WTO NEWS: SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

Remarks by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo


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Director-General Graziano,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be in Rome — especially as this is my first time at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

I would like to thank Director-General Graziano for the kind invitation, and for this opportunity to interact with you.

We are building an important partnership here — and deepening an important channel of dialogue.

 

WTO-FAO collaboration

The WTO and the FAO have quite different mandates, but we have many shared aims.

Both organisations have development at the heart of their work. But the links are more specific than that.

At the WTO, we seek to ensure that the global trading system operates in a fair and efficient way, which supports growth and development and allows people to access the goods and services that they need. Of course this includes food.

And so I think it is natural that our two organisations have a very strong track-record of collaboration. I would like to highlight a few areas where this is particularly prominent.

First, food security is prominent in both our agendas.

To give just a few examples, the FAO participates regularly in our Committee on Agriculture, and we collaborate on many food security issues within the Agricultural Market Information System.

In addition, I am pleased that the WTO was able to take part in the preparatory work on the 2015 FAO flagship publication, the State of Agricultural Commodity Markets — which looks at precisely this topic: Trade and Food Security.

Food security issues were also part of the WTO's Bali Package, which our members agreed in 2013.

Indeed, Bali has brought this debate to the top of the agenda in Geneva — and I will come back to this in a moment.

The second area of collaboration I wanted to mention is the need to ensure that the food available is safe, and that it follows internationally recognized standards.

Again, this is at the core of our work at the WTO.

Our Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures names the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius and the FAO International Plant Protection Convention as standard-setting organizations in these matters.

And I think this coordination is key to improving the coherence and consistency of our work.  

The third area I wanted to highlight is ensuring that people have the tools and skills to produce and access safe food.

When I visit developing countries, business people often tell me about the difficulties they face in meeting required standards in the major consumer markets.

It is one of the most frequent issues I hear.

Capacity building is essential in this regard, and the work of the Standards and Trade Development Facility supports them to overcome precisely these problems and gain market access.

The FAO and the WTO are partners in the STDF, which is based at our headquarters in Geneva.

This is a really practical programme — and it has had a big impact on the ground.

  • STDF has delivered 140 projects.
  • It has provided significant support to the most vulnerable, as 50% of project resources are dedicated to LDCs.
  • And it promotes the exchange of information and good practice in capacity building on sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

So, in each of these ways, I think it's clear that trade and the multilateral trading system can help in creating a more favourable environment for food security, food safety and sustainable agriculture.

The adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals last month helps to bring this into focus. Look at SDG 2 which deals with ending hunger and achieving food security. Addressing trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets and building capacity in more fragile economies will be essential in delivering this goal.

These are features that intersect in all of our areas of work. So it is certainly a priority for the WTO to contribute here.

Maintaining and enhancing our existing initiatives will be crucial to this effort — and our partnership with the FAO will only gain in importance. Therefore I am very pleased to say that Director-General Graziano and I agreed this morning to collaborate on the issue of trade and food safety. Our teams will look into how SPS standards and food safety can facilitate trade and promote development, among other related issues. This collaboration will lead to a joint publication next year, fostering further action in this important area.

But, at the WTO, we must also seek to do more by negotiating new trade rules.

We have had some major breakthroughs on this front in recent years.

The Bali Package, which members agreed in 2013, tackled a range of development and agriculture issues — as well as delivering the first multilateral agreement in the history of the organization in the form of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

We had another breakthrough in July this year with the deal to expand the Information Technology Agreement — delivering the first tariff-cutting deal at the WTO in 18 years.

So we have some recent inspiration. And we have an opportunity to deliver more in the very near future.

 

Negotiations

At the end of the year, we will hold our 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. It will be the first time this meeting has been held in Africa since the organization was created 20 years ago — and so there is a clear sense that we must deliver outcomes for Africa.

Members are working hard in Geneva to prepare for this meeting, but progress has again proved very difficult.

Let me explain the situation on agriculture issues in a bit more detail.

Agriculture negotiations in the WTO Doha Development Agenda involve three main pillars: market access, domestic support and export competition.

The market access pillar addresses trade restrictions that bear on imports. This includes lowering barriers to trade such as tariffs and tariff quotas, and at the same time providing safeguards that allow members to protect farmers when needed.

The domestic support pillar deals with subsidies and related programmes in agriculture. It aims to minimize these initiatives, which have a distorting effect on trade. This is a particularly important area for many developing countries, and it is an area where progress is the most hard to come by.

The export competition pillar seeks to eliminate export subsidies and deal with other ways to support exports, such as export credits, state trading enterprises, and food aid.

