SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Secretary-General Gurría,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning, and welcome to the launch of this new OECD-WTO publication on regulatory cooperation.

The OECD and the WTO quite often join forces on issues related to promoting economic growth and development – including through the Aid for Trade initiative. This publication is a welcome addition to those efforts.

I would like to thank everybody involved in this initiative – especially our colleagues from the WTO's Trade and Environment Division and the Agriculture and Commodities Division – particularly Devin McDaniels and Arti Daswani.

We know that meeting different trade standards and regulations is one of the main constraints for businesses trying to access new markets.

While all traders must contend with this issue, for LDCs and developing country producers it can be a huge obstacle. This is also true for MSMEs.

This deserves our attention - and action. Cooperation across several areas can help address some of these constraints and help build a more inclusive trading system. This includes regulatory cooperation.

In a nutshell, this is about members working together to bridge differences in their regulatory systems through a number of ways, including increased dialogue, transparency and cooperation. This may happen, for example, by agreeing to align with international standards, or by mutual recognition.

This involves many areas, for example, clinical trials for medical devices, veterinary certificates, safety of electronics, common food standards, or protecting consumers from harmful ingredients in cosmetics. The list goes on.

This closer coordination helps to disseminate good practices and counter, to some extent, the costly effects of regulatory systems acting in isolation. In turn, it leads to lower trade costs and increased opportunities for traders everywhere.

The WTO plays an important part in supporting all of this through the Agreements on Technical Barriers to Trade and on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures – the TBT and SPS Agreements.

The disciplines of these Agreements on transparency and international standards help to embed good regulatory practices. In turn, this offers members a solid platform to build on their own cooperative efforts. 

So, how does this work in practice?

The two Agreements provide a unique multilateral transparency framework. Members are required to notify each other about proposed TBT and SPS measures through the WTO and give others a chance to comment.

This is a useful way to gather inputs from public and private stakeholders, which can strengthen the evidence base and clarity of the proposed measure.

It can also help to inspire trade facilitating amendments before the regulation enters into force. All this helps to avoid potential disagreements, avoiding costly trade frictions later.

Both Agreements also strongly encourage members to base their SPS and TBT measures on relevant international standards. In turn, this helps to promote the alignment of regulation across borders, reducing unnecessary barriers to trade.

Of course, we must remember that WTO Agreements do not interfere with the right of members to set their own legitimate objectives and levels of health, safety or environmental protection.
There are many legitimate reasons why members may regulate differently, such as technological and socio-economic conditions, human and institutional capacities, or assessment of risks.

Ultimately, WTO members are free to adopt measures to pursue their desired policies, as long as protectionism is not introduced through the back door.

The SPS and TBT Committees of the WTO are where the work of sharing and scrutinizing each other's regulations is done. This work often goes unseen — but I believe it is essential. And this everyday work can have extraordinary results.

For example, when members face trade problems with TBT or SPS measures proposed or adopted by others, they can raise what we call a "specific trade concern". They can also build coalitions to address measures that they perceive as not complying with SPS or TBT obligations.

This process allows for clarification and for dialogue. Members often bring experts from capitals for technical discussions. It also allows the private sector and other stakeholders to offer their comments. All this helps to ease tensions and avoid disputes and can even disseminate good practices.

The SPS and TBT Committees have also adopted a substantial number of decisions and recommendations to facilitate implementation of their respective Agreements.

This helps to clarify the treaty text, without altering existing rights and obligations.

This includes the SPS Committee decision on “recognition of equivalence”, or the TBT Committee decision on Six Principles for the development of international standards.

This publication aims to highlight this essential work, and to present some ideas on how to better leverage the opportunities provided by the TBT and SPS Agreements.

Our work on this front is a success story for the WTO. But of course, there is always room for improvement.

So it is very positive to see this debate taking place. I am pleased to be able to count on our partnership with the OECD to help inform these conversations.

Events like this can only help in that effort. So let's keep this dialogue going.

I would now like to give the floor to Ángel.

Thank you.

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