WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Speech by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo


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Thank you Chair, Madam Young.
Good morning everyone.

I am very pleased to join this meeting today.

We are here to take stock of the major developments in the international trading system since we last met, in December last year.

You will have seen my report on trade-related developments, which was circulated to members on 4 July in document:  WT/TPR/OV/W/10.  

This report covers the period from mid-October 2015 to mid-May 2016. It provides an assessment of the main trends in terms of trade measures implemented over this period.

This is a mid-year precursor to my annual report on this subject, which will be circulated towards the end of this year.

Transparency is a cornerstone of our work in the WTO and since 2009 these reports have made a significant contribution to that. As such, this is a very important occasion.

It is a good moment to: take stock of what has happened, and reflect on the steps ahead.

In a moment, I will outline the key findings of the report. But first, I would like to provide a brief background on the process of preparing this document.

Information in this report has been collected from inputs submitted by members and observers, as well as from other official and public sources.

I would like to thank the delegations that have participated in this exercise by providing relevant information on time and by ensuring the subsequent verification of reported measures. 

On this topic, let me underline one point. It is very important that we recognize this process as an ongoing dialogue.

By submitting the necessary information and having the opportunity to check and correct the measures recorded by this exercise, members and the Secretariat have a chance to interact in a constructive manner.

This is fundamental in ensuring the factual accuracy of the reported measures, and of course, for it to serve its purpose.

For the current interim report, 70 members replied to my initial request for information. That’s about 43 per cent of the membership. This is in line with the last mid-year report.

I have been particularly pleased to see the involvement of some newcomers to the trade monitoring exercise. However, I believe we can do better in some regions — particularly in Africa.

Transparency is vital — but it takes commitment. The Secretariat will continue to be available to delegations to help increase members’ understanding of this exercise and support their participation.

Allow me now to turn to the substance of the report — and the broader context.

We are living through a period of economic volatility and low growth. 

Trade growth is likely to remain below 3% in 2016, making it the fifth consecutive year of sub 3% expansion. Except for the immediate rebound after the financial crisis, this is the weakest sustained level of trade growth for 30 years.

This situation calls for our attention — and action.

The report before you shows that 154 new trade-restrictive measures, excluding trade remedy measures, were put in place in the reporting period.

This amounts to an average of 22 new measures per month and constitutes a significant increase on the previous interim report, which recorded an average of 15 measures per month. It is also the highest monthly average of trade-restrictive measures registered since 2011.

Of course, while the simple numerical counting of measures does not give an indication of their real trade impact, it nevertheless gives us an idea of overall trends.

We have long been concerned about the growing stockpile of the post-2008 trade-restrictive measures, and this report suggests that this trend may be continuing.

The overall stockpile has increased by 11 percent during the review period. Out of the more than 2,800 measures recorded by this exercise since October 2008 only 25 percent have been removed. And these figures also include trade remedies.

Hence, the total number of restrictive measures still in place today stands at slightly more than 2,100.

Although some WTO members are eliminating trade-restrictive measures implemented in the past, the rate by which this is done remains far too low to make a dent in the stockpile.

A rise in trade restrictions is the last thing the global economy needs today. This increase could have a further chilling effect on trade flows, with knock-on effects for economic growth and job creation.

I’m sure that members will want to monitor these developments very closely.

On a more positive note, the report also shows that during the period under review, 132 new trade-liberalizing measures have been implemented.

This represents an average of 19 measures per month - an increase on the previous interim report. This is important because it demonstrates that some WTO members continue to take steps to facilitate trade.

Looking at other findings of the report, a higher number of trade remedy investigations per month was recorded during this review period compared to the previous report. The report before you also indicates a rise in the number of general economic support measures implemented by WTO members, confirming an upward trend since the end of 2013. 

In the area of trade in services, this report confirms past findings that the services sector is seeing further liberalization, especially through the strengthening and clarification of relevant regulatory requirements.

From a systemic point of view, I think it is important to underline developments in the WTO’s TBT and SPS committees.

Since last October, WTO members submitted 678 notifications to the SPS Committee. The share of SPS notifications from developing countries remained high, accounting for about two thirds of all notifications, and confirming their increased participation on this front.

In the TBT Committee there has been a significant increase in the number of new Specific Trade Concerns raised, confirming the upward trend observed over the past years.

It is positive that members are increasingly seeking to use the system in this way.

These are some of the principal findings of the report before you today.

As we are gathered here to discuss our monitoring work, I would like to draw your attention to another product which we launched recently to provide more data on the general trade picture.

It is called the World Trade Outlook Indicator, and is designed to provide real time, immediate information, indicating if trade is likely to slow or accelerate in the near future — like a barometer for trade. It will be issued on a quarterly basis, helping governments and businesses to judge current and short-term trading conditions.

The indicator gives a headline figure to show how global trade is performing against trend. A reading of 100 would indicate trade growth in line with recent trends, a reading greater than 100 would suggest above trend growth, and vice versa.

For the current period, the indicator came in slightly below trend, with a reading of 99.0. In addition, we saw a downward tendency in the most recent data.

On this basis, we expect trade growth to remain sluggish into the third quarter of the year.

This is a tool for all members to use. We hope it will help enhance our understanding of real time developments in global trade.

Let me conclude by thanking again all participants in this important work.  

And at the same time, I urge others to join in and help us in making this a factual and credible exercise in transparency.

I think the message of the report before you is a sobering one. It is one we must take seriously.

The best safeguard we have against protectionism is a strong multilateral trading system. We should work together, through this forum, to reverse some of the prevailing trends that I have described today.

This will be essential if we are to boost growth, development and job creation.

I wish you a productive meeting.  

Thank you

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