There is widespread desire among members that the Nairobi Ministerial should include an outcome on agriculture. Despite all the efforts made, many areas of divergence and gaps still remain. Members have not been able to bridge persistent differences.

However, export competition may prove to be the exception. There are elements here that are being seen as possible deliverables for Nairobi.

An outcome here would be an extremely significant breakthrough. In fact, it would be the WTO's most significant negotiated outcome on agriculture.

The elimination of agricultural export subsidies, and measures with equivalent effect, would be especially important for developing and least-developed countries.

Because, while export subsidies are currently at a low level, there is no guarantee that they will stay that way.

Without multilateral commitments, there are no guarantees whatsoever that countries won't decide unilaterally to increase these subsidies, like they did right after 2008, with all the negative impacts that this might have.

We have a historic opportunity to secure results that have long been fought for.

In addition, a breakthrough on export competition could also contribute to a better international framework applicable to food aid.

And it could do so in a way that is mutually supportive with the developments in other international fora.

However, outcomes here are not assured yet. There is still a long way to go, and very little time to get there. We need a rapid increase in the levels of flexibility and pragmatism that we are currently seeing.

As I mentioned earlier, public stockholding for food security purposes is also on the agenda.

In Bali in 2013, ministers took a decision that they would not legally challenge the WTO compliance of the food stockholding programmes in developing countries. And, simultaneously, they instructed members to find a permanent solution within a four-year timeframe.

In November last year, members clarified this decision. They decided that if there was no agreement on a permanent solution within the target four-year time-frame, such eligible programmes in developing countries would remain unchallenged until such a permanent solution was found. At that point, members also expressed their commitment to make all concerted efforts to agree and adopt a permanent solution by 31 December 2015.

Members are pursuing these discussions on a dedicated negotiating track towards a permanent solution. However, despite current efforts, positions continue to remain wide apart. 

In any case, the Bali Decision as clarified last November is in force, protecting public stockholding programmes from being legally challenged at the WTO. And that will be the case until a permanent solution on this matter is found.

Let me also say a word about cotton, which is also on the agenda for the Nairobi Ministerial meeting.

This topic is of great importance for cotton-producing least-developed countries, particularly the so-called Cotton-4. While, again, progress will be difficult, I believe that meaningful results are possible here.

So this is the picture in the various pillars of the agriculture negotiations today.

And, as I have indicated, the picture is no rosier in other areas. Difficulties persist on every negotiating issue.

Nevertheless, there is a clear desire to deliver outcomes in Nairobi.

And there are some other potential deliverables.

Without prejudice to whatever else we can conclude by Nairobi, these potential deliverables could include (in addition to export competition in agriculture):

  • a package of development and LDC issues, and
  • some transparency provisions, which could cover issues such as antidumping and fishery subsidies.

Achieving any outcomes in Nairobi will be very tough. And I am concerned about the consequences that this could have for our work after Nairobi.

While these potential outcomes could have real economic and developmental significance, clearly they would not be enough to declare the conclusion of the Doha Round. So how do we take forward the outstanding issues after Nairobi — including the big agriculture issues that I have mentioned?

It seems to me that all members could agree to continue negotiations in the future on all of the DDA core issues. They certainly could remain on the agenda — I think there is consensus on that. However there is no agreement on how these negotiations should take place: whether under the present Doha framework, or whether under some new architecture.

Members are discussing all of this in Geneva right now.

But this is not the only question we have to answer concerning our post-Nairobi work.

In fact, we all know that negotiations on a wide range of trade issues are already taking place outside the WTO in a range of regional initiatives. So the WTO has to follow suit, dealing with today’s challenges, never losing sight of the development dimension of our work.

 

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, what happens in Nairobi will have real significance — and it will have an impact on some of the big issues on your agenda here at the FAO.

I have given you a very frank assessment of the situation today — but I am still confident that the WTO can deliver.

Our track-record shows that this is possible especially when we are creative and innovative.

I am looking forward to defying expectations once again.

Your support — and that of your counterparts in Geneva will therefore be vital in the coming weeks.

The FAO and the WTO are engaged in issues of global governance which could scarcely be more important. We are trying to give people the tools they need to live better, healthier, more prosperous lives. That work must start with securing stable and predictable access to the essentials — including food.

To achieve this, we must commit to improving coherence and joining forces to tackle the major global challenges.

Our dialogue today will be an important moment in advancing this work. And I have no doubt that this partnership will go from strength to strength.

Thank you for listening — I look forward to our discussion. 

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