> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. (Sinnathamby) Rajaratnam School of International Studies,

Mr Benedict Cheong, CEO of the Temasek Foundation,

Honourable Parliamentarians,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I'm delighted to be here and to have the opportunity to talk to you.

As you know, the WTO is marking its 20th anniversary this year. So I think this is an appropriate occasion to acknowledge the contribution that this organization has made, with your support, in terms of global governance and, moreover, to growth and development around the world over those two decades.

Today, when the global economy is more interconnected than ever, it is difficult to imagine a world without the WTO and the system of rules and structures that the organization embodies.

And of course this system has evolved considerably over these 20 years. We have welcomed more than 30 new members since 1995, ranging from some of the world’s largest economies — including China and Russia — to some of the least developed. Some of those more recently acceded members are represented here this morning.

Today our 161 members account for approximately 98% of global trade. And the package we agreed at our 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali in December 2013 has begun to update the multilateral trade rules.

The first time I came to the region, precisely to Singapore, was as a Brazilian diplomat, for the WTO’s first Ministerial Conference in December 1996. And the Bali conference was the last time I visited this region. Both occasions were very important and positive moments for the multilateral trading system. So I can truly say that it is a great pleasure to be back!

As parliamentarians, you have played a crucial role in delivering all of this. You support us through approving and ratifying WTO agreements. You do it through your advocacy for the WTO — and the pressure that you apply to your governments to engage on the key issues.

But, most importantly, you do it by connecting the WTO to your constituents. Parliamentarians are our connection to the workers and the entrepreneurs and traders on the street of every city and town around the world. And ultimately everything the WTO does is for their benefit.

That's why we are aiming to build on our usual dialogue this year by strengthening our parliamentary outreach programme, particularly for developing country regions. A number of meetings have already been scheduled in Mauritius, Jordan, Panama and Morocco to reach out to those respective regions. More will be scheduled in the coming months.

We are delighted by our partnership with RSIS and the Temasek Foundation which has made today's dialogue possible. I want to thank them for their invaluable support in these efforts. This is the sixth such meeting held in Singapore — and it is fast becoming our landmark parliamentary outreach event in Asia.

The focus of this engagement is the implementation of the package of decisions agreed in Bali. But, in a larger sense, I also want to give you a better vision and understanding about the organization over the last two decades, and the challenges that it faces today.

We are not complacent. We know that we face some real challenges as an organization and I am determined that we should do everything we can to tackle these challenges.

For example, we know that the pace of negotiations remains a particular source of frustration. The bulk of our current trade rules were agreed 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.

We need to deliver more outcomes, more quickly. We will do everything we can to work with members to make this happen. And, again, your support will be vital.

So let me turn now to some specific areas where we need to work together over the coming months — starting with implementation of things we have already done, and then moving onto the current negotiating agenda.



I think you are all aware of the significance of the Bali Package — both in economic terms, and in terms of what it means for the strength and viability of the WTO.

A major priority now is to deliver what was agreed there in Bali. And this work is well underway.

Discussions have already started regarding a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security purposes, for example. And we have put a particular focus on taking forward the decisions which are particular interests for the least-developed countries — the LDCs.

And we are making good progress in implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

This Agreement will help to simplify and harmonise customs procedures for all WTO members, reducing the time and cost of trade operations worldwide. In this way it has the potential to provide a timely boost to the global economy that you all know needs some stimulus.

It is estimated that the Agreement could reduce the costs of trading by 10 per cent for developed countries, and up to 15 per cent for developing countries.

In addition, some studies have found that the Agreement could support export growth in developing countries of around 20 per cent.

Overall, the benefits have been estimated at up to 1 trillion US dollars a year — while also creating about 21 million new jobs worldwide, the vast majority of which (close to 18 million jobs) would be in developing countries.  

The Trade Facilitation Agreement also broke new ground for developing countries in the way it will be put into practice. For the first time there is a mandatory requirement to provide technical assistance for countries that lack the capacity to implement the Agreement.

And so we have created the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility to help build that capacity in developing countries. Under this facility, developing and least-developed countries can be sure that they will receive the support they need.

But of course the benefits can only be delivered when the Agreement has entered into force. To do that, we need two-thirds of the membership to deposit their instruments of acceptance.

This is an urgent task — and the ball is in your court.

