Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Your Excellency, Minister Ricardo Luna,
Your Excellency, Minister Eduardo Ferreyros Küppers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you all for this opportunity to address you today. And let me recall that we had an excellent discussion at the trade ministers’ meeting, in May in Arequipa.

We have seen a great deal of change since then.

The outlook for trade growth has weakened significantly. In September the WTO downgraded its forecasts for trade growth in 2016 from 2.8% to 1.7%. If this is realized, this would mark the slowest pace of trade growth since the financial crisis.

Last week we reported that the rate of new trade restrictions being introduced by G20 members remains stable. So we don’t yet see a downward shift on the trend we’ve seen since 2009. 

And of course recent political developments could also have a significant effect on the trading landscape — from the Brexit referendum in the UK to the new administration in the US and upcoming elections in many big traders. It’s early to tell what those effects could look like, but we must be watchful.

Connected to this, we must also acknowledge and respond to the clear sense among some communities, particularly in advanced economies, that trade is not working for them. We know that trade is not the major cause for instability in the labour markets — that we must ascribe to new technologies and higher productivity. But we must nonetheless recognise that trade can have a disruptive effect in some instances.

We can take action to make trade more inclusive, benefitting the poorer countries, the smaller companies, and those that are marginalised from its benefits. It is vital that we ensure that trade remains a positive element to support economic growth and job creation. And it is vital that trade is perceived as such.

Of course a key part of this will be to continue to advance our work at the WTO on all fronts.

The mood in Geneva remains mostly very positive and constructive — as it was last time we met. The successful outcomes of the last two ministerial conferences have energised members.

Levels of engagement and dynamism are higher than we’ve seen for some time. This is the case for both members and for a range of other stakeholders, including the private sector. Members are now considering whether there are potential deliverables between now and the 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires next December.

Many of you attended the informal ministerial meeting convened by the Norwegian government in Oslo last month. A wide range of members took part in the meeting, including developed, developing and least developed countries, and the coordinators of the Africa, LDC and ACP Groups.

It was a very constructive discussion and ministers drew a few major conclusions:

  • First, there was a shared call from nearly all those in Oslo to deliver concrete results at MC11.
  • Second, ministers agreed that, at least in the short term, any outcomes should be achieved through incremental steps rather than major leaps.
  • Third, the participants acknowledged the value of ministerial engagement throughout preparations for MC11.

This final point is particularly important, if we are to avoid a repetition of the experience of Nairobi. Too much was left to negotiate at the Ministerial Conference itself. The work in Geneva needs more political direction and impetus, so that we don’t leave the political calls to the very last moment.

This will require a continuing dialogue amongst ministers and more clarity about members’ priorities and interests at an early stage.

These inputs, and others from the Oslo meeting, will now feed into discussions in Geneva.

Members have been putting forward ideas on a wide range of issues, both within Doha and on non-Doha topics. Some areas are drawing more attention.

In agriculture, several papers have been submitted with ideas and queries on a range of issues, including domestic support. Work on Public Stockholding and SSMs is proceeding, but I’m concerned with the lack of progress. Meetings are scheduled to allow for further discussion.

In services, there have been some interesting developments with the submission and initial discussion of a concept note on trade facilitation in services, and another submission on domestic regulation.

There has also been positive movement in the area of fisheries subsidies. Here, a range of ideas is being discussed multilaterally, and some members have submitted specific proposals, with others expected. Also, complementing those efforts, a group of members started work towards a separate agreement to limit harmful subsidies that lead to overfishing.

On most DDA issues, overall progress has been slow. If we are to advance, we need more focused discussions, away from the reiteration of well-known positions. We need to find ways to break the impasse that has characterized some of these discussions. The chairs of the negotiating groups have been consulting to try and identify ways to advance the negotiating process. I urge you all to pay specific attention to this set of issues.

There has also been a lot of discussion about a range of other issues, including SMEs and e-commerce. I’m pleased to see that both of these issues are on your agenda this afternoon.

A number of meetings and initiatives have been taking place to discuss these subjects in Geneva, with developing and developed countries putting forward their ideas.

On e-commerce, a number of submissions have been received and consultations are on-going to see how to move the discussions forward. I understand however that members have different views on how to conduct this work. So we’ll be keeping an eye on that.

But I should stress that, particularly in these new areas of discussion, what is often needed is additional impetus and clarity from the proponents themselves. Proponents must interact more with those delegations that are more cautious. Most times, lack of engagement is simply due to suspicions about what the proposed conversation would entail, what its objectives are, and what impact it could have on other issues already on the table.

If we are to find deliverables for MC11 we need to step up conversations in order to have more clarity on members’ expectations for all areas, and to consider how we can address the most pressing concerns.

Besides, if we are to make progress, it is important that there is something for everyone — that includes delivering for development and, in particular, for the LDCs.

So I would hope that members will keep an open mind when considering which elements to take forward.

All ideas and proposals deserve to be fully evaluated.

All members should have an opportunity to have their ideas heard and should also be ready to hear the ideas put forth by others.

Now let me make a few points concerning format and process. In considering what may be possible, we should keep in mind the lessons from our past ministerials in terms of the range of approaches we can take.

I think we succeed when members are ready to be flexible. We must recognise the diversity of circumstances among the membership.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement is a good example of this.

The Agreement allows a great deal of flexibility, provides support for implementation where it is needed, and does so while maintaining a multilateral approach.

We all know that a multilateral negotiation can only happen if there is consensus to move ahead. And I do hope that any forthcoming negotiation will be truly multilateral, even though some proponents have expressed openness to move plurilaterally as well.

Of course, we have seen that the plurilateral approach can be an effective way for members to advance in some areas. The expansion of the Information Technology Agreement in Nairobi was a major success. And a number of members are working hard to conclude the Environmental Goods Agreement by the end of the year. This is a very positive initiative and an example of what trade can do for sustainability and the environment.

Exploring different solutions and different approaches can be useful. But whatever format members choose to explore, it is important that the conversations remain inclusive and open-ended, affording any and all WTO members an opportunity to participate.

Indeed, I think it’s important that conversations can take place in the WTO on a range of issues, as we have seen so far this year.

If these conversations cannot take place within the WTO, they will not stop. They will simply take place elsewhere in a less inclusive, less transparent manner.

We should seek to take the steps that we can, wherever we can take them. We should not feel discouraged if there are difficult elements in a discussion. Nothing we do will be the end of the road; rather just one more step in the right direction. We should make the progress that is feasible in a given moment and try to build on those outcomes over time.


Before I conclude, let me say a word about something that underpins our ability to negotiate — and that is implementation. 

Following through on past agreements is vital for building trust between members and credibility in the process.

This includes the Trade Facilitation Agreement. We now have just under 100 ratifications, which brings us very close to the threshold of 110 needed for entry into force.

As things stand today, 17 APEC economies have ratified the TFA — with Mexico, Peru and the Philippines having done so since we met last May. And I understand that Chile is due to deliver its ratification soon.

Members also need to notify their acceptance of the TRIPS amendment on access to medicines. This measure is even closer to entry into force than the TFA.

19 APEC economies have notified their acceptance of the Amendment, with Papua New Guinea and Peru having done so since May.

I urge those who haven’t yet done so to please accelerate your domestic processes to ensure that these two measures can be brought into force in the near future.

Finally, I would stress again the importance of maintaining political engagement — your engagement — in our work, and the importance of being open-minded.

If we want to move forward, we should be ready to do so wherever we can.

This will be vital as we begin to identify potential outcomes for MC11 — and I believe it is vital for our efforts to strengthen and improve the multilateral trading system.

Thank you for listening.

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