TENTH WTO MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, NAIROBI, 2015
DG Azevŕdo's letter to journalists attending MC10
8 December 2015
In the coming days, ministers from over 160 countries will gather in Nairobi for the WTO's 10th Ministerial Conference. Their actions will have a significant impact on the course of multilateral trade negotiations for years to come. The government and people of Kenya have made tremendous efforts to ensure that this Ministerial Conference is well-prepared, well-organized and well-managed. Kenya has set the stage – now it is time for the main event.
This marks the first time our Ministerial Conference is being held in Africa and it is clear to me that all WTO members want to ensure that trade plays its full role as a force for growth and development in Africa and beyond. Africa has 43 WTO members – more than any other continent. So what is good for Africa is good for the WTO.
One way to extend the benefits of trade as a tool for growth and development is to bring new developing countries into the global trading system. At this conference, we can do precisely this when ministers decide on the membership applications of Liberia and Afghanistan – both of which are least-developed countries (LDCs). Membership of the WTO enables developing countries to have a voice in shaping the trade rules of the future and gives them recourse to a world-leading dispute settlement system, through which their rights can be protected.
Negotiations are also underway in a range of other areas. Members will be working until the very last minute, seeking to deliver outcomes on agriculture (which could potentially include steps on export competition and food security) and development issues, particularly a package of measures to support LDCs. Of the world's 48 LDCs, 33 are in Africa, including all of Kenya's immediate neighbours.
In addition, it is possible that some members will finalize an agreement in Nairobi to help trade in information technology products to flow more freely. This deal to expand the Information Technology Agreement would remove tariffs on over 200 IT products which account for approximately $1.3 trillion in annual trade (around 7% of total global trade). Removing barriers to trade in these products will create opportunities for all WTO members and will foster the spread of technology.
Agreement on these issues would represent a significant outcome for all members – and it would serve to strengthen the WTO itself. But, of course, finalizing any negotiation is always very tough and there are still major gaps to be bridged between members' positions.
Ministers will also need to use the Nairobi conference to point the future direction for the organization. There is no doubt that the WTO plays a vital role in global economic governance – it oversees existing trade rules, settles trade disputes and supports developing countries in building their capacity to trade. However, we need to look at how we can speed up the process of reforming global trade rules. There are differing views about how best to advance this work in future. In Nairobi members will need to consider the best path forward for our negotiating work.
We have some recent inspiration on which to draw. Our last Ministerial Conference, held in Bali in 2013, produced agreement on a range of important measures including measures on agriculture, development and a deal (the Trade Facilitation Agreement) which will slash red tape at border crossings and reduce trade costs by 14.5% on average, with developing countries benefiting the most. We should also be encouraged by the recent deal to extend until 2033 an exemption on drug patent rules for LDCs, ensuring that citizens in the poorest nations will continue to have access to more affordable medicines. I hope we can build on these recent breakthroughs.
The WTO has delivered a great deal in the 20 years since its foundation. We are working hard to deliver more in Nairobi. But, whatever members agree at this conference, there remains an enormous amount of work for us to do to make our trading system more equitable and more responsive to our members' concerns. The world is watching and counting on us.