WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO


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> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches

> African Trade Ministers Conference: Celebrating 20 Years of the WTO

Monsieur Abdelilah Benkirane, Chef du gouvernement,

Monsieur Rachid Talbi Alami, Président de l’Union Parlementaire Africaine,

Monsieur Moulay Hafid Elalamy — Ministre de l’Industrie, du Commerce, de l’Investissement et de l’Économie numérique,

Mesdames, Messieurs les Ministres,

Mesdames, Messieurs les Parlementaires,

Excellences,

Mesdames, Messieurs les délégués,

Bonjour à tous.

Je suis très heureux d’être ici parmi vous aujourd’hui, au Maroc, pays dans lequel l’OMC a vu le jour.

Je vous remercie tous pour l’organisation de cet événement, placé sous le Haut Patronage de Sa Majesté le Roi Mohammed VI et pour le soutien que le Maroc a donné à l’Organisation au fil de ces 20 dernières années.

Il est évident que cet événement n’aurait pu avoir lieu dans un endroit plus parfait.

Le terme “Marrakech” en lui-même est devenu un synonyme de l’OMC.

It was here that the world came together to sign the Marrakesh Agreement and open a new chapter in economic history with the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

His Majesty King Hassan II made the point very well at the closing ceremony of the conference in April 1994 when he said:

“By bringing into being the World Trade Organization today, we are enshrining the rule of law in international economic and trade relations, thus setting universal rules and disciplines over the temptations of unilateralism and the law of the jungle […] Regardless of the size of our economies, from now on we shall all enjoy the same rights and be subject to the same obligations.”

Since that historic meeting in Marrakesh the WTO has expanded those principles and the rule of law by welcoming 33 new members.

These new members range from some of the world’s largest economies — including China and Russia — to some of the least-developed. Just earlier this month Seychelles completed its process of accession to become the WTO’s 161st member.

The vision of the WTO’s founders — of cooperation on trade that is truly global — is being realised.

Together WTO members now account for approximately 98% of world trade.

And so I think that today, when the global economy is more interconnected than ever, it is difficult to imagine a world without the WTO.

By setting the global trade rules, monitoring adherence to those rules, and helping to resolve disputes between nations when they arise, the WTO plays a crucial role in global governance. 

The clearest example of this is probably found in the response to the recent financial crisis, the effects of which we are still living with today.

The lesson of history is very clear. When the world was hit by crisis in the 1930s governments responded by throwing up trade barriers, which pushed the world into a spiral of protectionism. In just four years, from 1929 to 1933, retaliatory trade restrictions wiped out two thirds of world trade. But the mistake was not repeated in 2008.

After the financial crisis hit seven years ago the value of world trade did fall, but the decline was only a fraction of that seen in the 1930s — and it rebounded straightaway. 

Instead of a protectionist panic the response was one of restraint and caution — partly due to the steadying influence of the multilateral trade system.

Despite mounting domestic pressure to adopt protective measures, governments knew that they were bound by rules and obligations that were common to all, and this gave them confidence that others were going to play by the rules as well. Any improper unilateral trade action could have significant legal and economic consequences.

And so we avoided turning a damaging financial crash into an economic catastrophe.

So I think there is great value in the system.

Moreover, the WTO also does a great deal to help developing countries to integrate into the global trading system.

To me this is a top priority.

Indeed I think the centrality of developing countries within the WTO — and African countries in particular — is a defining achievement of the organization.

And this applies throughout our work, whether it is technical assistance to African countries to help them build capacity and engage in the WTO, or through the transparent and inclusive approach that we take to our negotiations.

All of our members have a seat at the table. All voices are heard. Decisions are taken together — by consensus. And, as His Majesty King Hassan II said, under the rules of the system, everyone is equal.

Today we have 42 African members — that’s a quarter of the entire membership — and others are in the process of joining.

Both individually, and together through the African Group, African members have used the system to further their interests.

And, by doing so, you have placed Africa at the heart of the organization.

We saw this very clearly at the historic ministerial conference in Bali in 2013 where members struck the first multilateral trade agreement since the WTO’s creation.

 

BALI

The fact is that Bali would not have happened without the support and advocacy of our African members. And the content of the decisions taken reflect this.

Bali brought progress on agriculture, including on public stockholding to support food security, and on cotton.

As developing countries requested it provided for a Monitoring Mechanism that will increase the WTO’s responsiveness to concerns on how Special & Differential provisions are used and implemented in the organization

Bali also delivered a package of decisions to support least-developed countries — incorporating steps on duty free quota free market access, guidelines on preferential rules of origin and reforms to enable services providers in LDCs to enjoy new export opportunities.

Members are now taking forward all of these issues. I was pleased, for example, that at a high level meeting in February, 25 members indicated services sectors and modes of supply where they would grant preferential treatment to LDCs.

Finally, Bali also delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

It is estimated that this agreement will reduce trade costs by up to 15% in developing countries.

This is particularly important for Africa where the cost of customs procedures tends to be around 30% higher than the global average.

And, for the first time in the WTO’s history, there will be practical help with implementation. The Agreement states that assistance and support should be granted to help developing countries achieve the capacity to implement its provisions.