Your support as parliamentarians is vital to ensure that your domestic processes are completed.

Some members have already done so — with this region leading the way.

And I urge you all to keep pushing this process forward. This is extremely important for the system and global economy.



We have a similar task before us in fulfilling the mandate of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.

The aim of this declaration was to ensure that members with insufficient manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector can gain access to medicines.

It led to a system of special compulsory licences to produce and export pharmaceuticals to meet the needs of patients in those countries.

This was done in the form of a waiver in 2003 and subsequently became an amendment — the first amendment to the multilateral agreements in the WTO.

And again, it is high time that it was brought into force.

The UN General Assembly, ECOSOC, the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS have all called for this to happen.

As with trade facilitation, two-thirds of the membership has to confirm acceptance before the amendment comes into force. Around half of our members have already taken this step. They comprise a healthy cross section of the membership, drawn from every region and with all levels of development. 

We need 27 more acceptances to trigger entry into force. I am convinced it is an eminently achievable goal to secure these acceptances this year, hopefully by the 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. 

So far it has proved to be a very straightforward exercise for most members for one simple reason.

After all, it does not require you to take on any new international obligations — it essentially means that you are prepared to affirm the right of all members to use this legal system if and when they wish to.

To build momentum, I have written to ministers of all WTO members concerned asking them to consider taking this step.  

And again, your help will be vital. We need to complete this process to help increase access to medicines — particularly in Africa.

I therefore urge you to encourage your governments to take the steps which are necessary to complete this process.

Of course, these are things which have already been agreed.

In addition to implementing these decisions, we have to deliver new negotiated outcomes that will contribute to the strength and stability of the global economy.



We currently have negotiations in a number of areas at the WTO.

Some members in this region are engaged in negotiations on the Environmental Goods Agreement and the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement, for example.

These are significant initiatives, which would bring major economic gains, and would benefit all WTO members, not just the signatories.

But of course by far the greatest focus here is on the Doha Development Agenda — the DDA. As I indicated earlier, negotiations on the DDA have been running since 2001, and that is simply far too long.

In Bali, and again in November last year, every single WTO member committed to taking forward this work. We now have the goal of agreeing, by July this year, a detailed work programme on the remaining DDA issues.

And I am very pleased to say that, after many years of paralysis, these negotiations are beginning to move again.

This is even more important when you consider that our next Ministerial Conference is happening in Nairobi this December.

This is the first such meeting to be held in Africa since the WTO was created. And of course this puts even more emphasis on the need to deliver outcomes for developing countries.

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

And I think we have momentum behind us.

We started a very intensive process of talks in January this year and so far we have seen good hard work and strong engagement.

Members are engaging on the detail of the negotiations, leaving their comfort zones, and are beginning to bring some new proposals to the table.

And we are moving away from finger pointing and moving into a solution-finding mode.

This doesn't mean however 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. But members are committed to pushing these efforts forward.

In the coming weeks and months we need to redouble our efforts and complete this work — and so I ask for your help to keep your governments engaged, to keep the focus on these negotiations, and to build and maintain the political will which is so essential.

Of course there are other trade initiatives in the world today which often grab the headlines. By and large they are very welcome — and they are all underpinned by the WTO's multilateral rules. But it is important to remember that they cannot replace the WTO, while they complement the multilateral system.

There are many big ticket items — such as negotiations on trade facilitation or agriculture and fisheries subsidies — which can only be efficiently delivered through the WTO.

Moreover, the WTO is the only place where all voices are heard — where everyone has an equal say — and where everyone has a seat at the table.



So we have to demonstrate once again — as we did in Bali — that the WTO can deliver.

I hope I have given you a sense today of the continued importance of our work, of your work — and of the opportunities that lie ahead.

In conclusion, let me point out that, in addition to implementing the Bali Package and the TRIPS amendment, and agreeing the work programme on the DDA by July, there are a series of major challenges and milestones ahead of us:

  • We have the Global Review of Aid for Trade at the end of June, which is very important for donors and beneficiaries.
  • There are the UN Summits on Financing for Development in July, and on the Post-2015 Development Agenda in September.
  • We have the annual WTO Public Forum in October.
  • And 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 active support.

As parliamentarians, your involvement is crucial in all of our work — because it is through you that we hear the voices of the people that we are here to serve. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than that.

Thank you for listening.

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