Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Gracias, Ministra Malcorra,

Sus Excelencias,
Presidente Macri,
Presidente Temer,
Presidente Cartes,
Presidente Vázquez,

Señores enviados especiales,
Distinguidos Ministros,
Autoridades de la República Argentina,
Señoras y señores,

Gracias por estar aquí con nosotros con motivo de la Undécima Conferencia Ministerial de la OMC.

Quisiera empezar rindiendo homenaje a nuestros anfitriones, el Presidente Macri, el Gobierno de la Argentina y el pueblo de Buenos Aires.

Agradecemos sinceramente su hospitalidad y el enorme esfuerzo que han hecho para organizar la Conferencia Ministerial en esta hermosa ciudad.

Bajo el liderazgo del Presidente Macri, la Argentina sigue una ruta firme y decidida hacia una mayor apertura e integración en la economía mundial.

En un momento en que el mundo necesita defensores del comercio y la cooperación multilateral, la Argentina ha dado un paso al frente. Me complace poder decir que no están solos.

At this point, let me switch to English ...

Today we are bringing together four Presidents from the region and five special envoys, along with ministers and delegations from around the world. This is a huge display of commitment to the idea of trade as a force for good, and to the multilateral trading system itself.      

By any objective measure, the multilateral trading system has delivered.

It is a rare example of effective, functioning, vibrant multilateralism – with all the hard work, difficulty and effort that this can sometimes entail. 

Since the signing of the GATT 70 years ago, the system has played a vital role in the global economy and in ensuring peaceful relations among the nations of the world.

Over that period global trade has grown 26 fold to nearly $16 trillion annually.

We have gone from 23 original members under the GATT – mostly the major economies – to 164 members today, representing the full diversity of economic development. And we have more countries queuing up to join.

As a result the WTO now covers around 98 per cent of global trade.

The system has helped to build prosperity around the world. It has helped to lift a billion people out of poverty in a generation. It has been tested – and it has held firm.  

Faced with a rapidly evolving financial and economic crisis in 2008, the world did not erect trade barriers as in the past – despite the temptation to do so.

Trading nations held each other to the commitments agreed multilaterally.

As a result we avoided unilateral actions, potential trade wars and economic catastrophe.

In fact, less than 5% of world imports have been affected by restrictive measures since the crisis. Compare that to the 1930s when global trade shrank by two thirds.

In the heat of crisis, the WTO did what it was created to do.

And it will continue to provide stability and certainty – especially in challenging times.  

That's why I'm so relentless in beating the drum for the system. Not because it's perfect, but because it's essential, it works, and it's the best we have.

In recent years some of the biggest trade reforms anywhere in the world have been completed by the WTO.

In the space of four years …

  • we have delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement,
  • we have eliminated agricultural export subsidies,
  • we have adopted measures to support least developed countries, including on cotton, and
  • we have expanded the Information Technology Agreement, eliminating tariffs on trade of around 1.3 trillion dollars.

These are real, practical steps to boost members' economies, supporting jobs, growth and development. And they are all being implemented today.

2017 has already seen the entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and the TRIPS amendment on access to medicines.

This is an historic moment. For the first time in 22 years we have had to update the rulebook. The new text will be launched here at MC11.

These successes have put the organization on a very positive path. We must continue this journey here in Buenos Aires – and beyond.

There has been a huge injection of energy in our work in the lead up to this meeting.

Across a range of issues, members have come alive with new proposals and ideas, both on more longstanding issues and also in some ground-breaking areas.

All these issues are on the table this week. Some ministers will also act as facilitators, helping to guide and support members' work.

There are still gaps between positions in most areas – and some of these gaps are very wide.

The lesson of our recent successes is that the more open and flexible we are, the more likely we are to succeed. I will be here to support you – along with our Chair, Minister Malcorra, and the WTO Secretariat.  

We should use the opportunity of this Ministerial Conference to make progress wherever we can, and to set the direction for our future work.

And this work has to bear in mind the economic context in which we live.

Sentiment is more inward looking. The threat of protectionism remains ever present.

With this in mind, I think it is more important than ever that we build on the progress made to further strengthen the system.

In a rapidly changing world we need to be more inclusive and more responsive to members' needs than ever before.

So what does that mean exactly?

To me, it means doing more to extend the benefits of trade more widely, including to smaller businesses and women entrepreneurs.

It means ensuring that the opportunities created by new technologies and the digital economy are accessible to all.

It means going further to tackle the persistent challenges of poverty and development.

It means bolstering our technical assistance work, and playing our full part in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

It means supporting our future members who are working to reform their economies and join the WTO.

And it means rising once again to meet the challenges before us.

Four years ago the WTO faced a crisis of credibility because we hadn't yet delivered any negotiated outcomes. We changed all that in Bali and Nairobi.

Today there are different questions and different challenges, including regarding the dispute settlement system.

We will meet these challenges as well. And it is you, the members, who must lead this process.

You have to engage with each other, set the forward direction and shape the system as you see fit.

Again, I will be here to support you every step of the way.

This conference has brought Geneva to Buenos Aires.

So let me close now with some words from a man who brought Buenos Aires to Geneva, where he now lies at rest.

I am talking, of course, of the great Jorge Luis Borges.

He said:

'Nadie es la patria, pero todos lo somos.' 

No one is the nation – we all are.

Well, we are all the WTO. All 164 members. We all have an equal stake in the system, and an equal interest in ensuring that it can continue to serve the people of our countries, our communities, and the wider world.

Therefore I think we all have a responsibility to preserve and champion the system.

And we have a great chance to do this – right here, right now.

Thank you.




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