is the health of our oceans.
Members are trying to reach a multilateral agreement that would curb tens of billions of dollars in harmful fisheries subsidies.
Those subsidies encourage overfishing and overcapacity, and are a threat to marine fish stocks and the livelihoods of coastal communities.
The third big transition that I would like to mention is the shift to inclusive economies.
In the span of our lifetimes, trade has created opportunities for hundreds of millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty.
That is an extraordinary achievement.
But it should not hide the fact that some countries, some groups of workers, and some communities have been left behind.
For reasons that have less to do with trade and more to do with technological change and inadequate domestic social policies.
Yet there is no denying that the WTO can do more for inclusive growth.
Take small businesses. Helping them connect to regional and global value chains would extend the benefits of trade across more people.
Small businesses represent 95 per cent of all companies worldwide.
They contribute to around 35 per cent to GDP in developing economies and 50 per cent in developed countries.
And they are an important source of jobs, especially for women and young people.
But small businesses remain underrepresented in trade.
A group of 91 members is trying to change that. Last year, they agreed on guidelines for enhancing access to market information and trade data, to include small businesses in regulatory development, to cut red tape, and to improve access to trade finance, where small businesses face much higher rejection rates than larger businesses.
Here, let me highlight that I could not agree more with the observation in your Policy Statement that the “exports-good-imports-bad” mindset so deeply ingrained in trade ministries around the world has been highly detrimental to the interests of small businesses, poor people, and the inclusiveness of trade.
That's why your idea to set up a proper domestic transparency process to identify what is in the national interest has merit and deserves to be explored further.
I see many possible synergies between a domestic transparency process and WTO notifications, monitoring and peer review processes, not least the Trade Policy Review Mechanism.
Now, the WTO response to the digital, low-carbon and inclusiveness transitions calls not just for the negotiation of new global rules.
It also calls for the reform of the WTO's capacity to implement existing WTO agreements and to settle disputes.
I know that reforming the dispute settlement system is an issue of particular interest to the business community and a key goal of WTO reform.
Members have set out several proposals to reform the WTO. Some touch on totemic principles like special and differential treatment for developing countries.
Others seek to build on what some people have called the real jewel in the WTO crown.
That is the day-to-day work of committees like the TBT and SPS committees to promote transparency and resolve trade frictions pragmatically and cooperatively.
And yet other reform ideas relate to the support governments provide to their industrial and agricultural producers and concerns about the impact of that support on competition and trade.
WTO members need to engage with each on WTO reform in good faith, recognizing that it is in their self-interest to do so, as your Report explains so clearly.
Let me conclude by saying that you are the main users of the global trading system, and your voice has a big impact on the future direction of the WTO.
So please keep pushing us forward, keep setting high standards so that trade negotiators respond to changing business realities, and keep feeding us with bold and brave ideas as you do in your Policy Statement.
Your voices, along with those of other stakeholders, are essential to propel us forward. They are essential to bring about a reformed WTO as a force for good in the 21st century.
So it's great to count on your support.
I look forward to working with all of you.