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Davos: WTO - Match words of support for the WTO with deeds

Davos: DG Azevêdo calls on members to match words of support for the WTO with deeds

At an informal ministerial gathering on WTO issues hosted by the Swiss government on 26 January, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo reviewed the challenges and opportunities arising from the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) held in Buenos Aires in December 2017, and called on WTO members to follow up on their pledges of political support for the multilateral trading system with actions, including a greater willingness to seek compromise. The meeting was held on the final day of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. It was attended by representatives from a wide range of WTO members, including representatives of the WTO Least-developed Countries Group, the WTO Africa Group, and the WTO Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group.

In his comments at the meeting, the Director-General reflected on the outlook after MC11. He said:

“Despite the energy and activity we saw on various issues at MC11, clearly the overall outcome was disappointing. We need to face up to the problems before us. Everyone seems ready to pledge their support for the system. But while political support is essential, it is not sufficient. Words need to be matched by deeds. If we believe in multilateralism, we have to be ready to take the steps needed to make it work.

“After MC11 it can't just be business as usual. We need to find ways to avoid repeating unsuccessful approaches, and reaching the same unsatisfactory result. We need to reflect – but to do so in an active way. Development, and particularly the prospects of the LDCs, must remain at the heart of our work.”

On a positive note, the Director-General also touched on new developments from the Buenos Aires meeting:

“I also want to acknowledge the positive progress made in Buenos Aires by groups of members on e-commerce, investment facilitation, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and women’s economic empowerment. It's encouraging that proponents are clear that these initiatives will be as open, inclusive and transparent as possible.”

Commenting on the broader trade debate, he continued:

“Trade has been high on the agenda in Davos this week. There are growing fears that tensions will continue to rise, with damaging consequences. These risks were what everyone was talking about in Davos last year as well. But they didn't actually materialize. Leaders showed some restraint and the trading system did its job once again.

“While the risks still remain very real, global trade is actually performing well. Growth in 2017 was stronger, and forecasts for 2018 are also quite encouraging. We need trade to keep playing its role in supporting economic growth and job creation in all our economies. Therefore I hope we will see similar restraint from governments this year – and I call on all WTO members to play their part in that effort.”

The closing remarks by the Chair of the meeting, Switzerland’s State Secretary Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, are available here.

The attendee list for the meeting is available here.

During his time in Davos, the Director-General also took part in numerous World Economic Forum sessions on global trade, and held a series of meetings with leaders from business, labour and government.

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