Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo

> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches


Good afternoon everyone.

Welcoming new members to the WTO is a real highlight of my job.

So I am very happy to be here with you today to launch this book, which looks at 20 years of WTO accessions, and to celebrate the success of our work in this area.

To have an idea of what this means to the Organization, we have completed 34 accessions in the past two decades. This amounts to almost 20 per cent of our membership. This is a big achievement.

Increasing the membership of the WTO has always been a priority for us – not as an end in itself, but as a means to extend the coverage of multilateral trade rules and principles.

I am sure that you have had some good discussions on this matter over the last two days during this Second Global Seminar on WTO Accessions.

The accessions story of the organization has had some remarkable moments. The accessions of China and Russia are perhaps the most often remarked upon for the message they sent about the truly global nature of the multilateral trading system.

But there have been many other accessions which have been just as worthy of note.

I know that yesterday for example there was a Special Session to mark the 10 year anniversary of the WTO membership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

This was a very significant accession. And in Saudi Arabia it was seen not only as a process of trade and economic integration. It was also part of a much broader process of domestic reforms, including the diversification and modernization of its economy.

And I am happy to have Minister Amina Mohamed with us today who, as Chairperson of the General Council in 2005, gavelled the Accession of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

I think this brings our debate today into a pretty good perspective.

Whenever a new country goes through the process of integrating into the multilateral trading system we see tariffs being lowered, market access increased, and the principles of non-discrimination, transparency and predictability further affirmed.

In addition, in the WTO's dispute settlement system, new members have access to one of the most highly-regarded bodies in international law to help them to resolve trade disputes in a fair and objective manner.

So the overall effect of increasing the membership is therefore to boost growth, increase stability in the global economy, strengthen the Organization and therefore to improve global trade governance – which is what the WTO is all about.

However, it is also a very demanding process, one that involves important and complex negotiations, as well as a very intense engagement of negotiators and members.

Acceding governments, through the accession negotiations, define the specific terms of their membership with the other members.

Some of them have taken a long time, like Kazakhstan, which took almost 20 years.

And this is a negotiation that requires the consensus of all.

To have an idea of what this means in practice, it is worth noting that WTO accession negotiations have produced over 20,000 pages of legal documents.

From a systemic point of view, these texts have helped to clarify, reinforce and deepen some of the existing WTO rules and, in some areas, further expand their coverage. 

From an economic perspective, WTO accession negotiations have increased market access, supported domestic reforms, and contributed to expand trade flows.

And most importantly, they symbolize a commitment to core values of the WTO: openness, transparency, good governance, and the rule of law. 

With each additional WTO member, we come closer to our objective of universal representation in the organization.

Each accession adds an important voice to the table, a new perspective to our debate, a new vitality to our dynamic.

Today, the 161 WTO members are home to more than 7 billion people, accounting for nearly 96% of the global economy, and 98% of world trade. 

It is a pretty big achievement.

This book seeks to tell the story of WTO accessions and show the importance of the work that we do in this area.

Over 50 contributors from inside and outside the WTO assess the results of our efforts and how they have served the trading system.

As a result, these pages contain a mix of analysis, experience and lessons for the future. They highlight the value of accessions in increasing market access, supporting domestic reforms and contributing to rule-making in the WTO.

Contributors include chief negotiators of original members; chief negotiators of members which have acceded since 1995; highly-regarded economists, lawyers and academics; and experts from many international organizations.

And I am very glad to see many of you in this room today. Your support and collaboration have been highly appreciated and valued.

And as WTO Director-General, I have been proud to play my part in the history of the organization's expanding membership.

I have had the honour to welcome Yemen and Seychelles – and I hope very soon to welcome Kazakhstan. And Liberia is in line as well. 

Each one of them is unique, but I think that every accession is a 'health‑check' for the Organization. 

We look at our work from the perspective of others. And this invites further reflection on the role of the WTO, and how it can work even better.

And in considering our work on accessions I think we should recall the genesis of this organization.

The WTO was first conceived as part of the post-war Bretton Woods framework of global economic governance, with the aim of achieving greater openness, prosperity and stability among nations.

This remains central to our vision of the WTO today. By bringing an increasing number of countries together in an atmosphere of cooperation and shared rules, the multilateral trading system is a means not just to achieve growth and development, but also to support peaceful relations.

As we look ahead to our 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, this should serve as food for thought, and help to focus our efforts to further improve and strengthen the multilateral trading system.

I congratulate everyone who has been involved in producing this important book – particularly the contributors, the two Co-Editors, and Cambridge University Press.

It is an excellent contribution to the debate on the work of the WTO during our 20th anniversary year.

But the work of accessions does not end here. There are more members yet to welcome!

So I am certain we will have more occasions to highlight this very important work.  

Congratulations again to all involved.

Thank you for listening.



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