SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Speech by the Director-General

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

I am pleased to join you today at the closing session of this China Round Table. At the outset, let me thank the Government of China for their generous support towards this initiative.

This event has quickly established itself as a highlight in the calendar of the WTO accessions community.

These annual gatherings bring together old and new friends who believe in the system. They have contributed to the better understanding of the accession process, including its benefits and challenges. They have also injected positive momentum in many individual accessions processes.

I have no doubt that the last two days of discussion have continued in this tradition. And being hosted by a recently-acceded member makes this occasion all the more special.

So let me thank our hosts, the Government of Kazakhstan.

In particular, I want to mention Ambassador Aitzhanova who served as Chief Negotiator during Kazakhstan's accession. Now she is working to bring the WTO community to Astana at our next Ministerial Conference in 2020.

I think that Kazakhstan's generous offer to host MC12 is testament to your commitment to the organization and to your support of the multilateral trading system.  

In fact, I understand that this support has been echoed throughout the discussions of this event.  So thank you all for that.

This event has been dedicated to the Eurasian perspective on the future of the multilateral trading system. And it is notable that a significant number of the WTO's recent accessions have come precisely from this region.

For acceding members, the process of WTO accession has usually accompanied structural transformation of the domestic economy, and a reshaping of trading relationships regionally and globally. 

By acceding to the WTO, governments are sending a message that they are committed to the core values of openness, transparency, good governance, and the rule of law.

A number of Eurasian economies still remain outside the Organization. So it's important that we continue our collective efforts and fully integrate the region into the global economy, including through accession to the WTO.

While many of the accessions reforms happen in the domestic sphere, each accession process is also a building block for the multilateral trading system itself. They have a systemic effect, helping the multilateral trading system to evolve. The results of accession negotiations can help to consolidate and strengthen our rules.

So it is very encouraging to see your discussions here today. And it is positive that you have also been touching on some of the longstanding issues at the WTO, such as agriculture, food security, development, and fisheries subsidies.

I understand that you also covered some of the joint initiatives which were launched by groups of WTO members, covering issues such as e-commerce, investment facilitation, small businesses, and women's economic empowerment.

While it is recognised that these initiatives are being advanced by some members and are not supported by all, the outreach efforts and open approach to the discussions are quite important. This approach can help to deepen and widen engagement on these and other issues of interest to members.

As Director General I am encouraged by the engagement of members in all formats. We all recognise that multilateral outcomes have the greatest reach and impact, but we must also remember that the WTO is built to enable members to deliver outcomes in a number of different ways.

All discussions and debates among members are very valuable and can contribute to the continued vitality of the system.

With all of that in mind, I am glad to note that your conversations here will form the basis of a new book entitled "Eurasian Perspectives on the Future of the World Trading System". I understand that the plan is to launch this publication at the Ministerial Conference here in Kazakhstan, so watch this space.

The fact that the accessions debate is so vibrant, and that we have more countries looking at joining the WTO is very positive.

It is a strong sign of the importance of this system to help promote development, growth, and job creation.

And of course all of this is particularly important in the current circumstances.

Trade tensions are on the rise. New tariffs announced this year cover hundreds of billions of dollars of trade. Further measures have been proposed.

This is extremely serious. 

Continued escalation risks a major economic impact. The predominant effect here would be disruption. It threatens jobs and growth in all countries. In fact, we may already be seeing some early effects. Delayed investment decisions are a good example.

In addition, we are faced with a serious situation in the Dispute Settlement Body, with the blockage in appointments to the Appellate Body.

All this requires an urgent response. There is a responsibility on the whole international community to help resolve all these issues.

However I think that this issue, and all of the trade tensions that we see today, will not be solved through technical mechanisms and procedures. The crisis in global trade is political. It requires a political solution. And this is why we are beginning to see a new political conversation emerging about the WTO.

Leaders are increasingly engaged in WTO issues – and so the debate is increasingly turning towards ideas about 'reform' and 'modernisation'. Instead of tearing the system up, the focus is on strengthening the system. This has to be positive – and so too is the fact that many members are getting involved. Already a range of issues and ideas are being brought forward. 

Whatever the precise answers may be, there’s no doubt that we can improve the system. We need to ensure that it is more responsive to members’ needs and to the challenges of a changing global economy.

Where these discussions about reforming the system will go is up to members, so I invite you all to voice your concerns and ideas.

I'll say more about all of this at the investment forum tomorrow.

But in closing let me stress that this Round Table is an important contribution to the debate about the future of trade and the WTO.

The accessions community always contributes a unique perspective, bringing together newly acceded members, future members and all those involved in the negotiating processes.

Efforts like this are essential in building a more open and inclusive trading system.

So I urge you again all to keep raising your voices. And keep speaking up for the kind of trading system that you want to see – one which will serve your economies and your communities for generations to come.

Thank you.

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