Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Madam Chair,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am very pleased to join you today, as we take stock of the major developments in the international trading system over the past 12 months.

A key pillar of our work here at the WTO is to help provide transparency and predictability to the trading system. I think that this Annual Overview is an important component of this. It allows us to take stock of what has happened in the trading landscape, and of course, to reflect on the steps ahead.

The report before you today looks at the implementation of trade-related measures across the WTO membership between mid-October 2015 and mid-October 2016. It was circulated to members on 21 November, under my own responsibility.

The report outlines a number of important trade-related developments, as well as an overall assessment of the main trends observed in trade measures recorded over this period. And it presents a comprehensive look at all these issues. It includes a wide range of perspectives, including developments on recent trade policy reviews, on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, and the ITA expansion — to name just a few.

In fact, for the first time, this report includes a separate chapter on recent discussions on intellectual property. In addition to that, the report provides a snapshot of the trade concerns raised in WTO bodies over the past 12 months, including developments in trade remedies, SPS, TBT and services. 

As you can see, the report is quite comprehensive and tries to offer you a fairly horizontal view of developments in the trade landscape. Of course, these developments may have positive, negative or neutral impacts on global trade growth. However, the report does not aim to characterize the measures or actions listed therein with any type of subjective analysis.

Therefore, any measure or action mentioned in the report must not be deemed to be protectionist (or not), WTO consistent (or inconsistent), legitimate (or illegitimate), necessary (or not), arbitrary (or not), and so on. It is an objective and factual report; nothing more.

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

Information for 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 this information. 

For this Annual Overview, 84 members and 4 observers replied to my request for information. This is a record number of replies! But of course, there is always room for improvement. Transparency requires constant commitment and engagement. I encourage other members to take part as well.

Of course, the Secretariat is available to help increase members’ understanding of this exercise and to help facilitate their participation.

Before I turn to the substance of the report, I would like to say a few words about the broader economic context.

In September the WTO downgraded its forecasts for trade growth in 2016 from 2.8 per cent to 1.7 per cent. If realized, this would mark the slowest pace of trade growth since the financial crisis. This is of course largely due to the lacklustre performance of the global economy — and not the other way around.

To help monitor the situation, the WTO launched a new World Trade Outlook Indicator in July. It was designed to provide real time, immediate information, indicating if trade is likely to slow or accelerate in the near future.

The last update of the WTOI was issued just last month. The indicator rose slightly, signaling a modest acceleration of trade into the fourth quarter. This is broadly consistent with the WTO’s most recent forecast. The secretariat will continuously evaluate the indicator and make adjustments as necessary. The next update of the WTOI is planned for February 2017. 

Looking ahead, we need to keep up the hard work to help facilitate trade. And of course, this includes avoiding measures which can hamper and restrict trade flows.

This brings me to the key findings of the report that is before us today.

The document shows that 182 new trade-restrictive measures, excluding trade remedy measures, were put in place in the reporting period. This amounts to an average of just over 15 new measures per month.

This represents a reduction in the monthly average compared to 2015, when we saw an average of 20 new measures per month — the highest level since 2011. However, this does not mean that we are on a downward trend. Rather, it seems to be a return to the somewhat steady levels we have witnessed since 2009.

Of course, the numerical counting of measures does not give an indication of their real trade impact. But it does serve to illustrate the overall trend.

An important parameter to bear in mind is that, out of the 2,978 measures (including trade remedies) recorded by this exercise since it has started, only 740 have been removed.

Evidently, the last thing the global economy needs today is trade restrictive measures. They can have a further chilling effect on trade flows, with knock-on effects for economic growth and job creation.

During the review period, WTO members also applied 216 new measures aimed at facilitating trade.

These include the first measures implemented in the context of the expanded Information Technology Agreement — so this is good news.

The total figure represents an average of 18 new trade-facilitating measures per month. This represents a slight decrease over the previous report, but nevertheless, remains above the 2009-2015 average. 

Looking at other findings of the report, the monthly average of trade-remedy investigations was the highest since 2009. In contrast, the monthly average of trade remedy terminations was the lowest since the beginning of the monitoring exercise.

I should again stress, particularly in the case of trade remedies, that the report does not call into question whether or not the measures listed are WTO-consistent or necessary.

The report also indicates a decline in the number of general economic support measures implemented by WTO members. We are, however, cautious about over-interpreting this development as we face considerable challenges in getting members to report on such measures. Also here, like in all other sections, the report does not prejudge WTO-consistency nor necessity or legitimacy of the listed measures.

In the area of trade in services, recent developments show that the sector is seeing further liberalization, especially through the strengthening and clarification of regulatory requirements.

I also want to highlight the section of the report dedicated to providing members with an overview of the issues raised in individual Trade Policy Reviews over the past year. The high number of TPRs can place a significant burden of work on delegations, especially the smaller ones. Therefore, I am particularly pleased to note the increasing active participation of LDCs.

This report also draws attention to the changing technological landscape and to the increasing significance of intellectual property in economic development. It shows that several WTO members have adopted new national and regional policies related to IP and the digital economy.

Finally, I wish to underline the continued commitment of members to notifying SPS and TBT measures for transparency purposes. And we have made important progress here.

SPS and TBT notifications are now accessible through the online alert system ePing. This allows users to receive email alerts on products and markets of interest to them.

Each year the WTO receives more than 3,500 TBT and SPS notifications proposing new measures that may affect international trade. By improving access to this information, ePing will help avoid unnecessary disruptions caused by these measures.

These are some of the principal findings that I wanted to share with you today. I hope it can provide food for thought and some input for your discussions.

So let me conclude by thanking again everyone who has taken part in this important work. I urge others to get involved, and help strengthen this exercise.

I should also stress that I am fully aware of your discussions on ways to improve this trade monitoring exercise and to re-energize our discussions of these reports. 

I think this shows your continued commitment and interest in ensuring that transparency remains a cornerstone of our work.

In the context of a challenging economic scenario, I think we should keep in mind the role of the multilateral trading system in providing a stable, predictable and transparent trading environment.

And as we look towards MC11 in Buenos Aires, we should seek to make decisive progress in eliminating remaining trade-restrictive measures, while also delivering new negotiated outcomes.

Thank you for listening. I wish you a very productive meeting. 

RSS news feeds

Problems viewing this page?
Please contact [email protected] giving details of the operating system and web browser you are using.