Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo

> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be in Viet Nam.

This is my first visit to the country — both personally and as Director-General of the World Trade Organization — so I’m particularly pleased to be here today. And I thank the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry for their kind invitation.

For those not very familiar with the WTO, at the most fundamental level we set and administer the rules upon which global trade is run.

By providing a robust framework of rules, we help to avoid unilateral, discriminatory or arbitrary measures in trade, helping to level the playing field between developed and developing countries.

We also monitor countries’ trade policies and provide a forum to settle trade disputes when they arise.

In fact, the WTO’s dispute settlement system is one of the most effective bodies of its kind across the spectrum of international law. And it is very well used. It has dealt with over 500 cases since the WTO was created just 21 years ago.

We also work to help developing countries in building their capacity to trade. Viet Nam has been a beneficiary of this support, with the latest figures showing that the country receives 3.6 billion dollars through the WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative — making the country one of the top 10 recipients of the programme.

Today, the WTO has 162 members, all around the world, at all stages of development. This means that WTO rules cover around 98% of global trade.

The unique thing about the organization is that all members have a seat at the table. All help to set the agenda. All help to steer the debate.

Viet Nam is an active and constructive player in this work.

Indeed, Viet Nam has been a committed member since it joined the organization almost a decade ago.

During the process of acceding to WTO membership, the then Vietnamese Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen said that the negotiations closely accompanied the country’s economic reforms known as ’doi moi’ — or, if I have it right - ’renovation’ in English.

And these reforms have had a remarkable effect.

Today Viet Nam is one of the world’s most open economies, using international trade and foreign direct investment to drive growth. The country now ranks among the 35 largest exporters in the world.

Viet Nam’s economy has weathered the recent turbulence in the global economy well, and so the economic prospects for the country remain very favourable. With GDP growth forecast at 6.4% this year, Viet Nam is among the fastest-growing markets in the world. Moreover, the IMF forecast that Viet Nam will remain one of the top 10 fastest growing economies into the coming decades.

This performance is helping to reduce poverty and change people’s lives. And I’m pleased that trade is playing an important part in this transformation.

So as we look to the future, we must ensure that trade continues to play its full part in delivering Viet Nam’s economic objectives.

And I think that the WTO can continue to be an important partner in that effort.

A central element of our work is negotiating new global trade rules. For a long time, the WTO made little progress on this front — but over the last 2 years we have changed all that.

The WTO has begun to deliver — and I think some of the reforms that we are making to global trade will bring concrete results for the Vietnamese economy.

Just last December, at our Ministerial meeting held in Nairobi, WTO members agreed some very significant results.

Members took the historic decision to abolish agricultural export subsidies. This is the biggest reform in agricultural trade rule in the last 20 years.

By eliminating this trade-distorting support, this deal will help to level the playing field in agriculture markets to the benefit of farmers and exporters here in Viet Nam — and in other developing countries.

Of course, there is much more to do in order to reduce distortions in agricultural markets, but this is a major step forward.

Actually, eliminating these subsidies was a key target 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 in New York.

In Nairobi, Members also pledged to negotiate in the next two years a decision on public stockholding of grains for food security purposes.

And they made a commitment to negotiate a mechanism allowing developing countries to shield local farmers from import surges of food products which can harm domestic production.

In addition, a group of WTO members struck a deal to expand the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement.

This deal will eliminate tariffs on 201 additional IT products, including the latest generation of semiconductors, GPS devices, advanced medical products and machine tools.

Trade in these products is worth around 1.3 trillion dollars each year.

With this agreement, tariffs in these products will be reduced to zero — and legally locked-in at zero.

It will support lower prices — which will help many other sectors that use IT products as inputs — and it will help create jobs.

Of course, Viet Nam is a member of the original Information Technology Agreement, and has been consolidating its position as an exporter of high technology products such as cell phones, electronics, and computers. So this is of particular interest to you, and I encourage you to look into the benefits that this expanded Agreement can bring.

The results of Nairobi built on some other significant outcomes, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement, delivered at our previous Ministerial meeting in Bali in 2013.

Slow, uncoordinated customs processes raise the costs of trading, harming productivity and preventing many companies from being able to export at all.

This Agreement aims to tackle precisely this issue.

It will help to streamline, simplify and standardise customs procedures, thereby reducing the time and cost of moving goods across borders.

Studies suggest that when fully implemented, this deal has the potential to increase developing countries’ merchandise exports by up to 730 billion dollars per annum.

And for Viet Nam, the Agreement could reduce trade costs by as much as 20%. Cutting a fifth off the cost of trading would make a huge difference. It will help to boost trade flows in Viet Nam. It will support SMEs to start exporting. And, in a time when production chains have been globalised, it will help the economy to connect to cross-border production networks. 

I welcome Viet Nam’s commitment to trade facilitation reforms — and the country’s ratification of this WTO Agreement in December last year.

I think this work can help to complement the reforms that Viet Nam has been making to improve its economic climate and to attract foreign investment. And it helps to reinforce the message that the country is working to create a more business-friendly environment.

The outcomes I have listed here are economically very significant. I think they show that the WTO can deliver in a way that is very meaningful for this country.

Of course, regional trade initiatives are also very important. Viet Nam itself is part of ventures of this nature, such as ASEAN, or the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Sometimes these different tracks — global and regional — are talked about as if they were in conflict with each other — but this is not the case. These approaches do not require an "either / or" strategy. Quite the opposite. A healthy trading system requires energy and activity at all levels. These regional initiatives help to spread the benefits of trade, and can act as a complement to global trade rules.

Indeed, our analysis of regional agreements shows that they all have WTO DNA. And in the areas where they overlap with WTO rules we have found no obvious conflicts.

A bigger consideration is where such initiatives touch on areas that are not currently covered by the WTO. This creates a potential scenario where different RTAs deal with the same issue in different ways.

No-one would suggest that regional agreements should not venture into these new areas. But I think conversations in the WTO could help us establish whether a multilateral approach is feasible or desirable. If so, we would have a much more balanced, harmonious and inclusive framework.

At the WTO meeting in Nairobi, ministers instructed their officials in Geneva to find ways to advance our negotiating work, and so these questions are currently on the table.

It is clear that all WTO members want to deliver on the so-called Doha pending issues, such as domestic subsidies in agriculture, fisheries subsidies, and improved market access for agricultural produce, industrial goods and services.

However, members do not agree on how to tackle these issues.

In addition, some would like to start discussing other subjects, some of which are already being touched on in regional agreements. These could include topics just as investment promotion, e-commerce, or small and medium-sized enterprises, to name just a few examples.

This debate has already started — and I can’t over-emphasise how important it could prove to be. It could determine the shape of global trade talks for years to come.

And I think that this is an opportunity for Viet Nam.

It is a chance to ensure that the WTO is taking action on the issues that matter most to you — so that global trade continues to support your journey of development.

So I urge you to get engaged — and stay engaged.

Viet Nam has made phenomenal progress in recent years. 

I want to ensure that the WTO helps you to reach even further and achieve even more in the years ahead. 

And if we work together, I am confident that this is precisely what we will do.

Thank you for listening.

DG Azevêdo meets with Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade, Tran Tuan Anh, in Hanoi.

DG Azevêdo meets with Viet Nam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuân Phúc and high-ranking officials in Hanoi

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