• News item: UN’s Guterres underscores importance of revitalizing multilateral trade cooperation


Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Thank you, Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

Let me echo the Chair in saying: Secretary-General Guterres, it is our great pleasure to welcome you to the WTO.

We are honoured by your presence and by your support for our work here. Thank you for joining us.

When I look at the sweep of history, I often see it as a story of cooperation.

The defining moments and turning points tend to come when people – individuals, villages, tribes and nations – choose to fight against each other, or work with each other. 

In this sense, the post-war multilateral era represents the high point of cooperation, constructive competition and shared endeavour. The brightest hopes of humanity arose from our darkest days.

But each generation sees transformative changes of some kind and has to answer this question anew: how do we want to interact with our neighbours and the wider global community? And we are now facing transformative change that is occurring at an unprecedented pace. New technologies, new perspectives and new political realities are bringing this question to the fore once again.

Let me be clear, I believe that multilateral cooperation, through the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the family of multilateral institutions, has been a powerful force for good, supporting economic growth, development, stability and peace. And it remains a powerful force for good today.

The world faces many challenges – new and old: economic tensions, poverty, climate change, conflict, migration, antimicrobial resistance, the list goes on.

In my view, meeting each of these challenges demands more cooperation, not less. Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals requires more cooperation, not less.

Yet, at this crucial moment, the multilateral system also faces huge challenges. The question is being asked about the effectiveness of global cooperation in its current form. We see this reflected in the WTO.

The tensions between major economies are playing out here in this organization. We are working hard to help deal with members' concerns, resolve disputes and urgently reduce tensions.

The situation has sparked a debate on how the trading system can work better to facilitate greater cooperation.

Ultimately a resolution to the tensions that we are seeing today will only come about through political will, but some see reforming the WTO as an essential step in that journey.

It is certainly clear that we have an opportunity now to renew and strengthen trade multilateralism for some years to come. And I think in the interests of all our members, we must seize it.

The fact is that having shared rules and commitments on global trade is vital for us all.

They provide stability and predictability. They prevent a race to the bottom, where everybody ends up worse off. And they deliver tremendous economic benefits.

Shared rules are not an infringement on sovereignty, they are expressions of it – because they are commitments that governments negotiate with each other and enter into freely, on the basis of shared interests. And they enter into these undertakings because they are not a zero sum game.

It is by following these rules that governments deliver on their shared interests.

Multilateral rules are not valuable for their own sake, they are valuable because they help us to pursue the interests of our economies and regions more effectively through cooperation with each other. They are agreed upon and accepted only if they are viewed as a worthwhile compromise from which all benefit.

The credibility of rules depends on their enforceability. It depends on their transparency and inclusiveness. And it depends on their ability to evolve with the times.

Here we face another challenge which we must meet head on. Rules cannot be fossilized. They must be responsive to the changes that are transforming our world and demanding our attention.

We have to find ways to advance, to be flexible and innovative, to deliver outcomes that are ambitious, while accommodating sensitivities and not imposing anything on anyone.

This is easier said than done. But for the sake of the system and everything it represents, inaction is not an option. We cannot allow multilateralism to become synonymous with paralysis.

With all of this in mind, the presence here today of Secretary-General Guterres could not be more timely.

As Secretary-General you have an unrivalled position from which to assess these challenges with a broader perspective.

The issues that we are wrestling with in our day-to-day work here at the WTO – trade tensions, the effects of rapid economic change, the desire for reform and renewal – are a manifestation of a much bigger picture. Global economic and political forces are interacting in a manner that we have not often seen before, and which is not always predictable.

I have known Secretary-General Guterres for many years and followed his trajectory closely. It is very rare that we see such an extraordinary combination of political acumen, analytical capacity, charisma and executive authority in one person. These are the attributes of a true leader.

So, Secretary-General, we are privileged to have you with us today to share your views, insight and advice.

It feels to me like we may again be reaching one of history's turning points. We are all searching for the right path forward. And in that effort, we could not hope for a better guide.

Thank you.



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