Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we've seen over the last three days is the hard grind of multilateralism. 164 members working together, engaging and debating.

We have made important progress in some areas. In most of them it did not prove possible.

Members did not manage to agree final, substantive agreements this time.

Anyone who has been following the debate in Geneva would know that progress on the longstanding issues was always going to be difficult.

We knew progress here would require a leap in members' positions. We didn't see that.

So our work will go on after Buenos Aires.

We can't deliver at every ministerial. It's not every time that ministers meet that they are going to be able to strike deals of the magnitude of what we achieved in Bali and Nairobi.

But that doesn’t diminish the disappointment that we feel.

Despite our best efforts we could not meet the deadline on public stockholding. It's not the first deadline we miss – but it is still disappointing.

We could not even agree on more detailed programmes in many areas. And I know that for many, especially the proponents, the disappointment is particularly bitter.

We worked hard in all areas. We couldn't have asked any more of our excellent facilitators – and I offer once again my sincere thanks for their dedication.

Development and inclusiveness must remain at the heart of our work. They certainly remain at the core of my priorities in everything we do.

If we are not improving the lives of the poorest or giving the smallest a chance to compete, we are not doing our jobs.

So in taking this work forward, I think we need to do some real soul searching.

Some important progress has been made.

We have gained a greater understanding of each other's positions and concerns. We should acknowledge that.

And, importantly we should note that members remain committed to continuing and intensifying work in all of the areas that we have been discussing this week.

We have decisions on:

  • the e-commerce work programme and moratorium
  • the moratorium on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints
  • the work programme on small economies
  • the creation of the working party on the accession for South Sudan – setting them on the road to membership.

And we have the decision on fisheries subsidies.

Of course we wanted to go further, but this is progress.

For the first time, the membership has committed itself to achieving SDG target 14.6 and to fulfilling this commitment by MC12. Members also re-committed to providing the information about their subsidy programmes that is critical to completing the negotiations. And they agreed to build on the intensive work that has taken place over the past year.

People want to get back to work and make further progress to meet the new deadline. But even here, mindsets will need to change if we are to advance.

We have also seen an outbreak of dynamism in other areas. It seems that Buenos Aires has in fact breathed fresh air into some parts of the organization.

Some large groups of members have come together to advance issues of interest to them and to the global economy. These groups are not just notable for their numbers, but for the diversity of the members involved: developed, developing and least-developed.

It is for these members to pursue conversations such as this as they see fit. But, as with every element of our work, I would urge members to remain open and welcome any member who wants to join the conversation at any time. We should always be seeking to advance a conversation that reaches the whole membership.

The fact that this is happening shows that people see this organization as a place where they can advance issues that are of importance to them and to their economies.

This dynamism is clearly reflected in the huge interest we are seeing from all our stakeholders.

One test for whether we're doing a good job is whether constituencies are paying attention. In Buenos Aires we saw more interaction, more interest from other stakeholders than we have for some time.

So, we must be doing something right.

The Business Forum, organized here in Buenos Aires by Argentina's Ministry of Production, was the first such event ever held alongside a WTO ministerial conference. It signals a step change in this engagement.  

I've also been impressed by the sheer number and quality of the side events that have taken place in the margins of the Ministerial Conference.

In addition, at a challenging time, this Conference started with an overwhelming show of political support for the organization. 

The signing of the Presidential Declaration in support of the WTO at the opening ceremony sent a forceful message about the importance of the trading system.

And this seemed to extend across the membership.

In the plenary hall we heard repeated, clear, strong support for the system. What's disappointing is that this support did not translate into action.

If we really all support the WTO, if we really do, we have to bear in mind that multilateralism doesn't mean that we get what we want. It means we get what is possible.

It's not compatible to expect multilateralism to work and at the same time to expect to walk out with everything you wanted. This is a recipe for failure.

If we prize the system, we have to come knowing that we'll need to make compromises. Sometimes painful compromises.

This element can be improved at the WTO.

On that point we were lacking.

I have no doubt that some of the issues we were facing could have been managed if we had shown the flexibility that we need to make the system work.

Once again I stress – the system is not perfect. But it is the best we have. And we are all going to regret very deeply should it ever cease to function.

From what I saw here in Buenos Aires, we have the seed of an organization which can work better. An organization that can be vibrant, flexible and nimble.

But for that to happen, we all have to believe in that vision.

We are one step closer to this goal today. And one of the chief reasons for that is Susana.

Not only has she worked tirelessly over the last year to get us to this point, she has also managed the running of the conference in an extremely competent manner. With her efforts to promote political dialogue she has forced members to confront some of the issues that I have just mentioned.

I am profoundly thankful for that. I hope we will take this forward. As you have said, Susana: there is life after Buenos Aires.

And while you're enjoying that life, I wanted to give you a reminder of our work here – this ceremonial gavel.

May you continue to wield it with the wisdom you have shown this week!

Thank you all.




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