> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am very pleased to be here today.

Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the WCO for all the support you have given to our work in Geneva. 

You played a very positive role in creating the conditions for success in Bali. And, as I will explain today, I think this success will create even more opportunities for us to work together in the future.

The WCO represents customs administrations that process approximately 98% of world trade.

Meanwhile the proportion of the global economy that now falls under the WTO is just over 97%.

These are pretty striking figures. And I think they tell us two things:

First, that both of our organisations have a huge responsibility to facilitate trade — and thereby to make a real difference in people's lives by helping to deliver the jobs, growth and development that trade supports.

Second, I think it shows the importance of this relationship. It is essential that the WTO and WCO continue to work closely together to ensure that global trade can flow as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

And this means implementing the new WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

We are natural partners in this effort.

Customs administrations have long recognized the need to balance enforcement and facilitation — and to do so in a predictable, streamlined way. And, as the volume of global trade increased, the need to operate efficiently and effectively has grown. 

Of course, the WCO has been in the business of facilitating trade for many years.  

For example, it is now some 40 years since the Kyoto Convention was first developed.  

You are a long-time and valued supporter of our technical assistance work on trade facilitation. 

You currently provide support to the trade facilitation needs assessment program. 

Your guidance and expertise is highly valued. 

Indeed, the Revised Kyoto Convention, as well as other WCO tools and instruments, are the basis of many provisions of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement.

In this sense the technical provisions in the Agreement are not new — they are already being used successfully in many countries around the world.   

What the Trade Facilitation Agreement provides is uniformity — and therefore much greater predictability and efficiency.

It will also provide assistance to countries that need it. And this is a crucial point.

Although the specific measures may not be new, there is no question that Bali was a first for the WTO.

This is not just because it represented our first multilaterally negotiated outcomes — or our first real step towards the conclusion of the DDA.

It was also a first because the Trade Facilitation Agreement broke new ground for developing countries in the way it will be implemented.

For the first time in WTO history, implementation of an agreement is directly linked to the capacity of the country to do so.

Previously it was mostly about giving a certain number of years — so developed countries implement an agreement immediately and least-developed and developing countries just get a few more years. 

Nobody ever talked about whether, when the deadline came, those countries would have the capacity to implement the provisions that were agreed.

So now, and for the first time, we have more than that — we are taking a more dynamic approach.

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement, not only does a country have to have the capacity before being required to implement the provisions, but assistance and support should be provided to help them achieve that capacity.

Moreover, developing and least-developed countries can determine for themselves when they have the capacity to implement each of the trade facilitation measures in the Agreement. 

In addition, developing and least developed countries can: request time extensions of the self-determined dates notified to the WTO; and request a grace period from the application of dispute settlement procedures after implementation.   

This has never happened before and it did not happen by accident. Members made the decision together.

It is one reason why the Trade Facilitation Agreement is so significant.

And I think we must continue to work in this spirit as we work to put the text into practice. 

A central element of this will be ensuring that the assistance that developing and least developed countries need will be available.

WTO donor members have given their assurance of far reaching assistance to ensure that everyone will have the capacity to implement the new Agreement — at their own pace. 

A great deal of very welcome work has already been done. Donors are engaged and technical assistance providers and agencies are intensifying their work with recipients. But I know that some concerns still remain.

We have been working very hard to address these issues and ensure the provision of technical assistance to everyone, without exceptions.

My team and I have been talking to donors and consulting with the members to try to find a solution that would allow the WTO to assist those seeking technical assistance and capacity building support. Such a solution should:

  • create the best possible conditions for the flow of information between donors and recipients on their needs and options;
  • assist members in preparing and updating their needs assessments;
  • help members to develop technical assistance projects;
  • identify possible development partners for countries that might have had difficulties doing so by themselves;
  • and ensure that resources are available for all those seeking technical assistance.

We expect to be able to set out a new WTO facility along these lines before the summer break.

This will be a major step forward. But of course, we can't do it alone.

Implementation will be an enormous task — and so all of this will require the full support and cooperation of donors, development banks and international organisations.  

We have already begun to strengthen our partnerships with the Annex D organizations, especially with the WCO. 

Last week the WCO took a good step forward to inform and educate your Geneva-based delegates about the significant amount of support that is already available. 

Secretary-General Mikuriya and several members of the Secretariat made presentations at the WTO on the WCO's impressive wealth of instruments, guidelines and training programs.   

It is clear that these tools and extensive capacity building programs will be an essential ingredient in helping customs administrations to implement the new Agreement.  

I greatly welcome your commitment to the efficient implementation of the TFA, which you underscored through your Dublin Resolution, just days after the Ministerial Conference in Bali.

I would also like to congratulate you on the establishment of your new Trade Facilitation Working Group. 

In fact, the chair of the committee, Ms Gugu Zwane, and the vice Chair, Carlos Enriquez, were previously involved at the WTO — in our Trade Facilitation Section and as a negotiator for Mexico, respectively.

So I know that this committee is in good hands.  Please rest assured that we will do all we can to support its work.

I am also very pleased to hear that the WCO has launched another new initiative — the Mercator program — to support implementation of the Agreement. I look forward to hearing more about this program.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the WCO for supporting the WTO needs assessment program. And I know that my colleagues look forward to cooperating with you in conducting the regional workshops and knowledge academy in the coming weeks.

To date, the work to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement has progressed well — but we are now approaching a crucial moment.

WTO members are in the process of drafting a protocol of amendment to add the new TF Agreement to the body of WTO legal texts. 

Once the protocol is drafted - hopefully by the end of next month - each WTO member must formally accept this document, which normally means approval by congress or parliament. 

Once the protocol and agreement have been accepted by two-thirds of WTO members — or 106 countries — the Agreement will enter into force.  In Bali, Ministers set July 2015 as the target date for this to occur.

By this time, developing countries that want to benefit from delayed implementation of the measures must notify the WTO of when they will implement each measure in the agreement and identify where assistance is needed.  Least-developed countries will have a little bit more time.

So a lot has to be done in a relatively short period if we are to stay on target.  

And we will need your help — both the WCO as a whole, and you, the members.

As leading customs experts, you have a strong role to play in your national task forces. 

This is not only because almost half the measures apply specifically to customs but also because customs is quite often the agency that takes the lead in making reforms at the border. 

I would encourage all of you to work with your national task forces to help move the process forward. 

I would like to encourage developing countries, and least-developed countries that are in a position to do so, to make their first notification as early as they can. 

This is a notification of the measures that will already be implemented in your country when the Agreement enters into force.

These notifications are important to provide greater transparency to the process.  

On the one hand, preparing the notification will assist developing countries because it means they will have clearly identified their needs and priorities and will be in a good position to approach donors.  

On the other hand, the notifications will give an indication to donors — and to the WTO itself — of the scope of the assistance that will be needed so that they can better plan and implement their support.   

Right now, donors are gearing up their assistance programs and they are ready to work with countries that show a strong interest in implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement. It is a great opportunity — and one which we want to help you to seize.

So, it is clear that there remains a lot to do.

But, in closing, I think we have a lot of reasons to be positive as well.

The potential benefits of implementation are plain to see.

If everyone works together, and works toward this common goal, we will not only take a leap forward in facilitating trade — we will also take a leap forward in prospects for growth and development around the world.

Moreover, I believe what we are doing here is bolstering multilateralism itself. At a time when the value of multilateralism is not always fully recognised, we are working together to build links between countries around the world — to help people to connect and do business with each other more easily. And in the end, that can be just as valuable as any economic measurement.

Thank you

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