ALLOCUTIONS — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I want to congratulate China on the initiative of holding this important event. I look forward to hearing more about your discussions here and any conclusions you may have reached.

Your theme today of pursuing development through WTO reform is very timely and I think it touches on a key aspect of all the reform conversations that have been going on in recent months.

Let me put it simply: I believe that the WTO is critical for development. And for the WTO to keep working and keep delivering I think we have to be ready to discuss reform.

Therefore, WTO reform and development are intrinsically linked.

Without a rules-based system of cooperation on trade it would be the law of the jungle. It would simply perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities in power and economic success.

We know that trade was vital in delivering the Millennium Development Goal to halve extreme poverty. UN Secretary-General Guterres recognized this point when he addressed WTO members just a few weeks ago. And he argued that now we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we can play the same role in delivering the SDGs. 

I absolutely agree. We can’t just assume that this will happen. We have to work at it. And we have to be prepared to look at how we can do things better.

For the same reason, we must also tackle the tensions that are leading to higher trade barriers and lower trade growth, and which could hit the poorest the hardest.

We must step back from the brink. We must work together to ease tensions, strengthen mechanisms of cooperation, and build confidence in the trading system. This is how we will ensure that trade remains a driver of development.

And the only way to strengthen the system is to evolve. Inaction is not an option. The economic impact of inaction could be damaging and long-lasting.

And this leads us to the question of reform.

There are three areas where energy seems to be concentrated at present …

First is addressing the impasse in the appointments to the Appellate Body.

This is of the utmost importance in preserving the rules-based trading system which protects all WTO members, guarding against the law of the jungle.

But, despite positive efforts, there is still no clear path forward. I will continue doing all I can to facilitate progress – and to urge members to seek shared solutions. This is the message I will be taking to the G20 leaders' summit next week.

This is surely the most urgent issue before us today. Members need to look seriously at all options and alternatives that we can find.

The second area of focus is in improving the regular work of the WTO’s councils and committees. These bodies monitor how members observe the current rules of the WTO.

Some are putting a significant focus on this area, looking particularly at how to improve transparency among the membership’s trade policies. Clearly it is vital that members meet their obligations on transparency and notifications – but we should also recognize that some members may need assistance to do so.

The third area of focus is advancing negotiations at the WTO.

We need to start defining more concretely the outcomes for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, in Kazakhstan in a year's time.

But the major issue remains: can we make progress multilaterally or not?

The key multilateral test in the short term is the negotiations on fisheries subsidies.

This is a development issue. It is part of the SDGs and so delivering here is vital.

I understand that good progress was made in the cluster last week – though of course there is still a long way to go. I think we are in a critical phase right now with consultations continuing before the next cluster of meetings in July.

If we are to have a chance of meeting the deadline then progress in stabilizing texts to serve as the starting point for the intensified process in the Autumn will be essential.

Work also continues on other vital longstanding issues such as agriculture and food security, for example.

Progress, however, is hard to come by. So we need to keep pushing the conversation forward and be ready to explore new ideas and ways forward.

Ultimately, I think it is frustration in some of these areas which has led some to pursue Joint Initiatives on e-commerce, investment facilitation, small businesses, women's economic empowerment and domestic regulation in services.

These initiatives have a strong development component – and many developing and least-developed are signed up.

But progress in one area must not come at the expense of progress elsewhere. We need to advance in all areas that members are pursuing.

It is still early days in the reform debate. So it is encouraging that there is already so much activity. As far as I see it, reform is underway.

Again, many members are looking towards the Ministerial Conference as a possible target for delivering some concrete outcomes on reform. It is definitely doable if the will and determination are there. And of course this does not mean that progress should wait for the Ministerial. We should advance wherever and whenever we can. 

This is an important moment.

The decisions members take on the issues I’ve raised today will determine the future of the global trading system and its potential to keep driving development. Equally, a failure to confront these issues would also determine the path forward in what could be a very negative way.

I already said that I don't believe the status quo is an option. But what happens next is up to you, the members.

This is your organisation. I think we have an opportunity now to make it stronger and to set it on a positive path for the future which will deliver on your priorities and meet your concerns.

My key message today is to remember that the WTO is critical for development, but that for the WTO to work well it must be ready to change and improve.

I urge you to keep making your voices heard in this debate. Events like this can only help in that effort.

So thank you once again – and let's keep this conversation going.

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