• Trade-restrictive measures continue at historically high level


Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you Ambassador Teehankee for that useful introductory statement. You will all have seen my report, which was circulated to members on 8 July in document WT/TPR/OV/W/13.

The report takes stock of the major developments in trade policy from mid-October 2018 to mid-May 2019. This is a precursor to my annual report on this subject, which will be released later in the year.

Since this exercise started in 2009, it has become an important tool for members.

Of course, it is worth underlining that this report is purely factual. 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.

The goal is to reinforce transparency and predictability.

This is not just important in an institutional sense – it matters for policy makers, businesses and consumers. So we should ensure that this part of our work gets the due care that it warrants.

The information included in the report has been collected from inputs submitted by members, observers, as well as from other official and public sources. I'd like to thank all the delegations that have participated in this exercise. 

For this current mid-year report, 69 members replied to my initial request for information. This represents about 42% of the membership, covering about 90.5% of world imports.

I must note that this represents a slightly lower participation compared to the last mid-year report. In addition, participation in the verification process continues to be uneven. In fact, in several instances the Secretariat received only partial responses.

We can do better. We should seek to make this exercise as inclusive and as comprehensive as possible.

I encourage members to reflect on this – and of course, the Secretariat remains available to help your understanding of this exercise and help facilitate your participation.

So what does the report tell us? I must say the overall picture is concerning.

The report provides evidence that trade tensions continue to dominate the global trading environment.

The trade coverage of the new import-restrictive measures implemented during the current period is estimated at USD 339.5 billion. This is 44% above the average since October 2012, when the reports started including trade coverage figures.

These figures, combined with those of the previous six-month period, show a dramatic rise in new restrictive measures, which is well outside the prevailing trend since the financial crisis.

The number of measures introduced in this reporting period actually decreased. However, the scale of those measures rose significantly. A few very large measures account for the majority of the new trade restrictions in this period. Indeed, over 90% of the trade coverage is accounted for by the actions of a small handful of G20 economies.

The vital point, however, is that the impacts are not limited to those economies. They threaten economic growth around the world.

This is extremely concerning.

We will continue to monitor this situation. I urge WTO members to work together to help scale back this situation.

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

WTO members implemented 47 new measures aimed at facilitating trade during the review period. The trade coverage of the import-facilitating measures implemented during the review period was estimated at USD 398.2 billion. This is marginally above the average since October 2012.

With respect to trade remedies, the report recorded an average of 14 initiations per month during the review period. This is the lowest monthly average registered since 2012. The trade coverage of trade remedy initiations has also fallen significantly in the current report compared to the previous report.

Regarding trade in services, the report shows that many trade-facilitating measures were implemented in the period. However, it also highlights that a number of new policies appeared to be trade restricting. This is something we will be paying close attention to in the future.

The report also shows that a greater number of trade concerns were raised in various WTO bodies compared to the previous report. That is, concerns outside SPS and TBT.

This demonstrates the value of WTO committees as constructive platforms for members to engage and seek solutions to potential areas of conflict.

In addition, the report highlights:

  • the continued commitment of members to notify SPS and TBT measures,
  • the development and diversification of national policies and strategies in intellectual property, and
  • the progress made in the implementation of the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement as well as the work following on from the results of MC11.

Finally, on general economic support measures, I must underscore that the Secretariat received limited information, and by fewer members, compared to the previous review period.

In my statement to the TPRB in December 2018 I urged members to provide the Secretariat with clearer guidance on how this work should be taken forward. This point remains outstanding. 

These are some of the principal findings that I wanted to highlight 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 is very serious. These actions have real economic effects, and the alarm bells are already sounding.

It is essential that we tackle the tensions that are leading to higher trade barriers, greater uncertainty and lower economic and trade growth.

Exercises like this can only help in those efforts.

In closing, I want to underline that improving transparency is an ongoing task for us all. And the Secretariat is striving to support members here.

I am therefore pleased to announce that the trade monitoring database website has been completely revamped and will be available to the public shortly.

It is now more user-friendly, and provides faster and customized searches, as well as more comprehensive outputs. It also allows for the visualization of trends.

This is part of a wider project, the Open Trade Data Initiative. It aims to make it easier for members to notify trade measures as well as to improve how the Secretariat disseminates this public information. Other tools are in the pipeline, so watch this space.

Thank you all for listening.

I wish you a very productive meeting.



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