DG Azevêdo’s speaking notes

Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Good afternoon everyone.

It is great to join Stormy and John — as well as Ambassadors Syed Tauqir Shah and Hamish McCormick.

I am delighted to welcome all of you to the Public Forum.

This is an exciting time for the WTO.

After two successful Ministerial Conferences in a row, people have started to realize that the WTO can deliver.

In 2013, in Bali, we delivered a series of important outcomes, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

In 2015, in Nairobi, we delivered the biggest reform in agricultural trade by abolishing agricultural export subsidies. In addition, a group of members agreed to slash tariffs on a range of IT products. Trade in these products is worth around USD 1.3 trillion each year.

These are major achievements. And as a result, we have seen a surge of interest in our work from many groups. This is very positive. We have to build on this momentum to re-energize our work.

After all, trade negotiations do not occur in a vacuum.

Trade impacts the lives of people everywhere, be they consumers, workers or entrepreneurs. And the work of many groups — such as unions, NGOs and academics — help to bring these matters to the forefront of the debate.

I think that all these voices can make an important contribution. And, of course, business has a role to play in that conversation as well.

The rules we deal with at the WTO bear directly on businesses’ ability to connect to global trade flows.

So I think it is very important to hear about the challenges you face when doing business across borders — and see how we might be able to help.

And this year we have seen an impressive level of engagement.

The ICC and B20 earlier this year facilitated a dialogue between business leaders and WTO members.

So in May we held our first Trade Dialogues event, here at the WTO. And as a global organization we need to hear from different perspectives.

So, at that meeting we had attendees from small and large enterprises, from developed and developing countries, and from a variety of sectors.

And I am glad to see that many of the participants of that meeting are here today.

We had a very rich debate. Participants discussed a number of issues where they believed WTO work could help tackle the challenges they face.  

Some of the topics discussed, just to name a few, included:

  • E-commerce,
  • SMEs,
  • Improved market access in goods and services,  
  • Investment facilitation, and
  • Non-tariff barriers.

These suggestions are positive, and can help to provide some additional impetus to our debates here in Geneva.

Since then I have been reaching out to business people around the world, from Mark Zuckerberg in San Francisco and Jack Ma in Hangzhou, to SMEs from everywhere in between — and there is a real sense of interest and energy.

It is important now that this conversation continues, and begins to fill in the details under some of these broad headings.

So I am very pleased that the participants of the Trade Dialogues, under the leadership of the ICC and the B20, have been advancing their discussions.

And I am also pleased that you decided to share some of your ideas with us today. I look forward to hearing about your deliberations.

However, to reach agreement amongst businesses is but one element of the equation.

The biggest challenge is to bring your ideas and suggestions to the next level, helping to inform the debate among WTO members here in Geneva.

And for that to happen, it is vital to engage with the members and interact with them.

Therefore, I am delighted you are using the Public Forum for this continued exchange.

To make a positive impact, we need an informed and balanced trade debate, and one that takes as many views into account as possible.

This is particularly important at a time when trade is being attacked in many constituencies.

The evidence shows that trade makes a huge difference for growth, jobs and development. So where there are problems, or where trade has caused some dislocation, the answer is not to put up barriers and turn away from trade. That would hurt us all.

The answer is to ensure the benefits of trade reach even more widely. That’s what I mean by “Inclusive Trade” — which is the theme of the Forum this week.

So we need to work harder to make the case for trade, and business has a crucial role to play.

The WTO’s track record shows that we can deliver for the real economy, and that we’re strongest when we work together. So I look forward to your support in order to achieve more in the months and years ahead.

I look forward to hearing your views.

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