SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO
Thank you Chair,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. Thank you for your kind invitation.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you today. It is always a pleasure to be here in Brussels.
The European Union has always been a hugely important member of the multilateral trading system. And, actually, I see an important parallel between the two institutions.
Both have their roots in the post-war effort to ensure that peace and stability are preserved, and in the belief that greater cooperation between nations is the means to make this dream a reality.
Cooperation between nations is as important as ever today – whatever shape or form that cooperation comes in.
So I'd like to talk to you this morning about how we are working to advance and strengthen cooperation on global trade issues in the WTO.
And I want to say, as well, that parliamentarians play a particularly important role in our work.
You support us through your advocacy on trade issues, through debating, approving and ratifying WTO agreements, and through the pressure that you apply to your governments to engage on the key issues. And, of course, you help connect the WTO as an organization to your constituents – to the people you represent.
We rely on you, through your governments and through platforms like this, to pass on the cares and concerns of your community. And we rely on you to help inform them about the work of the WTO.
This is a very important link. It helps to ensure inclusivity in the global trading system, so that we can ensure that the benefits of trade reach everyone.
Over the years, we have developed a strong partnership with the European Parliament, especially through the Inter Parliamentary Union.
I am pleased to note that the next Parliamentary Conference on the WTO will be held alongside our Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires. I greatly value this continued engagement.
In my view there can be little doubt about the importance of having a rules-based framework for global trade.
The multilateral trading system, rooted in mutually-agreed rules and practices, helps to ensure that trade can flow as freely and openly as possible. It helps to level the playing field, always respecting the space needed for the implementation of legitimate public policies.
And if there are disagreements, then the system provides a forum for dialogue and the means to address those differences in a transparent and predictable way. If solutions cannot be found, the WTO's Dispute Settlement Mechanism offers an open and impartial avenue to settle the matter, thereby ensuring that trade disagreements do not spiral into larger conflicts.
This mechanism is in high demand. To date, more than 520 disputes have been brought by WTO members.
This helps to provide stability in global economic relations. And we saw how important this is in the financial crisis of 2008.
In the crisis of the 1930s, protectionist measures wiped out two-thirds of global trade. And we all know the consequences of the ensuing depression.
In 2008 there was no such effect. We did not see a significant rise in protectionism.
In fact, the share of world imports covered by import-restrictive measures implemented since October 2008 is just 5%. Of course, it could be even lower – but it shows that the WTO did its job.
It shows that while the system is not perfect, it is essential.
And it shows that we must keep reforming the system, and making sure it is able to respond effectively to the challenges of today's world.
Globally, we are experiencing a prolonged period of moderate economic growth.
In 2016 world trade grew at 1.3%. This was the slowest pace since the financial crisis. And despite signs that the figures may pick up this year, it seems quite likely that 2017 will be the sixth consecutive year with trade growth below 3%.
Added to this are changes in the political landscape.
Brexit is one element here. The negotiations got under way just yesterday, so the eyes of the world are on Brussels right now.
At the WTO, we are working with both the EU and the British government to support this transition and ensure that any impact on trade is kept to a minimum.
And while Brexit has a trade component, I don’t believe that it was driven by trade concerns. Issues of sovereignty and migration played a much bigger role.
We are seeing a backlash against globalization in significant segments of the population in several countries.
In this context, trade is often identified as a cause of disruptions in the labour market. These concerns are of course legitimate and deserve to be responded to. And while trade can play a role here, we should be clear that it is actually just one of a range of factors at play.
Actually, independent studies have found that new technologies and higher productivity is around four times more disruptive in labour markets than trade.
Obviously, like trade, innovation and new technologies are fundamental for economic growth and social development. So we must embrace and foster these forces, but we must also be ready to respond to their transformational challenges.
Policies around inclusion, the provision of skills training, support for workers and so on will be important here. But these are domestic issues. It is for your governments to determine the right policy recipe, according to the particular circumstances in each of your countries.
At the global level, however, I think we can also do a great deal to support inclusive growth and development. And we can provide more stability in global trade, which is fundamental for economic progress.
At the WTO we are working every day to lower trade barriers, improve connectivity, and raise people's capacity to trade.
An important part of that work is striking new trade deals. And in recent years, we have delivered a number of important trade agreements, with significant economic benefits.
The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement came into force earlier this year. It is the biggest global trade agreement for a generation.
It aims to streamline, simplify and standardise customs procedures. By doing so, it will help to cut trade costs around the world. Estimates show that the full implementation of the Agreement could reduce trade costs globally by an average of 14.3 per cent. By 2030 it could add 2.7 percentage points per year to world trade growth and more than half a percentage point per year to world GDP growth.
And in recent years WTO members have struck deals in a number of other areas as well.
In 2015, they abolished export subsidies for agricultural goods. This was the biggest reform in agriculture trade in 20 years, and it delivered a key element of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Zero Hunger.
At the same time, a group of WTO members struck a deal to eliminate tariffs on a range of new generation information technology products. Trade in these products is worth around 1.3 trillion each year. That's bigger than global automotive trade.
These are major breakthroughs – of huge economic and systemic importance.
And, in each case, the EU was at the centre of the negotiations.
None of these deals would have been possible without the EU's engagement and leadership.
These deals were achieved because of a willingness among members to do things differently. It took hard work. It took creativity. It took flexibility. We are learning from these achievements, and all this has injected our work with a renewed energy.
Members are now considering how we can advance in a wide range of areas. And the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference will be an important opportunity for progress.
Many discussions are focused on longstanding issues that are part of the Doha Round.
Conversations are ongoing, for example, on agriculture issues, where there is a strong focus on domestic support. There are also discussions on issues related to food security, such as public stockholding in developing countries.
Members are also looking into an agreement to limit subsidies which lead to overfishing.
And there is appetite among some members to take action on services, from domestic regulation to steps which would facilitate trade in services.
On other fronts, there is increasing interest among some WTO members in discussing several other issues – such as e-commerce, investment facilitation or how to help small and medium sized enterprises to trade.
Groups of members are organizing informal discussions on all of these issues. More are being prepared, and I welcome the energy that this is injecting into our work.
Importantly, there is a genuine openness in the approach of the proponents. All members have been invited and encouraged to actively participate.
And, again, the EU is playing a very important role across the board.
It is early to tell what we may be able to harvest by the time of the Buenos Aires meeting in December.
In the coming weeks I hope to see this work advancing with a much greater sense of purpose.
The agreements that the WTO has delivered over recent years have re-established momentum in the organisation. Now we need to maintain that energy on our way to Buenos Aires.
We have to seize that occasion to deliver wherever we can, and provide a strong platform for our future work.
To take this forward, political engagement in all levels will be vital.
I believe that trade has proved to be an invaluable force for growth and development around the world.
It has helped to lift millions out of poverty, and improve living standards for many millions more. It makes goods more affordable. It increases choice for consumers. It creates opportunities for businesses. And it creates better paying jobs.
But there is a clear sense that global economic concerns have become disconnected with people's daily lives. We need to work harder to re-establish that connection.
It is through you, as parliamentarians, that we hear the voices of the people that we are here to serve.
You help ensure that the global trading system is truly inclusive, and responsive to people's needs.
We need the trading system to be working well, and for nations to be cooperating and working together on global economic issues. Not just for jobs, for growth and for development. But also to preserve the continued peace and stability, which we all want to protect.So thank you for listening. I look forward to your continued engagement – and to our continued partnership.