> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Good morning everyone.

Welcome to the World Trade Organization — and welcome to the 2014 Public Forum.

I am delighted to see so many of you here today.

This is the time each year when we ask people from around the world — NGOs, academics, the private sector, the media, governments, international organizations, and members of the public — to come to Geneva and set up shop at the WTO.

Of course our doors are never closed — they are always open — but this is the time each year when we give you the keys!

Over the next 3 days, there will be 68 sessions held here to discuss some of the big issues before us — all of them organised by you.

We will also have two plenary debates to be held in this room today and tomorrow — with tomorrow’s debate focusing on what trade means for Africa.

And we have a “trade and people fair” in the main Atrium.

So I urge you to get involved — join in the discussions — and make your voices heard.

We want to hear and learn from you.

The theme we are addressing this year is: “why trade matters to everyone” — so let me explain why we chose this topic.

We know that trade is a major contributor to global growth. And that open economies tend to grow more rapidly than closed ones. 

But, important as this is, the trade agenda of opening markets and promoting an interconnected global economy is not just about dollars and cents — or rand, rupees, renminbi, or pesos. 

Rather, it is about the quality of our lives.

Trade matters to everyone because every day, for good or ill, it affects us all.

It affects the goods we can buy and the prices we pay for them.

It affects our jobs — and whether they’ll be there next year — or whether they’ll still be there for the next generation.

And it affects the poorest the most.

By boosting development, trade has helped to cut poverty around the world.

For many, trade has meant better opportunities, better healthcare, better conditions in which to raise a family and greater opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives.

Moreover, by helping to build peaceful relationships between nations the trading system helps to provide a shelter of security and stability globally.

This was part of the original vision for the system when it was conceived after the Second World War.

So, you might think, if this has been the case for years, why should we discuss it now?

And my answer would be that trade is changing — and it’s changing fast.

Global trade reaches more people, in more ways, today than it did just 20 years ago.

This is partly because of the role that trade has played in the rapid growth of the emerging markets and of the south-south trade routes.

But the story doesn’t stop there.

Developing nations are placing much greater emphasis on trade in their development plans.

Patterns of production are changing, with a need for investments — domestic and foreign — that enable fuller participation in these value chains.

The goods we buy are coming from an ever more diverse range of sources. And therefore the structure of costs and the issues of labour and quality standards are ever more complex.

This is bringing new opportunities and new challenges for every country around the world.

Trade has become a matter of headlines and high politics once again.

And inevitably all of this affects us, in turn, as individuals.

And so it’s not just trade that’s changing — our perceptions of it are shifting too.

A major study by the Pew Research Center found that the biggest supporters of trade today are not to be found in developed countries, as one might have expected, nor even in emerging countries — but in developing countries. 

On every front — on trade as a force for good, as a source of jobs, as a force to lower prices and increase wages — the greatest proportion of supporters were found in developing countries.

This is a major shift. And I think you can see this in the WTO.

In the lead up to our ministerial conference in Bali last year, the developing and least developed countries were among the leading voices in the debate, alongside the major developed economies.

And this was reflected in the Bali package itself. It was reflected in the decisions members took — some of which dealt solely with developing issues. And it was also reflected in the Trade Facilitation Agreement:

  • Firstly because, once implemented, the benefits will accrue mainly to the developing world.
  • Secondly because, for the first time ever at the WTO, the agreement provides for assistance and support to help developing countries build the capacity that they need to implement it.
  • And thirdly because developing countries are required to implement the Agreement’s provisions only to the extent that they are ready to do so.

So it’s not just trade, or our perceptions of trade, that have changed — it’s the WTO as well.

More than ever before all members have a stake, and a say, in what is being discussed — and therefore so do their citizens. 

Our aim is to open markets, but it is also to support less developed countries to participate, to prevent harmful practices, and to provide a fair system where rules are agreed by all, where disputes are settled in an open and transparent manner, and where everyone has a seat at the table.

Now, more than ever, our work here has the potential to touch the lives of almost everyone on this planet.

That is a great responsibility.

And that’s why we need to have this conversation over the next three days.

I want to put the human dimension at the heart of our work — to change the terms of the debate — to change this organization.

So this Public Forum is an opportunity to explore what our work really means, by telling the stories of how trade and the multilateral trading system affect people’s lives. 

Thank you for being here to take part in this effort.

Now, it is my great pleasure to welcome Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon back to the WTO.

Secretary-General, we are starting a new conversation this morning, about why trade matters, what it means for people around the world, particularly in developing countries — and how we can ensure that we hear their stories.

The WTO is, more than anything, an important part of global governance. We see great value in the multilateral trading system as an important piece of the overall multilateral framework. And so we are proud to play our part in the community of nations.

There is surely nobody better placed than you, Secretary-General, to talk about all of these issues.

So thank you for being here — we know you have a very busy agenda — and we look forward to hearing your thoughts. 


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