So, for those countries with less-developed customs infrastructure, the Agreement will mean a boost in the technical assistance that is available to them.

To ensure that this commitment is honoured, I worked with the African Group and others to create a new initiative: the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility.

This facility will ensure that LDCs and developing countries get the help they need to develop projects and access the necessary funds to improve their border procedures, with all the benefits that that can bring.

The Facility is already operational. And donors are already very interested and involved.

And we have built strong partnerships with a number of organisations in support of this work, including the World Bank.

So I urge you to look at how this facility and the various other trade facilitation projects can support you.

And I urge you to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

For the Agreement to enter fully into force two thirds of WTO members must ratify it through their domestic procedures. Some members have already done so — but it is vital that others do the same, and quickly, so that the benefits of the Agreement can be realized as soon as possible.

 

TRIPS AMENDMENT

This call for ratification leads me onto another important issue where domestic action is required — and where, again, African members played a key role.

In the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health of 2001, Ministers tried to remove the barriers that some countries were having in gaining access to medicines.

They provided a waiver so that essential medicines could be exported into countries which could not produce the medicines themselves, without fear of action over intellectual property rights.

Led by African countries, members subsequently decided that this issue was too important for a waiver. They decided to provide a permanent pathway to ensure that access to these medicines was put on a firmer legal footing.

The UN General Assembly, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and many others have signalled their support.

So now we need to bring this important change into force. And, as with the Trade Facilitation Agreement, two thirds of the WTO members have to confirm their acceptance before this can happen.

Over half of the membership have now done this.

In Africa, 10 members have confirmed the acceptance so far, but there are more than 30 yet to do so. 

This is “Africa’s amendment” and so I urge you to do all you can to accelerate your domestic ratification processes and bring it into force.

 

THE WTO AGENDA

Looking back over the last 20 years and considering all the issues I’ve mentioned this morning, I think it’s clear that the WTO has achieved a great deal.

But we are not complacent. There is much, much more to do.

We need to do more to help developing countries, particularly in Africa, to use trade as a means to leverage growth and development.

And we need to accelerate our negotiating work.

While Bali was a major success, it is sobering to reflect that the bulk of our current trade rules were negotiated and agreed over 20 years ago when the organization was founded.

Despite the fact that many of those rules embody basic and perennial principles, the reality is that our legal texts are yet to properly enter the 21st century.

I am conscious that we need to deliver more outcomes, more quickly — and we will do everything we can to work with members to make this happen.

This brings me to what is happening at the WTO today.

At the end of 2014 all members recommitted to agreeing a work programme on the remaining issues of the Doha Development Agenda — and they committed to delivering it by July this year. This is the first and decisive step that will allow us to conclude the Round in the near future.

This means that the big, tough issues of agriculture, services and industrial goods are all back on the table.

And it means we have the opportunity to advance negotiations which have been stalled for some years.

Progress on the Doha Round could deliver a huge amount for Africa — so it is appropriate that our next Ministerial Conference is being held in Nairobi this December.

This is the first time, since the creation of the WTO in Marrakesh, that a ministerial meeting has been held in Africa. I hope that we can replicate the success that we had here!

So there is a lot at stake in these negotiations — and I think we have real momentum behind us.

We started an intensive process of talks in January and so far we have seen good progress and strong engagement.

In fact I think we made more progress in the first weeks of these talks than we did in all of 2014. And we have continued to make steady progress since then.

Members are engaging on the detail and are beginning to bring some new proposals to the table.

There is a clear sense that they are moving into a solution-finding mode.

This doesn’t mean that our work is done. We still need to bridge some very significant gaps.

Moving the Doha Development Agenda forward is still going to be incredibly difficult. There remain many challenges to overcome before we can find solutions — but at least now we are looking for them. And this we haven’t done for quite some time!

We will continue to push these efforts forward.

 

CONCLUSION

I think it is essential that we demonstrate once again — like we did in Bali — that the WTO can deliver.

Trade can be a powerful tool to alleviate poverty, support growth and boost development — so we should seek to use it in the most effective manner possible. The best way to do so would be to conclude these negotiations.

And so we have a big year ahead of us.

In addition to implementing the Bali Package and the TRIPS amendment on access to medicines, and agreeing the work programme on the DDA by July, there are a series of major challenges and milestones on the horizon:

  • We have the Global Review of Aid for Trade at the end of June, when we will be discussing all of our technical assistance work in developing countries.
  • There are the UN Summits on Financing for Development in July, and on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September. Both will be important occasions to ensure that trade’s potential contribution to sustainable development is fully recognised. 
  • We have the annual WTO Public Forum in October.
  • And of course we have our ministerial conference in Nairobi in December.

Positive outcomes in all of these areas would be the best way to mark our 20th anniversary. And, in each case, we look forward to your support and your engagement.

Selon les termes de l’Accord de Marrakech, nous devrions nous efforcer d’employer les relations commerciales afin  “d’élever le niveau de vie” des peuples à travers le monde.

J’espère qu’ensemble, c’est ce que nous nous attèlerons à faire.

Thank you for listening.

 

Galerie de photos

 

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