WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO


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> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches

  

Thank you Madam Chair, Ambassador Mendez Perez.

I am pleased to be here today.

I would like to thank Secretary General Kituyi for the invitation to attend this very important meeting.

My idea is to give you some thoughts about the state of play at the WTO and to share some perspectives for our future work — especially in agriculture, as the main topic of this session.

But first I think it is useful to step back and have some perspective on where we are today.

Let's recall where we were a year ago — in the fraught weeks before the Ministerial Conference in Bali.

Who would have thought then that we would have achieved so much?

Members agreed to adopt the Bali Package and this was a major breakthrough in the negotiations.

It was the first time since the WTO was created that WTO members agreed to update existing multilateral trade rules.

Of the three areas covered by the package — development/LDC issues, trade facilitation and agriculture — I'll just say a few words here about the latter.

That part of the Package included decisions on:

  • public stockholding for food security purposes,
  • the administration of import tariff quotas,
  • export competition,
  • government support for agriculture-related services, and
  • cotton

The Package delivered big gains for WTO members and it opened a new chapter in our negotiations.

Members agreed to implement these decisions — and they agreed to adopt a work programme, by the end of this year, to deal with the remaining issues of the Doha Round.  

However, all of this is now at risk.

On July 31 we missed the deadline for the adoption of the protocol of amendment on the Trade Facilitation Agreement

This was the first deadline that Ministers set for us in Bali.

I asked members to reflect over the summer break about how to deal with that impasse, taking also into account the impact that it would have in our future work.

Last week I met all members to share my assessment of the situation — and I launched a process of intensive and comprehensive consultations.

I said that we need to try to solve this issue — and quickly.

We are at an early stage of our consultations. Members are meeting with each other in sessions organised by the chairs. I am continuing my own consultations. There is a lot of activity, but at this point we don't have a solution.

We will have another meeting of all members on 6 October.

At that time we will reassess the situation in the light of this process of consultations.

Our priority now is to ensure the implementation of the Bali Package.

There seems to be a clear interplay between concerns on the negotiations on public stockholding and the implementation of the TFA.

Both public stockholding programmes and trade facilitation were issues addressed by the Bali decisions.

There is no formal or legal linkage between these two issues, but we cannot deny that there is an important political link bringing them together.

At present the future is uncertain.

If we solve this issue, I am confident that we will be able to look ahead and resume our efforts in the broader negotiating agenda.

If we do not, members will have to think carefully about what the consequences are.

There could be an impact on all areas of our work:

  • for the TF Agreement itself,
  • for all the other Bali decisions — including those that benefit LDCs,
  • for the DDA,
  • and at the end of the day, for the negotiating function of the WTO.

My assessment is that we risk disengagement if we don't solve this impasse shortly.

I felt it was my duty to share this view with members.

Many areas of our work may suffer a freezing effect, including the areas of greatest interest to developing countries, such as agriculture.

All negotiations mandated in Bali, such as the one to find a permanent solution for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, may never even happen if members fail to implement each and every part of the Bali Package, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Failing to agree on new rules for twenty years is a very disturbing record.

Considerably graver than that is not being able to implement what has been finally agreed only a few months earlier.

I'll come back to this in a moment — but let me now focus on agriculture in some more detail.

The agricultural sector has been and still remains a fundamental tool for sustainable development and for reducing poverty in most developing countries.

But agriculture has been characterized for decades by policies that seriously distort trade and production.

Such policies can take the form of high tariff barriers, various domestic support measures — through subsidies or market price support — and export subsidies or other forms of export-related support.

These trade distorting policies have a significant effect on agricultural producers in developing countries, and especially in the most vulnerable ones.

Because of these anomalies, those countries cannot fully benefit from their comparative advantages, and their agricultural revenues cannot properly contribute to gross domestic production, employment, rural development or livelihood security.

In this context, the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture was a landmark achievement. 

The Uruguay Round initiated a reform process.

The process was aimed at a more equitable and efficient agricultural trading system through specific commitments to reduce distortions and protection in the areas of:

  • domestic support,
  • export subsidies, and  
  • market access.
    • Specific provisions were negotiated in favour of developing countries under each of those three pillars.

But of course this agreement is not perfect, it needs to be improved. The system must be made more equitable. The producers in the poorer countries cannot compete with the treasuries of richer economies and they need better conditions to access consumer markets internationally.

This is why agriculture is the cornerstone of the DDA.

The objective in the DDA is:

  • to make significant reductions in trade distorting support,
  • to substantially improve market access conditions, and
  • to eliminate all forms of export subsidies.

As we stand today, despite the progress brought about by the commitments agreed in the Uruguay Round, these commitments still allow for even more distortive and protectionist practices than the ones we have today. There is policy space there that could be used in a very distortive fashion. This is a scenario we cannot ignore.

So it is essential that we seek to make further progress here.

And in a way that brings me back to the current circumstances.

Given the situation, I feel I should make a few comments on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes.

Food security is not a new topic. It is and has always been a complex issue, which covers — among many elements — the role played by trade and trade disciplines.

The evolution of agricultural prices in the last 15 years also focused the attention of the international community on food security in developing countries, in particular the least-developed and the net food importing developing countries.

Everybody in the WTO recognizes the right of governments to implement policies they deem necessary to ensure food security for their populations.

The vast majority of studies conducted in recent years have confirmed that open and non-distorted trade improves the various dimensions of food security. There are several studies that evaluate the relationship between self-sufficiency and food security. Most, if not all of them, consider that prompt and reliable access to food produced abroad is a fundamental aspect of any food security strategy.

As stated in the note prepared by the UNCTAD Secretariat before this meeting:

Trade in agriculture, in particular, may generate impetus for economic growth, enhanced food security and inclusive and sustainable development in the post-2015 period”.

There is broad consensus on these issues.

Therefore the question that WTO members are trying to answer is not whether members can ensure their food security but rather under which commonly agreed disciplines they can implement policies to achieve this goal without further distorting trade or aggravating the food insecurity of third countries.

This is why there is a broad consensus amongst experts and WTO members that advancing the Doha Round would probably be the most important practical way in which the WTO could help to create a more favourable global environment for food security.

I should not close these remarks without recalling that agriculture negotiations also include other issues of great importance to the developing world.

Cotton is a good example of that. I cannot overemphasize the importance of tackling distortions to trade and reducing barriers to market access in cotton for some countries in Africa.

All WTO negotiations will be at risk if the current impasse is not solved.

We must acknowledge that small countries are probably the ones who will suffer the most. Big countries have other options. The small and the vulnerable may be left behind if we stop WTO negotiations.

As I mentioned to you, the situation is very delicate but we've just started our intensive process of consultations.

I sincerely hope that by early October we will find a way to put things back on track.

With that we'll have the engagement needed to face the hard issues — and very important issues — of the post-Bali agenda.

I am certain that this is the best way the multilateral trading system can help countries achieve their development goals.

Thank you very much.

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