SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by DG Azevêdo

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Director-General Graziano,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

Welcome to the launch of this new FAO-WTO joint publication.

I am particularly glad to be joined by my friend Professor José Graziano da Silva of the FAO.

Over the years, our organizations have developed an important partnership.

We work together on a number of fronts to ensure that trade in food follows internationally recognized standards, and that people have the means to produce and access food that is safe and nutritious.

When food standards and international trade work hand-in-hand, they help to promote food safety, as well as improved nutrition across the globe.

This can help to promote growth and development, and to deliver on many of the new Sustainable Development Goals.

There are many complementarities across our activities – and today’s publication is a great addition to those efforts.

It shows how the institutional frameworks of FAO and the WTO come together to create an inclusive system for international food standards and trade.

And it does this in three important ways.

First, it shows why international standards are vital for trade.

In a world without common standards for food, producers would have to comply with hundreds of different requirements in each market, covering things like residue limits for pesticides, or a range of composition and quality standards.

For companies, especially smaller ones, this would create huge barriers to participating in international trade. For consumers, it would be confusing and costly.

International standards help to tackle this situation.

They contribute to harmonizing diverse national laws and regulations, which lowers trade costs, while also ensuring safe and nutritious food.

This is supported by WTO rules. WTO agreements provide ample leeway for members to pursue health policies – and any other legitimate objectives. In fact, our rules strongly encourage governments to harmonize their requirements on the basis of international standards.

The WTO SPS Agreement recognizes the Codex Alimentarius as the source of international standards for food safety. And it is a similar story with the WTO TBT Agreement, where WTO members frequently use Codex standards for regulations on food labelling and food quality.

Standards also help to promote best scientific practices.

Under the SPS Agreement, for example, food safety regulations require a scientific basis. 

Through the joint FAO/WHO scientific work underlying Codex standards, members agree on a common approach to addressing risks, such as those related to food contamination or nutritional content.

This means all governments have access to the best available scientific knowledge to inform their food regulations – without having to bear the costs by themselves.

And of course, in all of these issues, the WTO offers members an ongoing platform for dialogue.

Through the SPS and TBT committees, WTO members monitor the implementation of international standards in specific areas.

These committees are also increasingly used as forums to raise and solve disagreements. This work makes an important contribution in averting problems from escalating into full-fledged disputes.

It is quite remarkable that over 900 specific trade concerns have been raised in the SPS and TBT committees since the WTO was created – yet only about 20 disputes have been filed on SPS and TBT matters.

I think that these figures show the value members attach to these forums, and the importance of common standards as a basis on which to reach solutions.

So that’s the first point I wanted to highlight.

The second point that the publication makes is the central role of our members in making this system function effectively.

Like everything that we do at the WTO, we need members’ full commitment if we are to be successful.

On all the issues we are discussing today, there is a great deal of highly technical work that goes on behind the scenes. Members devote special expertise to the work of Codex and the SPS and TBT committees.

For example, I am aware that the SPS Committee is meeting this week, and we have over a hundred experts from capitals contributing to that session.

That shows the level of commitment that members have on these issues.

But, of course, being able to effectively participate at the international level starts with good preparation and coordination at home.

This means consulting with a range of stakeholders, accessing relevant information and having the necessary expertise.

So capacity building is essential here.

We need to help members build the tools and skills they need to meet requirements in export markets.

The FAO does a lot of notable work in this area, helping to build up food safety capacity in developing members.  

The WTO is also very active here as well, through a range of capacity building initiatives. The Enhanced Integrated Framework, for example, helps least-developed members with their standards and quality infrastructure. And the Standards and Trade Development Facility, which has both the WTO and the FAO as partners, works to promote capacity building, specifically in the SPS area.

In fact, we will be discussing their work in the upcoming session – I hope you will join us then as well. However, I think that the point is clear. Investment in strong capacity domestically enables strong participation and engagement internationally.

This is what Aid for Trade is all about - so I think it is very timely that we are launching this publication on the occasion of this Global Review.

Finally, this publication helps us to look at the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.

Growing interconnectedness, technological innovation, and evolving health concerns constantly pose new and emerging challenges for food safety.

Food standards and trade will need to evolve and adapt, whether we are speaking about:

  • the threat of anti-microbial resistance,
  • new animal carried diseases spreading to humans, or
  • health burdens posed by non-communicable diseases.

As members think about how to address these new and other challenges, the SPS and TBT agreements remain important guiding principles.

So looking ahead, I think that the frameworks provided by the WTO and the FAO for food standards and trade will remain important elements in guiding all this work. This joint publication is a welcome reminder of our ongoing partnership – and of the importance of keeping this work going.

So let me thank DG Graziano again. I look forward to further fruitful work together.  

I also want to take the opportunity to thank the joint FAO-WTO team that worked on this publication, in particular Christiane Wolff and Devin McDaniels from our side.

I am sure that our members will continue to engage constructively on food standards and trade – informed by this excellent publication.

It is through this kind of engagement and cooperation that we will manage future policy challenges, and build a better future for all.

Thank you.

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