DIRECTEUR GÉNÉRAL ADJOINT XIANGCHEN ZHANG

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Mr Peter Govindasamy  , Dean  of the  Ministry of Trade and Industry Academy, Singapore; excellences, distinguished participants.

On behalf of the WTO Secretariat, I would like to thank you and the facilitators for inviting me to give the welcoming remarks in this Fifth Singapore — WTO Policy Dialogue on the World Trading System for Senior Government Officials from Asia and the Pacific: Preparatory Workshop for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12).

Like previous editions of the Dialogue in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 (before MC8, MC9, MC10 and MC11 respectively), this year's Dialogue is intended to provide an opportunity for senior government officials to exchange views and brainstorm on issues and challenges confronting the Multilateral Trading System, in light of recent developments in the global economy.

As you are aware, prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, we saw many challenges. The rules-based trading system was being questioned, protectionism was dampening global trade flows, there were rising geopolitical tensions, all of this combined with the threat of climate change.  The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented disruption to the global economy and world trade, as production and consumption are scaled back across the globe. 

Trade has been a positive force during the pandemic, indeed the resurgence of global economic activity in the first half of 2021 lifted merchandise trade above its pre-pandemic peak, leading WTO economists to upgrade their forecasts for trade in 2021 and 2022.

The WTO is now predicting global merchandise trade volume growth of 10.8% in 2021— up from 8.0% forecasted in March — followed by a 4.7% rise in 2022. Clearly, it is an encouraging sign, but of course there remains a high degree of uncertainty.

A successful MC12 — one that delivers concrete results for people is critical for reinvigorating the WTO and demonstrating to the world that we are back in business. MC12 is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. To deliver results, we need to show realism, pragmatism and above all flexibility.

This Dialogue will help to shed some light on where we are in key areas of our work and where we might have some landing zones. I am therefore very happy that it opens with a session on MC12 at which the discussions will be led by the Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Dacio Castillo.

Areas that have been highlighted include: Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Fisheries subsidies, Agriculture and Trade and Development.

Covid 19 response

Trade is essential for vaccine production and distribution; the WTO has an important role to play in vaccine scale-up efforts. Ambassador Walker, who you will be hearing from, is steering the discussion on what could be achieved at the multilateral level. Areas of discussion include reducing export restrictions, facilitating trade, addressing supply chain bottlenecks, and finding pragmatic solutions on intellectual property, we can help end this crisis and put all WTO members in a better position for future ones. To quote the DG, “As we approach the 12th Ministerial Conference, Members must come together and agree on a strong WTO response to the pandemic, which would provide a foundation for more rapid vaccine production and equitable distribution. This is necessary to sustain the global economic recovery. Vaccine policy is economic policy — and trade policy.”

Fisheries subsidies negotiations

Regarding fisheries discussions, Ministers provided us with political momentum in July. Ambassador Wills, who is also participating in this dialogue, has intensified efforts and will update you on the progress made since then. With this Agreement, we have the opportunity to deliver on a major Sustainable Development Goal, that of putting an end to subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing as well as illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. This is a goal that all countries have agreed to, and where a strong and clear mandate has been given to the WTO. At a time when the pandemic is setting us back in the achievement of other parts of the SDG agenda, an agreement on fisheries subsidies is a critical test for Trade Ministers and for the credibility of our organization. Most importantly, this agreement is vital for our fish stocks, for the livelihood of our fishers and our fishers' communities, and for our future generations.

In the area of Agriculture

Domestic Support remains the priority for most Members and the cornerstone of a possible agricultural outcome. Negotiations revolve around the identification of a meaningful albeit realistic way forward to address trade distorting domestic support in the post MC12 negotiations. The question of Public Stockholding for food security purposes also constitutes an essential topic in the negotiations. Other topics include Export Restrictions including a possible exemption of food purchases by the World Food programme from such measures, Market Access, Export Competition, Cotton, and a Special safeguard mechanism. There has been active engagement by Members on agriculture following the summer break. The Chair of the Committee on Agriculture Special Session Ambassador Abraham Peralta has circulated a text on her own responsibility, which Members are now considering. The issues surrounding agriculture are not easy to reconcile. But I would urge you to work closely with the Chair and strive for outcomes at MC12.

Trade and Development (S&D)

Broadly speaking, the G90 are seeking certain flexibilities for developing countries and LDCs — for example, through longer implementation periods, exemptions from certain provisions, and technical and financial assistance — to achieve development objectives.

While some Members are of the view that the proposals form a good basis for further discussion, other Members continue to recall that they have already previously shared their concerns on these proposals, which they cannot accept in their current form.

Obviously, further progress is in the hands of Members, who have to find a way forward. Unless there is real engagement on the substance by all Members, it may not be possible to make the required progress in the coming weeks to have a concrete outcome on the G-90 proposals at MC12. In this regard the DG has referred to special and differential treatment as a “central tenet” of the WTO agreements and urged members to work with the Chair, Ambassador Kadra Ahmed Hassan (Djibouti), who is also participating in this dialogue and the G-90 to find ways forward both on specific proposals and in the broader systemic debates on the issue.

During the next four days, you will hear about the basic overview of the key proposals, positions, and sticking points with respect to the likely deliverables for MC12.  These factual presentations will be followed by discussions and Q&A.  The program is extensive, and the various negotiating topics would be covered in separate sessions. The dialogue will end with a final session on “WTO: The Way Forward”.

I can only hope that the next few days will be productive to allow us to go back well informed and well prepared for the forthcoming Ministerial Conference.

The WTO Secretariat remains available to help, in all areas, without exception — and in whatever way Members may find helpful.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank and commend again the organizers of this Workshop for associating us in sharing our collective experience and best practices in trade policy issues.  It is a great pleasure for the WTO to be able to partner again with the Government of Singapore in this endeavour.

We can only hope this partnership and collaboration to continue for the benefit of the multilateral trading system and its members.

I wish all participants a very successful Workshop.

Thank you.

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