SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Minister Faiyaz Siddiq Koya,
Dame Meg Taylor,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. It's great to be here today at this workshop on the WTO, MC11 and the way forward for the Pacific.

I know that you have a packed agenda ahead of you, and I hope that this will be a useful and productive few days.

I want to thank the Government of Fiji for hosting this event. I also want to thank the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and WTO colleagues for their work in putting this event together.

One of our main priorities in the WTO is to ensure that everyone has the capacity to use trade as a tool to promote growth and development.

As I said at the University of the South Pacific yesterday, we want to help the region to seize all of the opportunities in the trading system. Technical assistance and capacity-building programmes, like this one, play a very important role in helping smaller countries to better understand the legal intricacies of global trade.

With this in mind we have been organizing some very specialized and targeted courses for the Pacific members. It is only with enhanced understanding and knowledge of WTO agreements and evolving trade developments that you can maximize the gains from the multilateral trading system.

Therefore I am very pleased that Dame Meg Taylor and I have now extended the Memorandum of Understanding between our organizations to keep working closely together in the years to come.

This is welcome news. I am certain that our partnership will go from strength to strength to help the Pacific successfully integrate into the global economy.

Indeed, Pacific islands have been working hard to strengthen their economies – and we are seeing concrete results.

Samoa graduated from LDC status in 2014. Meanwhile, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are expected to graduate by 2024. This is very encouraging. LDC graduation demonstrates solid economic and social progress. However, graduation can also bring new challenges. 

For example, I know that losing preferential market access is an important concern amongst many of you when it comes to graduation.

How this change impacts a graduating LDC depends on many factors. However, WTO members are well aware of this concern. In fact, some members have been allowing an extended transition period to graduated LDCs so that they can adjust to the phasing out of LDC preferences.

We all need to work together to find constructive ways forward and extend all possible assistance for graduated LDCs – just as we do for those yet to graduate.

Of course, the WTO Secretariat is available to help build capacity on this front. For example, we are always ready to organize targeted seminars to help assess challenges, identify gaps, and improve your understanding on all these issues. Don't hesitate to reach out to us if we can help in any way.

We must ensure that the system works for you, and that it responds to your needs and priorities.

So this brings me to the focus of today's discussion, which is the 11th Ministerial Conference, and the way forward.

As you know, we made real progress at our 9th Ministerial Conference, which was held in Bali, and at the 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.

At MC11 in Buenos Aires, members did not reach major, final agreements, but we did make important progress. You will discuss the results of MC11 in more detail in the coming days, so I will just give you a quick overview.

The Conference saw a huge show of political support for the WTO. And it saw members take a number of important decisions. They included:

  • the decision on the e-commerce work programme and to extend the moratorium on customs duties for electronic transmissions;
  • the decision on TRIPS non-violation and situation complaints;
  • the decision on the work programme on small economies;
  • and, significantly, the decision on fisheries subsidies, which is a priority for the Pacific.   

Here, members committed to negotiate an agreement by the end of 2019, which would limit harmful government subsidies for fishing. They also agreed that the deal should recognize the need for special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries.

Success on this front would be a big achievement for WTO members, and would help deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 on sustainable fishing.

Work on fisheries subsidies has already begun in Geneva. Members have agreed on a work programme around multi-day meeting clusters, each organized around a theme. These clusters will happen in May, June and July.

They include technical sessions, time for bilateral meetings among delegations, focused thematic discussions, and further debates. Meetings have already started, and I'm sure this will be discussed in your upcoming sessions.

I will be doing all I can to support and facilitate members in driving this work forward.

On other fronts, members committed in Buenos Aires to continuing negotiations on all issues, including on those areas where progress has eluded us since the launch of the Doha Round.

We also saw an outbreak of dynamism in Buenos Aires, as groups of members declared their desire to discuss a range of other issues which they consider to be of economic significance.

  • 71 WTO members, including the US, launched work on e-commerce. Those members account for around 77% of global trade.
  • A group of 70 members launched work on investment facilitation.
  • A group of 87 members launched work on reducing obstacles which prevent small businesses from trading.
  • And 118 WTO members and observers agreed to take action on trade and women's economic empowerment.

So in a nutshell that's what happened at MC11.

The task now is to find viable ways forward.

We need to find a framework for our conversations that is open-minded and creative enough to allow fresh perspectives to emerge and new pathways to be explored, building on the numerous proposals that are already on the table.

Of course the engine room of our negotiating work is the formal negotiating groups. Chairs have now been appointed to all of these groups, and we are seeing members meeting and engaging. There have also been very useful engagements at the ministerial level, with informal meetings convened by Switzerland, India and, later this week, by APEC.

We are still in the early stages of this work. Precisely how we move forward on all these issues is up to the membership. Like everything that we do at the organization, progress has to be driven by members. I stand ready to support you in any way that I can. We will keep working, and I will be pushing members to keep up the momentum.

I should also say a word about the initiatives that are happening outside the Negotiating Groups – specifically those groups of members that are pursuing conversations on e-commerce, small businesses, and so on.

These efforts are truly member-driven, and so how they evolve is a matter for the proponents to determine. I have simply urged the members involved to be as open, transparent and inclusive as possible, and to be as respectful of other members' positions as possible.

Looking ahead, I think that we need to maintain a sense of urgency on all issues.

I also believe we have to learn from our successes.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement remains a great, galvanising, uniting force for WTO members. The Agreement broke new ground in the way it was designed, with flexibility at its core.

It provides developing countries and LDCs with the flexibility to tailor the implementation of their commitments according to their specific circumstances. In addition, the Agreement provides for the necessary practical support to help these members with implementation.

Of course, the TFA structure is certainly not a panacea. But it shows that flexibility and the search for common ground can deliver benefits for all.

We should keep those lessons in mind as we try to chart a path forward in all our work.

All this activity shows that members see value in the WTO platform to address issues of interest to them.

The debate on trade and natural disasters that I mentioned yesterday is another example of that.

In fact, the issue of natural disasters had already come up in the WTO's work. For example, a feature of the debate on the Trade Facilitation Agreement was its ability to help hasten the movement of relief supplies in such circumstances. We've also seen waivers granted to allow trade preferences after particular catastrophic events.

So this is not a new conversation. What is new is members' drive to be more proactive on this issue. It's vital that we are better prepared and better informed the next time we are called upon to respond.

Overall, it is very positive to see this dynamism in the WTO. 

The tensions between major economies can often dominate the trade debate – and we are doing everything we can to avoid a harmful escalation. But despite this, it's vital to recognize that our work goes on in Geneva, all members remain engaged, and trade continues to be a potent force for growth and development around the world.

So I hope the course will give you a real taste of all this. I hope you can soak up the information you need, and get even more engaged.

Besides our regular meetings and negotiating work, there will be a number of major opportunities for you to engage at the WTO this year, including:

  • the Global Forum on Inclusive Trade for LDCs in June, where the Pacific will be a special focus;
  • the Public Forum in October, where we will discuss trade and sustainability in the context of the SDGs; and
  • the 'Geneva Week' events in July and at the end of the year, for members without permanent representatives in Geneva.

I hope to welcome you to these events.

As ever, I am ready to work with you to make sure that your interests remain at the centre of our work.

Together, we can build a more prosperous and resilient future for the Pacific Islands.

Thank you.

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