SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by DG Azevêdo

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Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to join you today.

“One Belt One Road” is a historic endeavour. I would like to commend President Xi for his leadership in taking it forward.

This initiative is about boosting trade and connectivity. And we all know how transformative this can be.

In China, for example, trade has been crucial to lifting more than 800 million people out of poverty since market reforms began just under four decades ago. This is a phenomenal achievement, which was built on greater economic openness, and supported by the country’s accession to the WTO in 2001.

Trade has proven to be one of the best anti-poverty and pro-development tools we have. And for trade to continue playing its full part in powering economic transformation, the proper structures must be in place. 

Hard infrastructure is essential.

In a recent survey, we asked WTO members what were the biggest sources of trade costs when exporting goods and services. Lack of appropriate transport and network infrastructure were at the top of that list.

“One Belt One Road” projects will be hugely important in responding to this need. 

At the same time, we know that hard infrastructure must be supported by the necessary soft infrastructure. This means the rules, regulations and procedures which can expedite the flow of goods and services across borders in an open and efficient way.

The global trading rules under the WTO are essential here. And we have recently delivered a major new reform to ensure that goods can flow even more easily.

The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement came into force in February this year. It is the biggest global trade deal this century. It will cut the time it takes for goods to cross borders – and will therefore cut trade costs dramatically.

By reducing delays, bureaucracy and the opportunity for corruption, full implementation of the Agreement could reduce trade costs globally by an average of 14.3%. This is a bigger impact than removing every remaining import tariff around the world.

The benefits would be felt most in developing and least developed countries – and, importantly, those countries will also be able to access technical assistance to help to implement the necessary reforms.

This Agreement illustrates why the multilateral trading system is so important, as it delivers these reforms on a huge scale – potentially across 164 WTO members – maximising opportunities for growth and development.

Clearly there are many challenges before us today – with economic growth subdued and the threat of new trade barriers. But, in this context, I believe that global economic cooperation on trade issues is more important than ever. We must work harder to ensure that trade is part of the solution to the challenges we face – and that the benefits of trade reach further and wider.

This means continuing to deliver new reforms to global trade rules.

We know that WTO members can deliver. In addition to the Trade Facilitation Agreement, over the past few years members have also struck deals to expand the Information Technology Agreement, to abolish export subsidies in agriculture trade, and a range of other important steps.

China’s contribution was crucial to reaching each of these agreements – and we are thankful for that.

Members are now discussing what further steps could be taken.

At the end of the year we will hold our Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. That could be an important opportunity for progress. I count on China’s leadership in these talks, so that we can continue advancing the cause of cooperation on trade issues.

In my view this is how we will continue to improve both hard and soft infrastructure in the interests of growth and development around the world.

Thank you.

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