WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO


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Good morning everyone. I’m very pleased to have you all here. Welcome to Geneva and to the WTO.

I am pleased to join you today, particularly as this is the 30th Geneva Week.

I hope you have had a useful and informative week so far.

Geneva Week is a highlight in our calendar. Assisting non-resident members to participate in the work of the organization is essential in making sure that the work of the WTO is truly representative and inclusive.

In a way, Geneva Week is a strange initiative — because the more successful it is, the lower the future demand will be.

When the first Geneva Week was launched in 1999, a total of 37 non-resident members were invited to participate. Today, the number of non-residents stands at 18.

While many factors have played a part in this, I think it’s fair to say that Geneva Week has played an important role. Through their participation here, non-resident members saw the importance of opening missions in Geneva to get more closely involved in our work, and were more ready to do so.  

We are meeting at a very important moment. 

2015 marks the WTO’s 20th anniversary. But more significantly, we are in the run-up to our 10th Ministerial Conference, which will be held in Nairobi in December.

This is the first time that a WTO ministerial meeting will be held in Africa — and I very much hope that you will be able to attend.

So let me give you a sense of where negotiations stand today.

We have had intense and active engagement this year — on a level that we have not seen for some years. New ideas, proposals and approaches have been put on the table.

However, there are still significant differences across many areas, especially on the core areas of agriculture, non-agricultural market access and services.

Therefore, progress has been limited. We have taken important steps, but not — in my view — enough to put us within reach of delivering a detailed work programme by the end of this week, as ministers mandated us to do.

Nevertheless, I think that the process of elaborating and thinking about the work programme has moved us forward.

It has allowed us:

  • First, to facilitate discussions on the Doha issues after Bali.
  • Second, to get into the core elements of substance.
  • And third, it has pushed us towards real engagement.

In that sense the exercise of discussing the work programme has served much of its purpose. It has provided a clear signpost, pointing towards Nairobi.

Of course, we have not given up on the work programme. I am holding consultations with members this week and the negotiating groups continue to meet. But at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting on Friday we will have to face up to the reality of the situation.

If we find ourselves in a scenario where there is no work programme, there will be certainly a sense of disappointment. But it should not lead us to inaction. It will simply mean that we have to redouble our efforts in the lead up to the Ministerial Conference.

At the TNC meeting, the Chairs of the different negotiating bodies will provide an update on the status of the work in their areas. I will make a full report on my consultations and give my overview of the situation as I see it. Members will also give their statements — and I look forward to yours as well.

You have an important role to play.

The meeting on Friday will set the basis for our work when we reconvene in September.

And when we do, we must be ready to hit the ground running on substance, not process.

Besides the DDA discussions, we do have some encouraging signs in other areas of our work here in Geneva.

In recent days we have marked two very important achievements for the WTO.

First, a group of members concluded the basis for a new information technology deal, which will eliminate the tariffs for over 200 IT products.

While the agreement was reached between around 50 members, the benefits apply to all.  And let me just underline the impact of what we are talking about here.

Annual trade in the products involved is valued at over $1.3 trillion per year, and accounts for approximately 7% of total global trade.

This is larger than global trade in automotive products — or trade in textiles, clothing, iron and steel combined.

Eliminating tariffs on trade of this magnitude will have a huge impact. It will support lower prices for consumers, create jobs, and it will help boost GDP growth around the world.

In addition, on Monday, the General Council gave the green light for Kazakhstan’s membership of the WTO, once its domestic ratification process has been completed. Kazakhstan is one of the largest economies still outside the WTO so this is a very important moment — and it marks the end of almost two decades of negotiations. 

Together these two successes have wider implications for our work.

They show that the WTO can deliver. And I hope that they will serve to spark progress elsewhere in our work.

Of course negotiating new trade rules is just one element of what we do. We also must show that we can implement the decisions that ministers have taken — starting with the Bali Package.

This includes:

  • the Trade Facilitation Agreement,
  • a series of measures for LDCs,
  • and steps on various agricultural issues, including cotton, food security, tariff rate quota administration, and so on.

Taking forward these decisions would deliver real, substantive results.

Regarding the LDC issues, I think progress is being made, but much more needs to be done.

I have recently written to ministers of preference-granting members to urge that they follow up on the commitments made under the LDC services waiver — and I’m pleased to say that nine members have now done so. Clearly this is not enough, but other members have indicated that they are working on their notifications. We have to keep urging them.

I have also written to ministers, including your ministers, to call their attention to the need to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

This Agreement will do a great deal to cut trade costs, particularly in developing countries. And therefore it is vital that members act to bring it into force.

There is also a lot of help available to support the implementation of the agreement — including through the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility.

I know that you will be looking into these issues in more detail this week, and I urge you to make full use of the help that is on offer. 

Indeed, practical capacity-building support to help countries to improve their trading infrastructure and expertise is a very important element of our work. That’s what the WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative is all about. To date, more than 245 billion dollars have been disbursed for official development assistance programmes and projects through the initiative since it was created.

I want to mention a third issue here on which I have written to ministers. This is about the need to ratify the TRIPS amendment on Public Health.

In 2001 Ministers created a waiver to remove the barriers that some countries were having in gaining access to medicines. Later, led by African countries, members decided that there should be a firm and permanent legal pathway to ensure this. This was a very important step — but the ratification process to bring it into force still has not been completed.

So, when you return to capitals I ask that you follow up on this issue, and on the ratification of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

I said at the outset that this is an important year for the WTO, but of course it is also a very important year for development.

The new sustainable development goals will be agreed in September, and just a few weeks ago I addressed the United Nations conference on development financing in Addis Ababa.

Trade has a big role to play in all of these debates.

Since the creation of the WTO in 1995, around two-thirds of poverty reduction has come from economic growth in developing countries. And trade is a major engine helping to drive that growth in those countries

So it is essential that you have a seat at the table and make your voices heard on trade issues.

Today developing countries make up four out of every five WTO members.

They play a role in managing the system, shaping its agenda, and negotiating its agreements.

Development will be the key issue at our ministerial conference in December. And we will be doing everything we can from now until then to make sure that we can deliver meaningful outcomes.

So I urge you to stay engaged in every way you can. The Secretariat is here to help you with that.

I wish you a very productive week — and I’ll see you again at the TNC.

Thank you.

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