Genève, 20 avril 2005

WTO Public Symposium: “WTO After Ten Years: Global Problems and Multilateral Solutions”

Introductory Remarks

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the WTO and to our fifth annual Public Symposium. May I extend a particularly warm welcome to His Excellency Mr. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and to His Excellency Mr. José Barroso, President of the European Commission. Thank you both for making time in your busy schedules to join us for this special occasion. We are deeply honoured to have you here today.

As you know, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the WTO. We should commemorate this important milestone by looking constructively at the achievements of the WTO and the future challenges it faces. This forum has a unique contribution to make to this debate which is why this year's Public Symposium is entitled “WTO After Ten Years: Global Problems and Multilateral Solutions”. Under this one roof, we have high political leaders, experts and practitioners with very different backgrounds and perspectives. You represent the huge diversity of interests that need to be factored into trade policy formulation. It is through open exchanges like this that we can more clearly understand one-another's priorities and concerns.

We need to shape and strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system so we can all reap the benefits of greater openness and economic integration and manage any associated uncertainties and tensions. In this vein I would recall the broad aims of the WTO set out in its founding agreement — signed by Ministers in Marrakesh. These include: raising incomes, living standards and employment and expanding the production of trade in goods and services, while at the same time taking account of the needs of countries at different levels of development and seeking an optimal and sustainable use of the world's resources and protection of the environment.

At the same time as we focus on the specific areas where we may want to see improvements and change in the WTO, it is essential that we keep in mind the basic values and considerable achievements of the multilateral trading system. Let me just briefly refer to some of them:

  • First, the WTO, as the GATT before it, has extended the rule of law into the international trade realm and has contributed significantly to keeping peaceful and stable trading relations between WTO Members. This is, perhaps, its most crucial function.

  • Secondly, the WTO has provided a highly effective forum for further trade liberalisation and rule-making. Shortly after the Uruguay Round was concluded, agreements were reached on financial services, basic telecommunications and information technology products — all cutting edge sectors of today's global economy. More recently, Members succeeded in launching a broad and ambitious new round of trade negotiations — the Doha Development Agenda. All of us know the great potential of this round — if we can get the deal done, and done right.

  • Thirdly, the WTO has taken great strides to becoming a more universal organization. Already, 148 Members, representing more than ninety per cent of world trade have committed to the rules and principles of the WTO. Since the creation of the WTO in January 1995 around 20 new Members have joined the system. 29 countries are currently in the process of negotiating their accession. In this area, we were also successful in establishing easier procedures for least-developed countries.

  • Fourthly, our efforts are ongoing to integrate developing countries more fully into the multilateral trading system — through a significant investment in technical assistance and capacity building activities. We have also enhanced our cooperation and policy coherence with other international agencies. This has proved to be successful: just see how much more active developing countries have become in WTO life.

  • Fifthly, the WTO's Trade Policy Review mechanism continues to bring greater transparency and predictability to Members' trade regimes. For many developing country Members, the review preparations have increasingly taken on more of a technical assistance dimension.

  • And last, but not least, significant efforts have also been made to make the WTO more open to the outside world — through speedier and more automatic derestriction of WTO official documents which can be easily accessed over the internet; through enhanced outreach activities to parliamentarians and through events such as this one. These are just some examples.

But I am not standing here just to sing the praises of the WTO. No institution is perfect and I know, as you do, there is scope for further improving and strengthening the WTO — to make it more attuned to our common aspirations and today's realities. This is the opportunity given to us all in the Doha Development Agenda. It is only through the traditional process of multilateral negotiations, through inclusiveness and transparency, that renewal of the system can be achieved.

I know that over the course of the next few days you will be discussing in more depth technical issues relating to the market access negotiations and questions such as how to realise the development dimension of the DDA — which cuts across all areas under negotiation. Finding a compromise to these, as well as the many other issues in the Doha Work Programme, will be crucial in bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

In the second half of 2004, we saw a significant bridging of Members' positions on some of the more controversial and politically sensitive areas of the negotiations. The challenge now before us is to advance all areas of the Work Programme together — this is crucial because many areas of the negotiations are inter-linked. 2005 is going to be a busy year. It already is. There is a general feeling among Members that we should tie up these negotiations by 2006. If we are to meet this target, major political decisions will have to be taken in December when Ministers will be meeting in Hong Kong.

Apart from the negotiations, there are also a number of other, longer term systemic challenges facing the multilateral trading system which warrant critical examination. Many of these are laid out in an independent report I recently commissioned to a panel of eminent persons, chaired by Peter Sutherland — former Director-General of the GATT and the WTO. These include issues such as the impact of preferential trading arrangements on the international trading environment, decision-making in the WTO, and the role of civil society in the WTO's processes. The suggestions laid out in the report are now before Members for their consideration. I am delighted that Peter Sutherland is able to be with us today, along with many other highly distinguished guests, to speak to some of these issues and to share their important perspectives.

Let us remember the urgency of the work we are engaged in. More than one billion people still live below the extreme poverty line of one dollar per day and, according to the UN Secretary-General, 20,000 people die from poverty each day. Trade is not the answer to all the world's problems, but it can make a powerful contribution to international efforts for development. We must ensure this contribution is realised and that the enormous potential of globalisation is harnessed for the benefit of people the world over.

You certainly have a full and rich agenda for this symposium and I know that time is of the essence, so without further ado, let me hand over the floor to our two keynote speakers. Thank you, once again, for your participation.