WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo


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Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for being here today. I am delighted to be in Côte d’Ivoire — particularly as this is my first visit to the country.

Côte d’Ivoire has always been a dynamic economic player in the region — and an active voice in the WTO.

Indeed, it is one of the founding Members of the organization, and has played a constructive role since it joined the WTO’s predecessor — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — almost 50 years ago.

So once again, I’m delighted to be here.

As the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, you have been working hard to boost growth and development.

Reforms to improve infrastructure, as well as to facilitate trade, are helping to create a more business-friendly environment.

According to the World Bank, Côte d’Ivoire is among the ten economies that registered the largest improvements in 2013-14, jumping 20 places in the Doing Business ranking.

This is very positive. However, of course, there is still work to be done.

The work of promoting growth and development is never-ending — and the WTO can help you in this effort.

In fact, this is what the WTO is all about: creating more trade opportunities, building trading capacity, improving competitiveness, and promoting development.

And we meet on the heels of a big success for the organization in this regard.

In December, the WTO held its Ministerial Conference in Nairobi — the first time this meeting has been held in Africa.

As such, it put the spotlight on the importance of trade in the continent. And it was even more significant that the conference finished with a successful package of decisions.

In Nairobi, WTO Members agreed on a set of very important measures, some of the biggest reforms in global trade policy for 20 years.

These are decisions which will help boost economies in Africa and around the world.

So now we must keep that spotlight on Africa and deliver more agreements that will help support your development goals.

 

NAIROBI OUTCOMES

So let me explain in a bit more detail what was delivered in Nairobi.

The Nairobi Package contains a set of Ministerial Decisions on agriculture and issues related to least developed countries.

On agriculture, the decision on export competition is particularly important. It is the most significant reform in international trade rules on agriculture since the creation of the WTO.

It will eliminate agricultural export subsidies and ensure that Members will not resort to such action in the future.

Eliminating these subsidies was actually one element of the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals — so it is a big achievement that we delivered this, just three months after the goals were agreed!

It will certainly have a positive impact in improving the global trading environment by tackling the enormous trade-distorting potential of these subsidies.

Farmers in the developing world should not have to compete with the treasuries of developed countries.

This decision will help to level the playing field in agriculture markets to the benefit of farmers and exporters in Côte d’Ivoire. Indeed, given that this country is the largest cocoa producer in the world — and that more than 50% of its exports are agricultural products — this is very significant.

The decision will also help to limit similar distorting effects associated with export credits and State-trading enterprises.

And it will provide a better framework for international food aid, maintaining this essential lifeline while ensuring that it doesn’t displace domestic producers.

Members also took action on other developing-country issues. They committed to negotiate steps to improve food security and to develop a Special Safeguard Mechanism to help deal with import surges of food products, which can harm domestic food production.

So it is important that we follow up on these commitments.

Significant steps were also taken on cotton, opening foreign markets for the most vulnerable producers and ending cotton export subsidies as well.

And Members agreed on a package of specific decisions for least developed countries, to support their integration into the global economy.

In addition, a group of WTO Members has agreed on a deal to expand the Information Technology Agreement. This will eliminate tariffs on 201 new-generation IT products, trade in which is worth around $1.3 trillion each year — that’s 10% of global trade.

Altogether, these breakthroughs will have real-world economic effects, which can help to improve people’s lives — particularly in developing countries.

 

OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS

These results build on our successful Ministerial Conference in Bali, where Members delivered a number of important outcomes, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

This is particularly important for Côte d’Ivoire, which has been a champion of trade facilitation in the region and was one of the first African Members to ratify the Agreement!

This Agreement will make a real difference on the ground. It aims to streamline, standardize and simplify border processes around the world, cutting trade costs.

By doing so, it will boost global trade by an estimated $1 trillion each year, with almost three-quarters of this increase accruing to developing economies.

Those that make the biggest reforms will likely reap the biggest gains.

Here in Côte d’Ivoire you have already undertaken important steps in that direction, simplifying the inspection process for imported cargo, as well as introducing new customs and management systems at the port of Abidjan.

This is certainly very positive.

These reforms will go a long way to improve the trading infrastructure, cutting costs and helping the country to join global production chains, which can be very beneficial to the economy, including by supporting diversification.

And it’s important to say that the Agreement does not impose a rigid programme of reforms. Instead it allows you the flexibility to implement the Agreement according to your specific needs and capacities, and also provides practical support to help with implementation.

Another action that is also within reach — and that will benefit Côte d’Ivoire — is the acceptance of the TRIPS amendment.

This amendment allows essential medicines to be exported into countries that cannot produce the medicines themselves, without fear of action over intellectual property rights.

The amendment is very important. It was delivered at the request of the African countries. But, for it to come into force, it needs to be ratified. I urge you to act on this as swiftly as possible, so that this important measure can be enacted.

On all these issues, the WTO is here to help. If more information or support is needed then we stand ready and will do all we can.

 

FUTURE WORK

Overall, these successes show that the WTO is delivering concrete outcomes. Now, we must seek to capitalize on the lessons of these achievements.

For many years, global trade negotiations were simply not delivering enough. And this is one of the reasons why countries sought other initiatives, like regional or bilateral agreements, to advance their trading agenda.

Of course, Côte d’Ivoire itself is part of initiatives like these, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

Such initiatives are very positive and complement the efforts that are made multilaterally. In fact, many of them build on WTO disciplines.

However, we need cooperation on trade to be working well at all levels.

The WTO gives you a voice at the table globally, and it is only through the WTO that we can tackle important issues like domestic support in agriculture, or fisheries subsidies, for example.

And this brings the focus back to the WTO, and to our capacity to negotiate.

In Nairobi, Ministers started a frank conversation on the future of the organization — and on how it can do more, and faster.

All Members want to deliver on the outstanding issues of the so-called Doha Agenda, such as agriculture (particularly domestic subsidies) and market access for industrial goods and services — to name but a couple.

But they do not agree on precisely how these issues should be tackled. In addition, some Members would like to start discussing non-Doha issues, bringing some new topics into play.

This conversation has already started, in Geneva and in capitals. And despite Members’ differences, there are some important commonalities.

For example, there is a strong desire to maintain development at the centre of our efforts. It is also clear that Members want to continue making positive efforts to better integrate developing and least developed countries into trading flows.

So I think we need to build on these elements of agreement — and learn from our recent successes — in order to keep on delivering and make as full a contribution as we can.

This conversation is an opportunity to make sure that the future work of the WTO delivers for you.

We can potentially take actions which will help deliver on your development goals — helping to diversify the economy and encouraging more businesses to trade.

Many businesses in Côte d’Ivoire are small and medium-sized enterprises, so we can take further steps to help them to trade, and to lower the costs and the barriers which currently make it too difficult for them to start exporting.

These are just a few examples. The point is that you have an opportunity to shape the future of global trade discussions in your interests. I want to help you to seize that opportunity.

CONCLUSION

As I have outlined today, the WTO has already delivered in terms of new agreements that can help Côte d’Ivoire. Now we need to follow them through and implement them in full.

And we need to agree on further reforms that will support development here and around the globe.

You have my full commitment in that effort, and I ask you to get involved in the debate. Your voice will be as important as ever.

So I hope to count on your participation, and look forward to hearing your views on the way forward.

Thank you.

 

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