WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO


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Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning.

Let me extend a belated welcome to Geneva and to the WTO. I am very pleased to have all of you with us on this occasion.

I think that the Geneva week has become a very important event in the WTO calendar.

First, it allows you to receive detailed updates on all of the activities that are happening in the organization.

Second, it helps our work here in Geneva. It is a moment to take stock of what has happened since we last met. But, more importantly, it is an opportunity to hear your views on the subjects being discussed. In this way, I think this event enriches the debate — and I hope you find it as helpful as we do.

I have had a close look at your agenda and I see that you have already had some very interesting sessions — and there are more to come.

So I would like to thank all involved — especially the Development Division — for putting this comprehensive programme together.

The last time we met was just a couple of weeks before our Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

At that time, I told you that achieving success there would require a lot of effort by all delegations.

And it did take a lot of effort. It was really tough. But we beat the odds and delivered our second successful Ministerial Conference in a row.

You have heard from different people in the Secretariat about the decisions taken at Nairobi. But allow me to highlight their importance.

In Nairobi, members took the historic decision to abolish agricultural export subsidies. This is the biggest reform in global agricultural trade 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 in developing and least-developed countries.

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

In fact, eliminating these subsidies was 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!

In addition, members have agreed to find a permanent solution on Public Stockholding for food security purposes — and to develop a Special Safeguard Mechanism, which would help deal with import surges of food products that can harm domestic production.

In Nairobi, members also took important decisions in favour of LDCs.

As you heard earlier this week, one of the decisions in the LDC package provides guidelines on Preferential Rules of Origin which seek to facilitate LDCs’ goods exports. 

This decision provides detailed directions on specific issues. For example, it sets out methods for determining when a product qualifies as “made in an LDC”, and what it means when inputs from other sources are combined together. 

It also calls on preference-granting members to consider simplifying documentary and procedural requirements related to origin.

Another decision in favour of LDCs adopted at Nairobi covers the very important issue of preferential market access in the area of services. Ministers extended for 15 years the lifespan of an earlier decision, enabling WTO members to grant LDC service providers preferential access to their markets.

Significant steps were also taken on Cotton, opening foreign markets for the most vulnerable producers.

Each of these decisions includes follow-up mechanisms which allow us to seek further improvements. And, of course, work in these areas is ongoing.

Finally, in Nairobi, a group of members struck a deal to eliminate tariffs on a range of new generation information technology products. Trade in these products is worth around $1.3 trillion each year. That's bigger than global automotive trade.

This was the WTO's first tariff-cutting deal in 19 years. It will support lower prices — which will help many other sectors using IT products as inputs — and, again, it will help create jobs.

These are very important outcomes for the global economy. And they send an important signal about the health of the global trading system itself.

After a prolonged period where little progress was made in global trade talks, these results are making people sit up and take notice.

I have visited many capitals this year, and attended a range of meetings with trade ministers from different regions and in different configurations. Across all of these encounters I have seen a resurgence of interest in our work. People are excited at what we might be able to do next.

This is very positive. We have to build on this momentum and re-energize our work.

So, looking ahead, I think we have two major tasks before us.

First, we need to implement what we have already agreed and follow-up on the commitments made.

This includes all of the elements that I have already mentioned, and the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

That agreement can deliver some huge benefits in cutting trade costs, as I have detailed at our previous meetings — and this applies particularly for developing and least developed countries. 

But the benefits, and the capacity-building support that stands behind them, can’t be realised until the Agreement is ratified. So I encourage you all to look into moving forward with your ratification processes. The Secretariat is here to help with any questions you might have on that front.

So far, over 80 members have ratified this deal. The pace of ratifications has been increasing, and I urge you to talk to your capitals and complete these procedures as swiftly as possible. 

Another action that is also within our reach is the entry into force of the TRIPS Amendment on Public Health.

The Amendment will allow members to export affordable medicines to poor countries which cannot produce the medicines themselves.

We are very close to bringing this important amendment into force and need only a handful of additional acceptances. And I am very pleased to note that just this week we received Papua New Guinea's acceptance of the protocol amending the TRIPS Agreement.

This is very positive, and I encourage you to accelerate your domestic process on this matter if you haven't done so.

And let me note that this amendment does not require members to take on any new obligations — precisely because it concerns a new flexibility, not a new obligation.

So that's the first thing we need to do. 

The second is that we must keep agreeing new trade deals.

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

However, as you well know, they do not agree on how to tackle them.

We have tried many approaches over the past couple of years, but with little progress.  So we must keep trying. We must redouble our efforts and try to increase the political will behind these discussions. And I am glad to tell you that some members are proposing new ideas and concepts with the aim of taking those conversations forward.

In addition, members have also raised a range of other issues that they would like to discuss.

Some of these are also Doha issues. Fisheries subsidies is one such area which has frequently been raised.

Other issues which I have heard raised include steps to support micro, small and medium sized-enterprises, e-commerce, investment facilitation, and private standards, to name just a few.

In these areas, members have not yet gone into detail on what they would like to discuss under those broad headings. In each case, we need a much greater degree of specificity than we have at present.

But it has to be positive that members are getting involved in these discussions.

And I would urge you to try to engage as much as possible here.

This is an opportunity to ensure the issues that matter most to you are reflected in our negotiating work.

And this is another reason why your activities here this week are so important.

I should also note that the interest in our work here is extending to other constituencies as well.

In response to requests, we have facilitated meetings with the private sector and the academic community in recent weeks.

Some 60 business leaders attended the private sector discussion. We had representatives from small and large companies, from developed and developing countries, and from a wide range of sectors.

They debated the challenges they face in conducting trade operations and how the WTO can help in dealing with them.

They spent a lot of time on e-commerce, investment facilitation and micro, small and medium sized-enterprises — trying to provide some of the clarity and detail which is currently missing from the debate.

They also discussed the need to look at the proliferation of overlapping rules and regulations due to the increase in the number of regional trade agreements.

Similar issues were raised in the discussion with the academic community.

And I want to emphasize one point in particular.

From those debates, it was clear that complying with a patchwork of different rules in different jurisdictions can be challenging for businesses, especially smaller companies.

In fact, trade is sometimes identified as an economic activity that only favours the big companies. 

While this is clearly not true, we cannot deny that it's harder for the smaller players to overcome the costs and barriers that trading internationally can involve.

So it's important to look at how we can broaden the participation of these companies in the trading system — to ensure that the benefits of trade are available to all.

I understand you were able to attend the workshop organized by the Philippines along with a group of members and the ITC earlier this week. I hope that discussions like that will help members to identify positive steps that they can take on these issues.  

So an important conversation is underway here in Geneva. It could help to shape our negotiating work for years to come.

And despite some obvious gaps between members' positions, 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.

I think we need to build on these elements of agreement — and learn from our recent successes — so that we can keep on delivering.

Creativity and flexibility will be very important here. Future negotiations will hinge on our ability to recognize fully the diversity of circumstances among the members. We also need to do more to help those who need assistance to implement commitments and improve their capacity to trade.

As we look ahead, your voice will be as important as ever.

And I want to make sure that it is heard. So let's start right now!

It's now your turn to speak. The floor is open.

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