DIRECTEUR GÉNÉRAL

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Remarks by DG Azevêdo

Ministers,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. Thank you for your kind invitation.

It's a real pleasure to be here in Papua New Guinea.

The Pacific countries are very important members of the WTO. And while you may be far away from Geneva, I can assure you that your voices are heard there as loud as any other.

Also, perhaps because of the unique challenges of this region, you are big champions of the trading system. And Papua New Guinea's leadership in APEC this year is a clear sign of that international engagement.

This is very positive. Groupings like APEC can complement the multilateral system and act as a building block for  global trade.

In fact, the Asia-Pacific region is a dynamic example of how trade initiatives being pursued at the regional level can have a significant and positive impact on the multilateral system.

However, even if all of the ongoing negotiations in the context of regional trade agreements could be completed tomorrow, we would still need the WTO.

Through its system of mutually-agreed rules and practices, the WTO provides the platform on which all other trade agreements are built. And as such it is extremely important to ensure the stability and predictability of the global economy.

It could even be argued that without the WTO, we would have been in a trade war some years ago.

After the crisis of 2008 we did not see an outbreak of protectionist policies, as we did in the past. This is precisely because of the framework of rules and practices provided by the multilateral trading system - by the WTO.

So we need to continue strengthening and defending the system, especially in the current circumstances. 

We've all seen the recent headlines about the rising trade tensions between some major economies. I'm sure that this situation is of real concern to us all.

In an interconnected economy, the effects of any shocks to the trading system would likely be globalised, reaching far beyond those countries who are directly involved.

I am talking to all sides to try to resolve this situation.

Of course, bilateral contacts can also help in finding ways forward. We are seeing these conversations taking place – and there have been some more positive signs emerging in recent days.

Instead of escalating tensions, we need to find ways to resolve them constructively. 

In addition to this, we are also facing a challenge in the WTO's Dispute Settlement System with the impasse in the nominations for the Appellate Body. This is a serious concern for us all, as the dispute settlement function underpins the whole trading system.

I am working with members here, and urging them to actively engage towards finding potential solutions. We need to act on this situation as quickly as we possibly can.

This is fundamental so that the organization can continue to do its job.

We are also seeing issues of great importance to the Pacific being discussed in Geneva.

For example, we know that natural disasters are a big challenge for the region. The people of Papua New Guinea know all too well the human toll that these events can have, following February's devastating earthquake. Rigorous studies suggest that the frequency and severity of natural disasters are likely to increase. This issue is not going away. 

In this vein, WTO members have started a dialogue on how trade policies and practices can help in dealing with natural disasters.

The wrong measure could stifle recovery, erode resilience and restrain development. But the right policy can boost recovery by helping to improve supply side capacity and restoring trade after a disaster. So we have to get this right and contribute in any way we can.

In fact, the issue of natural disasters had already come up in the WTO's work. For example, a feature of the debate on the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement was its ability to help hasten the movement of relief supplies in such circumstances. We've also seen waivers granted to allow trade preferences after particular catastrophic events.

So this is not a new conversation. What is new is members' drive to be more proactive on this issue. It's vital that we are better prepared and better informed the next time we are called upon to respond.

We are also working on other fronts to ensure that the trading system remains responsive and relevant to members – and to ensure that it meets the demands of a rapidly evolving global economy.

In recent years, WTO members have succeeded in delivering a number of important reforms.

Major breakthroughs include:

  • the 2013 Trade Facilitation Agreement - which I just mentioned,
  • the 2015 agreement to eliminate agricultural export subsidies, and
  • a series of steps to support our least-developed members.

In addition, a group of members struck a deal to expand the Information Technology Agreement in 2015, which eliminates tariffs on a wide range of information technology products.

These deals have a huge economic significance.

For example, implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement could potentially cut trade costs in Papua New Guinea by up to 13.9 per cent. And these measures are particularly significant when your trade costs are already high due to the great distances that your imports and exports have to travel.

Papua New Guinea ratified this deal last year, and I encourage you to keep up the momentum on implementation, so you can reap its benefits. In fact, the Agreement provides the necessary practical support to help members with implementation, so the Secretariat will be ready to help on this point.

After this series of successes, the latest step in this journey was our Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires last year. No final agreements were reached this time, but important progress was made.

On fisheries subsidies for example, members committed to secure a deal to limit harmful subsidies by the end of 2019. Success here would deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 on sustainable fisheries – and I think it would be a major achievement for the WTO membership.

I know that this is an issue of great importance to Papua New Guinea. These negotiations have resumed in Geneva so I encourage you to remain active and engaged to help take this issue forward. 

At the Buenos Aires Ministerial, members also committed to continuing negotiations on all issues, including where progress has eluded us since the launch of the Doha Round.

So we will keep working, and I will be pushing members to find fresh perspectives that may help us advance this work.

Also in Buenos Aires, groups of WTO members announced new initiatives in a number of other areas. They included talks on:

  • how to help promote electronic commerce for inclusiveness,
  • how to support smaller businesses to trade, so that they are not crowded out by bigger players,
  • how to facilitate investments - which are critical to build connectivity infrastructure, and
  • how to ensure that trade contributes fully to the economic empowerment of women.

These groups encompass developed, developing and least-developed countries, big and small, and they will remain open for all members to join.

However, I want to stress that all this is very recent and work in progress. At this stage these are just discussions. We need to see how these initiatives develop.

Each member needs to determine for themselves whether and how best to engage in these areas.

That said, there could be interesting opportunities for Papua New Guinea and the other Pacific Islands here in helping to overcome the challenges posed by geography.

Studies show that improved Internet connectivity in the Pacific Islands could add more than 5 billion US dollars to the region's GDP and close to 300,000 additional jobs by 2040. More investment - particularly in infrastructure - could also help the region tackle many of its trade costs, and boost the Pacific's integration into the global economy.

In taking forward all of the issues I've mentioned today, Papua New Guinea's support will be essential – through APEC, through the Pacific Islands Forum and as a strong, independent WTO member as well.

I think that we can do a great deal, working together, to respond to the unique challenges and opportunities that we see in this region. 

So I urge Papua New Guinea and countries across the region to keep using the system, and to keep speaking up for the system and your interests in it.

I look forward to working with you all to that end.

Thank you.

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