SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by DG Azevêdo

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Thank you Chair, Ambassador Juan Carlos Gonzalez.

Good afternoon everyone.

We are here to take stock of the major developments in trade since we last met, in December last year.

You will have seen my report on trade-related developments, which was circulated to members on 10 July in document  WT/TPR/OV/W/11.  

This report covers the period from mid-October 2016 to mid-May 2017. It provides an assessment of the main trends in terms of trade measures implemented over this period, as well as other trade policy related developments.

As you all know, this is a mid-year precursor to my annual report on this subject later in the year.

Transparency and predictability is at the heart of what members want and expect from the multilateral trading system. This point was fully recognized by you all in the 6th Appraisal of the TPRM undertaken last year. 

In fact, transparency and predictability are among the fundamental attributes that all stakeholders, including businesses, NGOs and parliamentarians want from the WTO.

Since 2009 the WTO Trade Monitoring Reports have made a significant contribution to that. So the meeting this afternoon is an important occasion.

Through the Trade Monitoring Reports we take regular stock of:

  • the latest trends and developments in trade policy-making,
  • the state of world trade, and
  • the overall outlook for the global economy.

We look at what has happened, and reflect on the steps ahead.

In a moment, I will outline the key findings of the report. But first, I would like to give a few words of background.

It is always worth underlining that the report is purely factual. It has no legal effect on the rights and obligations of WTO members. It does not seek to pronounce on whether a trade measure is protectionist. Nor does it question the explicit right of members to adopt certain trade measures.

It is intended as a transparency exercise – and, as I have said, for that precise reason it is a very important part of our work.

The Reports continue to evolve in terms of the coverage and analysis of trade-related issues and as they take into account discussions among WTO members in the TPRB.

The information included in this report has been collected from inputs submitted by members and observers, as well as from other official and public sources. And I would like to thank, once again, the delegations that have participated in this exercise by providing relevant information on time and by ensuring the subsequent verification of reported measures. 

For the current interim report, 68 members replied to my initial request for information. This represents more than 40 per cent of the membership and just over 87% of world imports. While this is broadly in line with participation in the last mid-year report, we can do better.

Transparency takes commitment.

The Secretariat will continue to be available to delegations to help increase members’ understanding of this exercise and support their participation. I would encourage everybody to look at what more they can do.

Now let me turn to the substance of the report.

It is almost a decade since the crisis began. While some trade indicators are showing encouraging signs of recovery, we still find ourselves in a period of economic uncertainty and low growth.

Trade growth of 1.3% in 2016 was the lowest since the crisis. Our forecasts suggest that trade growth will strengthen in 2017 to around 2.4%. However, because of the high level of economic and policy uncertainty, we placed this figure within a range from 1.8% to 3.6%. Hitting the 2.4% forecast assumes that governments pursue an appropriate mix of policies, and of course that GDP forecasts hold and prove to be accurate.

The report before you adds detail to this picture.

It shows that 74 new trade-restrictive measures were put in place in the reporting period, and I recall that trade remedy measures are excluded here. This amounts to an average of almost 11 new measures per month.

This represents a significant decrease on the previous annual report, which recorded an average of 15 measures per month. It is also the lowest monthly average of trade-restrictive measures registered since the crisis.

The report also shows that WTO members implemented 80 new trade-facilitating measures. This represents an average of just over 11 measures per month.

This is the second lowest monthly average since 2008. 

However, the simple numerical counting of measures does not give an indication of their real trade impact – rather, it gives us an idea of overall trends and overall activity.

Looking at the trade coverage of these measures gives a better sense of the impact.

The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures implemented during the review period was estimated at 183 billion dollars.

This is more than three times higher than the estimated trade coverage of the import-restrictive measures implemented during the same period.

And it is more than five times higher than the trade coverage of all trade remedy actions taken during the period.

In addition, I am pleased to note that liberalization associated with the expansion of the WTO Information Technology Agreement continues to feature prominently. Import facilitating measures associated with the ITA covered around 100 billion dollars during the review period.

The larger trade coverage of import-facilitating measures during the review period is a very positive development. It shows that WTO members recognize the benefits of further trade opening and are continuing to show moderation and restraint in trade policy, despite the persistent uncertainty facing the global economy.

But there is still work to do. This picture is encouraging, but it could be much better. And continued progress will require continued commitment. I urge members to redouble efforts to refrain from implementing new trade-restrictive measures, and to reverse existing measures.

Now, let me say a few words about the other findings of the report.

Initiations of trade remedy investigations represented 44% of all trade measures in the review period, with initiations of anti-dumping investigations accounting for around 85% of that number.

Despite the numerical importance of trade remedies actions, the amount of trade covered is relatively small.

Given the concerns traditionally expressed by some of our members on the manner in which trade remedies are considered by this exercise, we felt it appropriate to provide a clear explanation of our approach at the very beginning of the Report.  I hope that we succeeded in clarifying this point.  I note, however, that we did not change our methodology from the previous report.

Turning to trade in services, the report confirms past findings that the services sector is seeing further liberalization, especially through the strengthening and clarification of regulatory requirements. At the same time, however, certain other measures appear to be more trade-restrictive. This is something we will be paying close attention to in future reports.

Finally, it is important to note the other significant developments during the review period – specifically the entry into force of the TRIPS Agreement Amendment and the Trade Facilitation Agreement. I have no doubt that the effects of the TFA, in particular, will also feature in future reports.

To conclude, I would like to express my thanks again to all participants in this important work, and urge others to join in and help us in strengthening this transparency exercise.

In times of uncertainty, transparency and predictability in trade policy are more important than ever.

So let’s maintain our momentum.

We need to reinforce all aspects of transparency – from notifications in the TBT and SPS Committees, to trade remedies, and beyond.

With the Trade Monitoring Report we are effectively conducting a health-check of global commerce. And I think, on balance, the results are positive.

At the same time, we must remain vigilant. We must work harder to reverse existing measures, refrain from implementing new ones, and put greater energy into facilitating the movement of goods, services and ideas across borders.

This is how we will contribute to boosting growth, development and job creation in all countries. We all need to show leadership to make that happen.

Thank you. I wish you a productive meeting.  

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