World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo has said that finalizing the Doha Round of trade negotiations and setting the stage for the future advances relied on two essential things: no backtracking and allowing movement forward.
Speaking in Geneva yesterday to the ICC Executive Board, Mr Azevedo said: “Even if we don’t change the face of world trade over night, you have to keep moving in the right direction.”
Mr Azevedo outlined work being undertaken to complete a post-Bali programme, saying that a critical element of the undertaking would be the completion of the Doha Development Agenda. This, he said, would unlock the doors for many other initiatives.
Mr Azevedo said that the new work programme should be finalized as quickly as possible. “Either you do it quickly or you will lose momentum, ,” he said, noting that the endeavour would require an open mind and flexibility and that members should remain realistic. “What we cannot have is a full paralysis of negotiations. We have to recalibrate and recalibrating starts with the acceptance that we have to be realistic.” he said.
Noting that protectionism was on the rise, Mr Azevedo said: “To ensure there is no room for protectionism we must continue to move with the disciplines in whatever way possible and make sure there is no room for backtracking.” He stressed that while the private sector often wanted to know what it would be gaining, it was equally important to look at potential losses. He said that a system of ratcheting would prevent any backtracking and set the stage future work. “We need to do what we can now,” he said.
During his address, Mr Azevedo also recognized the importance of regional negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Pacific Alliance but warned that the global economy would lose out if there was no movement multilaterally.
Mr Azevedo updated ICC on the work of the WTO since the historic adoption of the Agreement on Trade Facilitation at the WTO’s Ninth Ministerial Conference last December. He also conveyed his optimism for current negotiations on the expansion of product coverage of the Information Technology Agreement, which he described as a very important element.
Referring to the Bali package itself, Mr Azevedo said that incorporating the trade facilitation agreement into the WTO disciplines was not “a walk in the park” and that ICC would most likely be called should help be required. One area of particular difficulty noted by Mr Azevedo, related to technical assistance for poorer countries, which had signed the deal with the promise of technical assistance to implement it. According to Mr Azevedo, the WTO was currently considering ways to help countries that fear they may not attract the donors for the required assistance. “”There is a commitment to provide technical assistance to everyone. At some point the private sector may be able to help in this regard and we may come back to ICC because this element may be key to making sure that the trade facilitation is implemented fully.”
Mr Azevedo underscored ICC’s valuable role in supporting the work of the WTO and said: “In Bali, it was important for some critical delegations to show flexibility and to take risks and they were only in a position to take those risks because they knew that the private sector was behind them.”
ICC Chairman Harold (Terry) McGraw reaffirmed ICC’s commitment to establishing a post-Bali work programme and applauded Mr Azevedo’s efforts to this end.