SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Directors-General,
Commissioner Sacko,
Distinguished ministers,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon – and a warm welcome to the WTO.

It is great to have you here for this WTO event on food safety and trade. I am particularly pleased to be joined by:

  • WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus,
  • FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva, and
  • OIE Director-General Eloit.

Thank you all for joining us today and for supporting the event.

The community of international organizations often works together to put the spotlight on particular cross-cutting issues – and today's subject could hardly be more important.

Access to safe food is essential. It is a central element of public health and will be crucial in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

So I am pleased that we have the opportunity to place a spotlight on the issue, and to consider the interlinkages between food, health and trade policies which will help to deliver this shared goal.

This conversation builds on an event held in Addis Ababa in February by the FAO, the WHO and the African Union. So it's great to have Commissioner Sacko from the AU with us today. She will give an overview of that conference in a few moments' time.

The links between trade and food safety might not be immediately apparent – but it is absolutely clear in many areas of the WTO's work.

The WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement – the SPS Agreement - is a case in point here.

This Agreement ensures that food safety requirements are based on science and that they are fit for purpose. In this way, the Agreement protects public health and at the same time minimizes unnecessary trade costs and barriers.

The FAO and the WHO help provide a framework to facili­tate trade on the basis of internationally agreed food standards.

Through Codex, the FAO and the WHO establish science-based, internationally agreed standards. These are unequivocally recognized by the SPS Agreement and are also relevant for food-related measures under the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

These interlinkages help to illustrate the complementarity of our work. And our organizations also collaborate to help build the necessary capacity and skills to that end.

This includes the Standards and Trade Development Facility, which was established by the FAO, WHO and WTO, together with the OIE and the World Bank. So there is already very good work under way.

We also have to be ready to move with the times. At present it seems that the world is changing before our eyes.

Technological advances are revolutionizing the way we trade. And this has an impact on the way that food safety measures are designed and enforced.

We must consider how to take advantage of the opportunities brought by technological progress in upholding our goals of food safety and public health.

We have to be prepared – and that requires informed debate.

This is exactly the kind of exchange that today's event is trying to promote.

To help focus the conversations, the discussions will be divided in three thematic sessions.

The first session looks at digitalization and its impact on food safety and trade.

There is huge potential here. New technologies help to gather and analyze data to manage food safety risks.

Electronic certification can be more reliable and efficient than paper-based systems, therefore reducing costs and facilitating trade.

New technologies can also help access information more easily. It can take a lot of time and resources to find out exactly what food safety and other requirements exporters need to comply with. If you can access this information online, it can make a huge difference, especially for the smaller players, countries and companies.

However, the use of such technologies requires investment – and the digital divide is a big factor here.

So this discussion must also be about ensuring that everybody can take part, especially developing countries as well as the smallest and most vulnerable ones. We need to make this digital revolution truly inclusive. 

The second session will address synergies between food safety and trade facilitation.

The WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement is an important focus here. This deal aims at streamlining border processes to help goods move more smoothly and more quickly.

Reducing the time needed for goods to cross borders can make all the difference when your exports are perishable products.

Of course, the safety of imported products also needs to be ensured, and the Agreement recognizes that cooperation among different border agencies plays a fundamental role.

So this session will look at how to ensure that work on different fronts can go forward hand-in-hand in coordination, including:

  • science-based food safety measures,
  • international standards and simplified procedures, and
  • transparency and border agency cooperation.

More broadly, we need to ensure that regulatory frameworks support all this. And that is the theme of the third thematic session.

This discussion will look at how food safety regulatory systems can adapt to these new challenges in a harmonized, transparent and timely manner. It will also look at the future challenges and opportunities for the FAO/WHO Codex.

We have to ensure that the international system continues to play a positive role in all these areas, and that it helps our members deal with the challenges of the modern world.

This event should provide a platform for a frank and informed conversation on the key issues.

So I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone that worked on its organization, in particular Christiane Wolff and Rolando Alcala from the WTO side.

It is through this kind of engagement that we will manage future policy challenges and build a better future for all.

So let's get to it. Thank you.

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