SPEECHES — DG NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA
Ministers, Excellencies, dear friends and colleagues,
Let me start by saying “Congratulations!” to the co-conveners; these congratulations are well deserved. The co-sponsors of these three Ministerial Statements are taking an important step forward on addressing key trade and environmental sustainability issues at the WTO. It is a very encouraging sign that so many Ministers are joining us today and delivering messages.
This event was supposed to have taken place during our 12th Ministerial Conference. As you know, we had to postpone MC12 because of recent COVID-19 developments. Disappointing as this was, our work to respond to the challenges of our time — from the pandemic to the environmental crises in our atmosphere and oceans — cannot and must not wait.
You have managed to persevere, to push your work forward and send this clear political signal today that you see trade, trade policy and the WTO as central components of your environmental sustainability efforts.
This is truly a historic moment for the WTO. Environmental concerns were first discussed within the GATT as early as 1971, during the early days of the international environmental movement. But it was not until 1994 that leaders adopted the first Decision recognizing the “mutual supportiveness” of international trade and environmental action and created the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment. There is too much at stake for us to wait decades more for results. Your Ministerial Statements must lead to action. Just last week many of you were part of the conclusion of the joint initiative on services domestic regulation. I hope you will take that as inspiration for delivering results on environmental goods and services, sustainable supply chains, plastics pollution, fossil fuel subsidy reform, capacity building and all the other critical aspects of trade and environmental sustainability in your statements.
When WTO Members launched negotiations on trade and environment issues back in 2001, you were ahead of the curve. You had identified positive pathways for trade to support the environment, including by facilitating access to environmental goods and services. You also recognized the importance of addressing environmentally harmful subsidies and initiated what at the time were pathbreaking negotiations on fisheries subsidies.
Trade, and the WTO, are part of the solution to climate change and environmental degradation. That was the message I took to COP26 in Glasgow a few weeks ago. I always say that trade is about people. But the fact is that people — in particular, the most vulnerable — are increasingly paying the price of environmental degradation. Problems of the global commons represent some of the biggest threats to the future prosperity and security of people around the world. Today, you are demonstrating that you want the WTO to play a positive role in addressing these problems.
In recent years at the WTO, we have seen renewed interest, including from developing country Members, in sharing experiences and ideas for using trade-related policies to address environmental challenges. This reflects the growing understanding among Members that trade can and must act in support of achieving sustainable development outcomes for people around the world.
Work in the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment has directly informed the statements you launched.
Let me also commend the participants in all three initiatives for involving external stakeholders in your work — civil society groups, business, and other international organizations. Drawing in the full range of stakeholders is vital for improving our understanding of the challenges and opportunities at the intersection between trade, environment, climate change and sustainable development.
It is very welcome to see that more than half of the 81 co-sponsors across the three statements are from developing countries. I encourage you to continue your efforts to further increase the number of developing and least developed countries in your initiatives. Inclusiveness of this kind is essential. Developing countries and least developed countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and other environmental challenges. Every day we see this, from South Sudan to Fiji, to the Caribbean and all over the globe. And they have important innovations, ideas, needs and perspectives to bring to the table, so we must include them.
The needs of poor and vulnerable countries underscore why investment, technical assistance and capacity building, as well as just transition considerations, need to be integral elements of your discussions. As we know, environmental challenges are already complicating efforts to rebuild amid the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a critical role for external support in their efforts to put their economies on sustainable development pathways.
This is why at COP26 there was so much emphasis on developed countries fulfilling the pledge of USD 100 billion per year to help poor countries navigate the just transition.
Let me also state that I am disappointed that the Environmental Goods Agreement was suspended at the end of 2016. I understand there is still strong interest among many Members to resume work on both environmental goods and services. I hope with this launch of Statements, there will be a possibility for all of us to pick up this vital work which is expected of the WTO especially in view the results of COP26. I urge you also to take a pragmatic approach. Let us start with a reasonable list of goods and build upon that and see this as a living agreement that can be improved upon over time.
In conclusion, I want to say to Ministers and delegations joining this event, that you are reshaping the narrative around trade and the environment. You are demonstrating to the world that trade is part of the solution for environment and climate change, not just part of the problem. I hope that Ministers in particular will come together more often for dialogue, and experience-sharing on these critical issues of environment, climate, sustainable development, and trade. This would help Members build the trust and understanding necessary to make progress.
Today is a historic step forward, but we are still at the start of this journey. To put ambition into action, you need to come back early in 2022 and develop the work programmes, undertake the technical discussions, and formulate the proposals, that will lead to tangible deliverables. I say this without wishing to spoil your holidays, but I really do want us to come back and get to work immediately on this important area.
So as we celebrate the strong political signal you are sending today, let's remember that tomorrow, the onus is on us to deliver results that demonstrate that trade and the WTO are key tools in achieving a sustainable and just transition. I know we are up to this challenge.