Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Thank you Chair,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

We are here to take stock of the recent major developments in the international trading system over the past 12 months.

These developments are presented in my Annual Report, which was circulated to members on 27 November in document WT/TPR/OV/21. As always, this report is issued under my own responsibility.

Transparency is essential to everything that we do at the WTO. It is central to maintain the predictability and stability of the multilateral trading system. This report and this annual overview are very important elements in these efforts.

The Report takes stock of trade and trade-related measures implemented across the WTO membership between mid-October 2017 and mid-October 2018.

It outlines important trends in global trade policy making, and gives an overall assessment of the main developments observed over this period.

The Report also presents a comprehensive account of the state in notifications by WTO members.

This exercise is about transparency, objectivity and facts. 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.

In a moment, I will outline some of the key findings of the Report. But first, I would like to provide a brief background on the process of preparing this document.

I would like to thank the delegations that have actively participated in this exercise by providing relevant information on time, and by ensuring the subsequent verification of this information. 

Some 80 members and two observers contributed to this overview. This represents 49% of the membership, and covers around 93% of world imports.

This is positive, but we can still improve on the membership's participation. I strongly encourage all members to do so in future.

Of course, the Secretariat remains available to help members' understanding of this exercise and help facilitate their participation.

Let me now highlight a few of the key findings of the Report.

It shows that 137 new trade-restrictive measures were put in place during the period reviewed. This represents a slightly higher rate than in the previous annual overview.

Members also implemented 162 new measures that facilitate trade. Again, this also represents a higher rate than the previous annual overview.

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

The trade coverage of the import-restrictive measures is estimated at 588 billion dollars. This is more than seven times larger than the figure for the previous annual overview. In fact, this is the largest coverage of such measures recorded by this trade monitoring exercise. This should be of great concern to the WTO membership.

Let me be clear, however, that the trade coverage number does not shed light on the degree of restrictiveness of the measures adopted. Our report, therefore, does not measure the impact of the measures adopted. It simply quantifies the value of trade affected, with no qualitative analysis.

The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures was estimated at 295 billion dollars. This is almost 1.8 times higher than that recorded in the previous annual overview. However, it represents only half the coverage of trade-restrictive measures recorded for the current review period.

Of course, these results are not surprising. We have all witnessed the tensions in the global trading environment over the past months.

This proliferation of trade restrictive measures and the uncertainty created by such actions could place economic recovery in jeopardy.

Further escalation would carry potentially large risks for global trade, with knock-on effects for economic growth, jobs and consumer prices around the world.

World trade growth is beginning to slow. The latest World Trade Outlook Indicator released on 26 November 2018 signaled a further loss of momentum in trade growth in the last quarter of 2018.

The WTO Secretariat will continue to monitor these and other developments and report back to members regularly.

I urge members to use all means at their disposal to de-escalate the situation. We may be beginning to see some progress, but as yet we clearly still have some way to go. We all need to engage in a 'solution finding mode' to dissipate these tensions.

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

Trade remedy measures continue to be a very important trade policy tool for WTO members.

They accounted for about 63% of all trade measures captured. The main sectors targeted by trade remedy initiations relate to iron and steel, which represented just over 50% of trade remedy initiations.

The trade coverage of initiations of trade remedy investigations was estimated at 93.6 billion dollars - more than 17 billion higher than the previous annual overview.

The trade coverage of terminations of trade remedy actions was estimated at 18.3 billion dollars, 6 billion higher than the figure reported in the last annual overview.

I should again stress, particularly in the case of trade remedies, that the Report does not call into question the WTO consistency of any of the measures listed. Nor is the Report in a position to establish whether, where or when any perceived distortive trade practices addressed by these measures have taken place.

Now, let me turn to the Report's findings with respect to general economic support measures and subsidies.

For this Report the Secretariat applied a more comprehensive approach in covering general economic support measures and programmes.

The result of this effort suggests that the nature of economic support measures has evolved considerably over the past decade. They now include wider and more strategic applications of subsidies.

Here, the Secretariat requested the verification of 248 economic support measures taken by WTO members. However, the response rate was quite low.

In addition, a large number of members, in response to the request for verification of such measures, requested that these be omitted from the Report. As a result, it was again not possible to establish a balanced and comprehensive annex to the Report. Members may want to consider how this issue might be best addressed in the future.

Now let me discuss trade in services. Here, most of the new measures implemented during the review period were trade-facilitating. However, several appeared to be trade-restrictive.

The Report also shows the continued commitment of members to notify SPS and TBT measures.

In fact, in both these committees, members have dedicated considerable time to discuss specific trade concerns. This suggests an increasing use of the committees by members as forums in which trade concerns may be resolved non-litigiously.

The Report also shows that an increasing number of trade concerns besides SPS and TBT were also raised in WTO bodies during the review period.

Moreover, several trade concerns were raised in more than one WTO body, indicating that they involve technically complex and cross-cutting issues. This demonstrates the value of WTO committees as constructive platforms to engage.

In addition, the report provides a comprehensive overview of the compliance and timeliness of members' notifications to the WTO.

It shows that members could do much better on this front.

I want to echo the Chair's comments here. Timely notifications constitute an essential element for transparency. We must continue to explore ways to improve compliance with notification obligations, including understanding why some members have difficulties here.

Finally, the Report also provides members with an overview of the issues raised in individual Trade Policy Reviews. And on a positive note, it highlights the progress made in the implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement and the ITA, and also recent developments in intellectual property.

So, these are some of the principal findings that I wanted to share with you today.

I hope that this snapshot provides some food for thought for your discussion this afternoon. I would like to express my thanks again to all participants. I also want to thank the Secretariat for their excellent work here.

The message of the Report before us today is serious. We must work together now to overcome these challenges and ensure that trade continues to play a positive role in economies everywhere.

In doing so, we must continue to strengthen this exercise and ensure that transparency remains a cornerstone of our work.

Thank you for listening. I wish you a very productive meeting. 




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