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Talking points

Informal TPRB meeting on trade monitoring

The trade monitoring report for this meeting was circulated to members on 5 July. As always, I present this report under my own responsibility, with the aim of providing members with an assessment of the main trends in terms of trade measures implemented from mid-October 2012 to mid-May 2013. The report contributes to enhancing the overall transparency of the multilateral trading system.

Let me begin by providing a bit of background to the report before you today.

At our Ministerial Conference in December 2011, ministers recognized the regular work undertaken by the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) on the monitoring of trade and trade-related measures; they took note of the work initially done in the context of the global financial and economic crisis, and directed it to be continued and strengthened. Ministers asked the TPRB to consider the monitoring reports in addition to the Annual Overview of Developments in the International Trading Environment. In addition, ministers committed to cooperate with the Secretariat, duly complying with the existing transparency obligations and reporting requirements needed for the preparation of these monitoring reports.

I would like to thank the delegations who participate in the WTO’s trade monitoring exercise by providing relevant information on time and by ensuring the subsequent verification of reported measures. These inputs have helped expand the coverage and ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the report.

Information on the measures included in this report has been collected from inputs submitted by members and observers as well as from other official and public sources. Replies to my initial request for information were received from about a third of the membership, which is a small decrease compared to the previous report. The WTO Secretariat has drawn on these replies as well as on a variety of other public and official sources to collect information to be included in the report. All recorded country-specific information on trade measures was sent for verification to the delegations concerned. Requests for verification of information were sent to 50 delegations and some 56 per cent of them provided replies in time for the finalization of the report. This figure is slightly lower than for last year’s report. As with previous reports, where it has not been possible to confirm the information, this is noted in the annexes.

This report follows the new format requested by members in discussions in this body last year. Trade measures are thus presented under three categories: trade-facilitating measures; trade remedy actions (both initiation of investigations and termination of actions); and other trade measures.

Finally, and to wrap up the background to the report, it is worth noting that the country-specific measures listed in the annexes to the report are new measures implemented by governments during the period under review. For those of you interested in checking the compilation of all measures implemented before mid-October 2012, the Secretariat has put in place its Trade Monitoring Database which can be easily accessed from the members’ website or from the public WTO website.

Let me now briefly turn to some of the key substantive observations of the document before you.

This report has been issued at a time where the outlook for economic growth and job creation remains a significant global concern. The world economy has continued to struggle over the past seven months, with negative consequences for merchandise trade flows. The most recent forecast for merchandise trade growth in 2013 is 3.3 per cent. Although this is higher than the 2 per cent growth in 2012, it is still below the 20-year average of around 5 per cent.

A total of 52 trade-facilitating measures were recorded during the review period. The majority of them were either a decrease or elimination of import tariffs. The streamlining of customs procedures was the second most important facilitating measure. Regarding trade remedies, 133 measures were recorded during the period reviewed (86 initiations of new investigations and 47 terminations of either investigations or existing duties). Regarding the final category of other trade measures, 68 cases were compiled, more than one half of them being tariff increases. Sixteen per cent of the measures listed under this final category were applied on exports.

The report also shows that a number of diverse measures affecting trade in services have been introduced by members in the period under consideration. However, no clear sectoral or policy trend has emerged. Indeed, sectors affected are as diverse as banking, distribution, insurance and telecommunications; and measures range from liberalization and streamlining of regulatory frameworks to further limitations on market access and national treatment through to the tightening up of regulations.

On agriculture, no new significant policy measures were observed during the review period.

Building on some of the work on systemic issues undertaken for the previous exercise, this report provides a quantitative snapshot of members’ compliance record with their WTO notification obligations in a number of WTO areas. We have seen members continue to work towards improving the timeliness and completeness of their notifications to the various WTO committees and councils. However, progress remains slow and uneven. The record of compliance has improved considerably in some areas, such as the provision of tariff and trade information to the Integrated Data Base (IDB), while much progress remains to be seen in others, such as in agricultural support measures. For members to be able to assess further progress in this area, I believe it will be useful that the monitoring of notification compliance becomes a regular feature of the Annual Report for the Overview of Developments in the International Trading Environment.

Finally, I wish to draw your attention to the issue of general economic support measures. Over the review period covered, a number of governments have put in place new measures of this kind, particularly rescue aid for specific industries, export support, and general financial support in the form of insurance and loan guarantees. Overall, it seems that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were the main beneficiaries of such support measures. As I have stated on previous occasions, the regular monitoring of this type of measure is a considerable challenge due to difficulties in obtaining relevant information. In the interests of transparency and predictability, I would like to encourage delegations to be as forthcoming and cooperative as possible in sharing information on such measures.

These, Mr Chairman, are some of the key observations outlined in my report before the TPRB. I would again like to thank those delegations which continue to actively participate in this endeavour and at the same time urge others to assist us in continuing to make this a factual and credible exercise in transparency.

Overall, this report presents a reassuring assessment of the main trends in terms-of-trade measures implemented over the period from mid-October 2012 to mid-May 2013. However, while there is no need for alarmist or dramatic announcements, trade-restrictive measures continue to be adopted and the stock of existing measures remains high. History has taught us that protectionist pressures can be generated by stubbornly high levels of unemployment in many countries, persistent global imbalances, and macroeconomic concerns. And these, I am afraid, are all part of the global economic reality all our countries face today.

The WTO must continue to act as a catalyst for multilateral trust and global cooperation. Members must accept their responsibility for ensuring and promoting the transparency and predictability which importers and exporters demand. There is no question in my mind that the regular monitoring of trade measures has greatly contributed to improved transparency in the multilateral trading system. This mechanism has helped us all to gain a better understanding of the emerging trends and to obtain up-to-date information on trade measures taken by members and observers.

Monitoring and transparency has been a key theme over my mandate. Over the last eight years we have almost doubled the human resources allocated to this core function of the WTO. We have set up a specific monitoring system during the financial crisis. We have made a significant effort at building up an integrated system for all trade policy information of which the WTO is depository. In sum, we have worked to strengthen the monitoring and surveillance function of the WTO. But this function is and will only be as good as members’ co-operation in providing information and support. This is an area where members should keep a clear focus.

Concerning transparency, let me mention the Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal (I-TIP) which we launched in January and which provides a single entry point for all information compiled by the WTO on trade policy measures. I would like to inform you that on 23 July we will be unveiling the services module as well as an update to the existing goods and air transport modules. This is a major initiative to provide transparency on trade policy measures on which the organization will have to keep building in the future.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I am convinced that a strong and vibrant multilateral trading system remains the best insurance policy to overcome protectionist threats. More open trade can be an engine for growth and a source of strength for the global economy rather than a source of instability and tension. And at this stage, the world economy needs all the help it can get, and trade is an important and viable option.

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