Addressing heads of World Trade Organization 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-19 economic recovery that is strong, sustainable and inclusive.”
During a meeting July 20, Azevêdo said members’ policy choices, including at WTO, will play an important role in laying the groundwork for a return to growth and job creation.
In his remarks, the director-general said the pandemic’s growing economic and social impact will shape the context for WTO’s work for the foreseeable future. “International cooperation on trade will be critical to help all countries build back better,” he added.
Azevêdo emphasized that the year ahead will be a defining one for WTO. The 12th ministerial conference (MC12), now postponed until 2021, will be a key milestone for WTO 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," he said.
"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,” Azevêdo added.
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,” Azevêdo said. Nevertheless, like all international organizations, 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,” Azevêdo concluded. “These lessons will be useful as you move forward.”