SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Su Excelencia Presidente Macri,

Distinguido Ministro Cabrera,

Señoras y señores,

Buenos días,

Me complace unirme a ustedes hoy en este Foro Empresarial. Es un honor estar aquí con el Presidente Macri esta mañana. 

I want to start by congratulating the President, Minister Cabrera and the Government of Argentina for their visionary initiative in organising today's business forum.

This is the first time that such an event is held alongside a WTO Ministerial Conference. It's long overdue. And I think it marks a step change in business engagement with the organization.

While governments may be the ones who meet at the WTO to discuss and negotiate trade issues, businesses and other stakeholders are the users of the trading system. And it is through business that many of the positive effects of trade are transmitted to our economies and communities.

You are the job creators. Your sense of entrepreneurship and innovation is what provides opportunities for growth, prosperity and inclusion.

So I want you to see the WTO as a partner here.

The WTO is the only organization dealing with trade rules at a global level.

With 164 members, we bring developed together with developing. We bring Mercosur together with APEC. We bring the BRICS, the LDCs, the US, the EU and the African Union together, under one roof.

No other forum unites the world's trading nations in this way, under a system of shared rules and principles.  

Ninety-eight per cent of world trade takes place under WTO rules today.

With a global membership, we speak a lot of languages in this organization. But I think there's one language which sometimes we have failed to speak. And that's the language of business. I want to try to do that now. So here's the pitch …

The WTO delivers an essential service to businesses around the world. We do that in two ways.

First, the WTO provides the stability and certainty that businesses need.

We saw that in 2008, when the financial crisis did not lead to a catastrophic wave of protectionism, as we saw in the past.

This was because countries knew that they all had shared commitments under the WTO. Businesses around the world benefitted from this stability. And they continue to benefit from it today.

So that's the first service we provide.

The second is to keep delivering new reforms. And in recent years this is what we've done. We have given businesspeople around the world a series of reasons to sit up and take notice. 

In the space of four years …

  • We have delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement, which could boost global trade by around 1 trillion dollars per year.
  • We have eliminated agricultural export subsidies.
  • And we have expanded the Information Technology Agreement, eliminating tariffs on trade of around 1.3 trillion dollars.

These measures constitute the biggest trade reforms for a generation.

So now businesses want to get more involved – and you want to know what's next. You want to be a part of our next steps.

Members are currently discussing a number of issues. Many topics are being discussed here in Buenos Aires. This includes agriculture, services, fisheries subsidies, e-commerce, investment facilitation, and work to help more small businesses to trade.

There's no doubt that the high level of business engagement has played a role in informing and shaping some of these conversations – particularly through the Trade Dialogues initiative that we support with the ICC and B20.

This initiative has enriched our debates at the WTO. It has provided an opportunity for businesses, labour, academia and others to discuss the full range of trade issues, and present their recommendations to the WTO. We will be having a follow up session early in 2018.

And we're building on all of this in a variety of new ideas and initiatives. Let me take a moment to tell you about some of this work.

Yesterday afternoon, together with the World Economic Forum and Jack Ma, representing the Electronic World Trade Platform, we launched a new collaboration on 'Enabling E-commerce'.

Jack and I share a vision of an internet for all; of e-commerce as a real opportunity for smaller players, entrepreneurs and regular citizens.

That is precisely what this new initiative is all about. It will create a high-level dialogue to deepen the debate on e-commerce, with the aim of ensuring that the benefits of e-commerce are available as widely as possible. This will be a very results-driven conversation. And, again, I think this can really help to enrich our work.

And there's more.

We want to be much more active – taking practical steps wherever possible to help people trade.

Information is often a big barrier to trading – especially for small businesses. So we are developing a new portal with UNCTAD and ITC. This consolidates into a single platform all the information needed to export.

So if you want, for example, to export beef from Buenos Aires to Beijing, all it takes is a few clicks to get the information you need – covering rules, regulations, tariffs, sanitary requirements and so on. This is a tremendous initiative – but it's also a work in progress. We need members to keep providing information to help in this effort.

We are also trying to spread the word about the power of trade for smaller players.

With the ICC, we launched the Small Business Champions initiative calling on businesses to present concrete proposals to boost awareness and help SMEs to trade.

In that context, together with Google, we have been running a video competition for small businesses, asking them to share their experiences in leveraging the internet to become global exporters. We have a great response, with submissions from all around the world.

And I am very pleased to announce the winners today.

The winning video is from a lady called Juliet Ajaab in Ghana.  She tells the story of how she has used the internet to gain the skills she needed – often from her sick bed – to grow her garment business from an idea to become a successful exporter.

The videos telling her story, and others, will be screened around the venue today – and on our website. They are pretty inspiring – so I urge you to take a look. And to acknowledge Google's role in supporting this competition, we've made them our first ICC-WTO Small Business Champion.

We're encouraging others to come forward with their positive, practical ideas, so that they can become small business champions as well.

I am delighted to say that we're announcing another successful proposal today – this time from Mercado Libre and the Argentine Chamber of Commerce. This proposal could make a real difference to SMEs here in Argentina. So it's great timing. And I'm pleased that Marcos Galperin, the CEO of Mercado Libre, is here this morning as well.

In closing, I think the WTO has strong momentum today.

We've seen a huge level of political support for our work here in Buenos Aires – particularly at Sunday's Presidential opening ceremony. It sent a very strong message about trade as a force for good, and the importance of the trading system itself.

I would urge you to reinforce this message here today. We want to hear your voices in this debate. 

Let's keep working together to build a stronger trading system, for the benefit of all.

Thank you.

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