Good morning everyone, good afternoon, good evening wherever you are.

Whether you are here in this room or watching online, I am absolutely delighted to welcome all of you to this WTO Public Forum — many of you may be veterans, but this is my first one as Director-General.

Today's hybrid format, and the strict limits on the numbers of people authorised to enter the WTO premises, reflect the fact that COVID-19 is still very much with us, but we are grateful that we can at least have a hybrid format and be able to see some of you in person.

Indeed, in many of our members, the pandemic and its social and economic impacts are getting worse.

But even as we fight to end the pandemic, making full use of trade's power to tackle vaccine inequity, we must engage in serious thinking about what it will take to build back a better world economy.

    • A world economy that is greener, more prosperous, and more inclusive.
    • A world economy that is more responsive to problems of the global commons.
    • A WTO that is more responsive to the changing economic realities and the evolving needs of the people we serve.

That is what this week is all about.

Civil society groups, academics, the private sector, WTO members and others have put together 102 sessions covering an incredible spectrum of issues, from agriculture to digital trade, and climate change to politics.

5,700 participants have registered to listen, debate and exchange views. I look forward to listening to all of you.  And I also take this opportunity to thank our incredible team that put this whole thing together.

Ideas matter for trade policy. But these ideas are ultimately a means to an end. It's about using trade to making people's lives better: creating jobs, expanding opportunities, and promoting sustainability.

Let's take a moment to watch a video that's about to come on about people and trade.

I always say “trade is about people,” so that was music to my ears.

For the entrepreneurs in the video — for the businesses they run and the workers they employ — trade has been a lifeline in the pandemic.

Maheen Adamjee leads what used to be an in-person tutoring business in Pakistan. When lockdowns prevented students from attending classes, she took the business online. A year and a half later, her instructors don't just teach math, Urdu, and coding to the same students who used to come to their homes for lessons in cities around Pakistan. They reach students in the US, Europe, Canada, the UAE, and elsewhere as we heard her say in the video. Thirty percent of the company's customer base is now international.

For Farhia Jama, a serial entrepreneur in Nairobi, going online helped her business training company connect to new clients at home and in six other African countries.

Josefina Urzaiz was forced to close her hammock business's physical store in Mexico. But strengthening her online presence helped her find new customers abroad and maintain livelihoods for hundreds of traditional weavers in the Yucatan peninsula.

If you want to hear more from Maheen, Farhia, and Josefina, and to learn about how global trade rules affect companies like theirs, you can check out the WTO's new podcast series, called ‘Let's Talk Trade’.

What was true for their businesses has been true for the world economy overall: in the pandemic, trade has been a source of resilience, helping households, businesses, and governments cope with dramatic shocks.

Trade has enabled access to food and medical supplies, and contributed to economic recovery.

    • Restraint in the use of protectionism allowed fiscal and monetary stimulus to drive a sharp rebound in global trade starting in the middle of last year. Global merchandise trade is back at record levels, though services is recovering more slowly.
    • Even as the value of global merchandise trade fell by 7.6% in 2020, agriculture trade held stable, and the value of trade in medical products rose by 16%.
    • Trade in personal protective equipment grew by nearly 50% — and by 480% for textile face masks.
    • As scientists developed COVID-19 vaccines at record speeds, multi-country supply chains came together to provide the specialized inputs and capital goods needed for vaccine production at scale. Most leading COVID-19 vaccines rely on inputs from a dozen or more countries.

The WTO's forthcoming World Trade Report looks at trade and resilience in greater detail.

    • It finds that our hyper-connected global economy has made us more vulnerable to shocks — international transport disruptions, supply chain cut-offs, and of course pandemics. At the same time, it finds that our links have made us more resilient to shocks when they do strike. When domestic supplies are in crisis, we can import. When we're hit with the worst pandemic in a century, scientists from around the world can share ideas and technology and develop safe and effective vaccines at record speed.

Let us be clear that the picture is not all rosy.

The rebound in growth and trade is unequal across countries and regions, as is access to COVID-19 vaccines.

    • 100 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
    • While nearly 60% of people in developed countries are fully vaccinated, in Africa, the figure is barely 4%. This is devastating for the lives and livelihoods of Africans. It is morally unacceptable, and as new variants spread, a threat to the health and economic recovery everywhere.

The trading system can and must do more to reduce vaccine inequity, and to help us tackle pressing challenges elsewhere, from our oceans to our climate.

That is why it is so important to deliver results at the WTO, in the weeks remaining before our 12th Ministerial Conference.

To remind all of us what is at stake, it is my great honour to introduce our keynote speaker today, President Cyril Ramaphosa of the Republic of South Africa.

Before taking office, President Ramaphosa was a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle, in the trade union movement, and in democratic South Africa's business sector.

President Ramaphosa has been singularly instrumental as president of the African Union in Africa's strong response to the pandemic. He has forged a One Africa response, along with other leaders, helping to create the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), the African Vaccine Manufacturers Task Force, as well as supporting the Africa CDC.

President Ramaphosa has actively pursued investment in Africa's manufacturing capacity whilst also strongly advocating for an IP waiver. His efforts, and our modest support behind the scenes, led Pfizer-BioNTech to announce an investment in Biovac, a South African company, aimed at producing 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses each year.

Let me now hand over to His Excellency, my brother, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Mr President, the floor is yours.




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