Addressing heads of World Trade Organisation (WTO) member delegations for the last time as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo emphasized that “keeping markets broadly open to trade” would help build “a post-COVID economic recovery that is strong, sustainable and inclusive”.
He told the meeting that members’ policy choices, including at the WTO, would play an important role in laying the groundwork for a return to growth and job creation.
The Director-General said that the pandemic’s growing economic and social impact would shape the context for the WTO’s work for the foreseeable future.
“International cooperation on trade will be critical to help all countries build back better,” he said.
He emphasized that the year ahead would be a defining one for the WTO. The Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12), now postponed to 2021, would be a key milestone for members’ efforts.
“As originally scheduled for this past June, MC12 would already have marked a critical juncture for the organization. Multilateral agreements on fisheries subsidies and agriculture, together with advances in the joint statement initiatives, would have sent a powerful signal that the WTO could continue to provide certainty and predictability for global trade for the next 25 years. Failure to agree, meanwhile, would have called all of this into question.
“Now, MC12 will have to do this and more. It will mark a key decision point for the direction of the post-COVID global economy. Will we react to the ongoing shocks with renewed cooperation, leading to shared growth and resilience? Or will we move further on the path towards costly fragmentation? Your work in the months ahead, including in this body, will help provide the answer.”
To maximize their prospects for success at the next Ministerial Conference, the outgoing Director-General urged members to swiftly agree on his successor, and then “work with her or him to chart a course for MC12 and beyond”.
The existing WTO rulebook continues to provide “a vital anchor of predictability and certainty in the global economy,” DG Azevêdo said. Nevertheless, like all international organizations, the WTO must adapt to changing economic and geopolitical circumstances. “Reform is a permanent task for the WTO — but it is a process that will be built by specific negotiated decisions,” he said.
“The past seven years have taught us that multilateral agreements are possible when the political will is there, and when you are pragmatic about the issues to tackle, open to creative approaches and compromise, and inclusive towards the voices of all members,” the Director-General concluded. “These lessons will be useful as you move forward.”