SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Thank you Ambassador Laourou.

Good afternoon everyone.

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

You will have seen my report, which was circulated to members on 10 July in document WT/TPR/OV/W/12.

This report covers the period from mid-October 2017 to mid-May 2018. It provides an overview over this period in terms of:

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

As you know, this is a precursor to my annual report on this subject, which will be released later in the year.

Since it came into being in 2009, this exercise has been essential to reinforcing transparency and predictability in the multilateral trading system.

Before I outline the key findings of the Report, let me say a few words of background.

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

The information included in this Report has been collected from inputs submitted by:

  • members,
  • observers,
  • as well as from other official and public sources.

I would like to thank all the delegations that have participated in this exercise for providing relevant information on time and ensuring the verification of reported measures. 

For this current mid-year report, 71 members replied to my initial request for information. This represents about 43% of the membership and covers about 92% of world imports. While this is a slightly higher participation compared to the last mid-year report, I continue to believe that we can do better. We should aim to make this exercise as inclusive as possible.

Participation in the verification process continues to be uneven. An increasing number of delegations have recently requested specific measures to be omitted from the Monitoring Report, despite the fact that they refer to official sources. This is of serious concern. The commitment to this transparency exercise should not be selective.

I would therefore encourage all Members to be fully open and committed to these efforts. Of course, the Secretariat will continue to be available to help you increase your understanding of this exercise and to support your participation.

Now allow me to turn to the substance of the report.

The headline is that 75 new trade-restrictive measures were put in place during the reporting period. I recall that, of course, this does not include trade remedy measures.

This amounts to an average of almost 11 new measures per month. It is an increase on the previous annual report, which recorded an average of 9 measures per month.

The Report also shows that WTO members implemented 89 new trade-facilitating measures. This represents an average of almost 13 trade-facilitating measures per month. This is an increase compared to the average of 11 measures recorded for the previous review period.

Looking at the trade coverage of these measures helps to give a better perspective of their impact.

The trade coverage of the import-restrictive measures is estimated at 85 billion dollars. The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures is estimated at 107 billion US dollars.

At a first glance, this might sound encouraging. However, the ratio between the coverage of import-facilitating measures and import-restrictive measures has declined significantly from the 2:1 ratio we had recorded in the previous Report.

This shift could have damaging ramifications for economic recovery. It should be of real concern to the international community.

After years of sluggish growth following the 2008 economic crisis, the global economy has finally begun to generate sustained economic momentum. World trade growth increased dramatically in 2017, and it seems to be on a positive trajectory.

However, this could be jeopardized by the marked increase in new trade restrictive measures among WTO members.

It is important to note that the period covered by this Report ends in mid-May. Numerous additional trade-restrictive measures have been announced in the two months since then. Therefore the deterioration in trade relations may be even worse than that recorded here. This continued escalation poses a serious threat to growth and recovery in all countries. We are beginning to see this reflected in some forward-looking indicators. 

We will continue to monitor this situation. I urge members to redouble efforts to refrain from implementing new trade-restrictive measures, and to reverse existing measures.

Members should come to the table and work to resolve these issues with great urgency. I am working with all members to this end as I set out in detail in the HoDs/TNC meeting yesterday.

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

With respect to trade remedies, the Report recorded a stable pace in initiations of trade remedy investigations by WTO members. It also recorded an increase in terminations of trade remedy actions compared to the previous period.

Initiations of trade remedy investigations represented 40% of all trade measures recorded in the Report. Initiations of anti-dumping investigations account for almost 80% of these measures. The trade coverage of trade remedy initiations was estimated at 53 billion dollars. This is almost double the trade coverage recorded for these measures during the same period in 2016-17.

Now let me turn to trade in services. The report confirms past findings that the majority of measures in the services sector provided for additional liberalization, especially through the strengthening and clarification of regulatory requirements. At the same time, several new policies implemented during the review period appear to have trade-restrictive consequences. This is something we will be paying close attention to in future reports.

Looking at SPS and TBT measures, WTO members' notifications increased during the review period. The majority of these new notifications were submitted by developing members.

In both the SPS and TBT committees, WTO members have dedicated considerable time to discussing specific trade concerns. This helps to highlight the increasing use of the committees by WTO members to solve trade concerns.

The Report also shows that a greater number of trade concerns, other than SPS and TBT, were raised in various WTO bodies compared to the previous Report.  

This includes concerns related to quantitative restrictions, customs fees and safeguard measures.

Several of these trade concerns were also raised in more than one WTO body. This seems to confirm that these concerns involve increasingly complex and cross-cutting issues. It also helps to increase transparency, and demonstrates the value of WTO committees as constructive platforms to engage.

In the area of TRIPS, the Report shows how WTO members continued to develop their national strategies in IP. This includes streamlining intellectual property into their economic planning and modernizing their IP legislation.

The Report also notes the progress made in the implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement, as well as the work following on from the results of MC11.

To conclude, I would like to express my thanks again to all participants in this important work. I also want to thank the Secretariat for their work in putting this report together.

I urge all members to join in and help us in strengthening this exercise.

We should welcome scrutiny and encourage transparency – they are both absolutely vital for a well-functioning trading system. They allow us to profile emerging trends and problems at an early stage.

And the message of the Report before us today is serious.

We are heading in the wrong direction, and we seem to be speeding up.

Growth, jobs and recovery are at stake – as well as the health of the trading system on which we all rely.

I call on members to recognize the gravity of this report and its findings.  We need to see immediate steps which de-escalate the situation. I will continue working with all members to this end.

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