Welcome to the 7th WTO Ministerial Conference! This WTO Ministerial Conference will be a bit different from those many of you have attended in the past. Unlike previous Conferences, this meeting will not be a Doha Round negotiating session, but rather a chance for Ministers to reflect on all elements of our work, exchange ideas and extend guidance on the best way forward in the years to come.
The theme of the Conference is “The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment”. In addition to the plenary session, which you are welcome to attend, there will be two working sessions “Review of WTO activities, including the Doha Work Programme” on 1 December and “The WTO's contribution to recovery, growth and development” the following day. The breadth of these sessions will permit Ministers to delve into and across all of our activities and suggest ways we can improve our play. Other international organizations have such meetings regularly and our membership strongly believed that we needed to do this too.
The Ministerial Conference is the highest ranking body in our organization and these meetings have always generated a great deal of commotion, attracting huge crowds of delegates, journalists and non-governmental organizations. The focus at each of these Conferences has been negotiations; negotiations to launch a trade round or to advance a trade round. Some of these Conferences were more successful than others, to say the least.
There is no doubt that negotiations are a vital part of our work. The best thing the 153 WTO member governments could do to strengthen the multilateral trading system, and to help exit the economic crisis that has affected us all, would be to conclude the Doha Development Agenda. There is not a Minister coming to Geneva this week who does not share the desire to conclude an ambitious, development-friendly Doha Round as soon as possible.
Yet, the WTO is about much more than negotiations. Ministers will take up this week the entire spectrum of WTO activities, trading thoughts and ideas on how we can make our organization more vibrant, efficient and effective.
Our organization is the guardian of a trading system that dates back to the end of World War II. The agreements we administer have contributed greatly to the economic prosperity and geopolitical stability of the last 60 years. Following the War, the architects of the multilateral system sought to put in place rules which would encourage governments to open their economies, building bridges rather barriers between countries. The result has been that trade has risen more than 30 fold and hundreds of millions have been lifted from poverty.
The current economic crisis has driven home the importance of a rules-based system. Although trade will contract by more than 10 per cent in volume terms this year, protectionism has very largely been kept in check. While members have applied trade-restrictive measures in some instances, these steps have affected a maximum of 1 per cent of world trade. These rules have acted as a safety harness against protectionism, deterring governments from imposing high-intensity trade restrictions that would only have made this crisis worse. But with unemployment on the rise, we need to remain vigilant.
To effectively administer our system requires governments to be as transparent as possible, to notify partners of changes to their trade policies and to provide data in a timely fashion. The Trade Policy Review Body, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, has made an important contribution to transparency as well through the monitoring of WTO members' policies and of developments to the trade system. You have surely looked at the four reports we have produced this year on how the economic crisis has affected trade policies. These reports have enabled governments to gain a clear-eyed view of what others are doing, curbing any tendency to exaggerate the magnitude of trade actions taken by others while underscoring that actions they take will be made known to all.
The resolution of disputes is another important part of administering agreements and most observers would agree that the WTO's dispute settlement system has been one of the most effective mechanisms ever created for reconciling commercial disputes among nations. The 400th dispute settlement case was recently brought before the Dispute Settlement Body, testimony to our members' confidence in this remarkable system. Governments will examine and analyze all of these elements of our current work during the Conference.
Capacity-building is something else that Ministers and officials will be discussing at this Conference. One of the biggest differences between the Doha negotiations and those of the previous round, the Uruguay Round, is the participation by a far larger number of developing countries. Active participation in this Round by so many developing countries has enhanced the credibility and equity of our process. Many more countries now see the opportunities that can flow to them from greater trade opening. But in order to seize these opportunities, many countries require greater productive capacity, transport, energy and communications infrastructure, and the training that can help producers in developing countries find new export markets. They need Aid for Trade. They need the Enhanced Integrated Framework providing this support for the world's poorest countries. These are necessary components to ensure that developing countries participate as actively as possible in the global trading system. Even with the global downturn, governments and international and regional institutions have strengthened their support for these initiatives. Aid for Trade contributions, for instance, have grown by 10 per cent per year since 2005 — reaching $25 billion last year — and several donor countries have already pledged to increase their contributions in 2009.
We cannot really be the “World” Trade Organization as long as trading nations are outside the membership. Currently, there are 28 countries in the process of acceding to the organization, including 10 Least Developed Countries. Ministers and officials will assess how those waiting to join the family can be brought to our table as soon as possible.
Often the work of the WTO brings us into the realm of other international organizations. Trade touches nearly all aspects of international activity, including development, health, food security, climate change and social issues. To ensure coherent policy development, the WTO must work closely with partner organizations to deliver results which best serve our common clients — our members. I'm sure you will hear governments discuss the role of trade in other fora this week, particularly with the vitally important Copenhagen meeting on climate control just around the corner.
This 7th Ministerial Conference will not be a negotiating session but the issues that will be taken up — including the Doha Round and how best to advance it — comprise all of the elements that are central to our mission. And although this session of the Ministerial Conference may be a bit different, I'm sure you'll find plenty going on to attract your interest and peak your curiosity. Hope you enjoy the Conference!