SPEECHES — DG NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA
Thank you, Excellency Ambassador Li Chenggang, Permanent Representative of China to the WTO, Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,
Let me add my warm welcome to this forum to mark the 20th anniversary of China's accession to the WTO.
I’m particularly privileged as the new DG to be participating in this occasion.
It’s also a great pleasure to welcome old friends. My predecessor (one of my predecessors), Pascal Lamy. I’m so happy you could join us.
One of the best-known names in trade — Wendy Cutler. Thank you for coming.
And it’s really a privilege to see the Chief Negotiator of the accession, Mr Long Yongtu. Thank you so much for joining us.
And DDG Zhang Xiangchen, thank you so much for being there.
I want to welcome all of you to this and all the others who are participating with us.
On December 11, 2001, China officially became the WTO's 143rd Member as Ambassador Li Chenggang has said. This was a pivotal event in the history of the multilateral trading system.
For China, adopting WTO rules and principles served as a blueprint for a far-reaching economic and institutional makeover. The structural transformation triggered by accession-related reforms contributed to China's dynamic growth and modernization.
For the WTO, welcoming China marked a significant step towards becoming a truly “world” organization. Over a fifth of the world population — 1.3 billion producers and consumers — gained full entry into the multilateral trading system.
For other WTO members, China's accession meant the promise of more predictable and mutually beneficial trading relations with a large and fast-growing economy.
Accession to the WTO is never easy, and China's accession process was particularly demanding. China requested to resume its status as a contracting party to the GATT in 1986 — 15 years before its eventual accession to the WTO. Over that time, China and its partners together:
- Convened 38 Working Party meetings;
- Reached 44 bilateral market access agreements, the terms of which went on to be multilateralized; and
- Produced over 750 pages of legal text that spell out China's WTO commitments.
The reforms China was asked to make could not have been easy at the time, requiring difficult changes by Chinese policymakers and within the Chinese economy. But looking back, China's determination to pursue WTO membership as the cornerstone of its economic liberalization strategy has been fully vindicated.
China has become the textbook case for how global trade integration can drive growth and development. The country's economic rise has lifted millions out of poverty, not only within China but also in China's trading partners across the developing world.
- In 2001, China's GDP was $1.3 trillion. By 2020, it had reached $14.7 trillion. This is really an astonishing improvement. China's economy has performed well through the pandemic, and the IMF expects Chinese output to grow by 8% in 2021 and by 5.6% in 2022. China is now by some margin the world's largest manufacturing producer and exporter.
- People in China have seen dramatic increases in living standards. Per capita incomes, in purchasing power terms, have risen from around US$3,400 in 2000 to US$16,200 today in 2020. Extreme poverty has all but been eliminated.
- China is a major destination for foreign direct investment, and has become a significant source of outward investment itself . The stock of FDI in China has risen 10-fold - from about 200 billion US dollars in the year 2000 to close to 2 trillion US dollars in 2020. Meanwhile, China's stock of outward FDI has soared to 2.3 trillion US dollars, 84 times higher than at the time of its accession.
China's membership of the WTO alongside most other economies is also positive for international economic governance, and for fostering the cooperation and coordination that are essential for managing an increasingly interdependent world.
At the WTO, China has been an active participant, and a steadily more influential player within all areas of activity, including negotiations. While the new Omicron coronavirus variant forced us to postpone our Twelfth Ministerial Conference last week, negotiations continue, and China will be at the heart of members' efforts to bridge outstanding differences on pandemic response, including intellectual property, and fisheries subsidies, by the end of February.
China is also an active participant in various voluntary initiatives that groups of WTO members are taking forward. Just last week, China joined 66 other WTO Members in a landmark deal on services domestic regulation, which will cut red tape and costs around licensing and qualification requirements for cross-border services providers.
China is also active in — and in some cases coordinating — other initiatives such as the ongoing discussions on investment facilitation, plastics pollution, e-commerce, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and trade and gender. China has also worked to help newly acceded members learn from its experience and better integrate into the multilateral trading system, and we thank you very much for that.
To deliver results and lay the foundations for future reforms, the WTO today requires dedicated engagement from all of its key participants, including China.
I deeply welcome the strong commitment to the WTO expressed this week by His Excellency Premier Li Keqiang, whom I had the honour to join at Monday's 1+6 Roundtable along with other heads of international organizations.
At that meeting, and in an earlier bilateral conversation with Premier Li, I noted that several WTO Members believe that China could contribute more to WTO reform efforts, in ongoing negotiations as well as on level playing field issues tackling very difficult issues like special and differential treatment and fully restoring the dispute settlement function.
I’m very happy to say that the G20 speech that was made by President Xi a few weeks ago and also the speech at the International Trade Fair signal China’s willingness to engage in discussions on these very difficult reform issues.
Some of the systemic challenges will no doubt be discussed in greater detail by our distinguished panellists over the next hour.
There is a proverb, often credited to China, which says that “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago — the second-best time is today”. The tree that China planted by becoming a WTO Member two decades ago has borne a rich harvest. As one of the world's largest traders and a key stakeholder in the system, China has an important role to play in tending the WTO garden. The seeds planted today will become the fruit of tomorrow.
I look forward to China's constructive engagement, I count on it, as we look to revitalize the multilateral trading system and deliver credible results that respond to the challenges of the 21st century.