Message from the Director-General
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As I begin my term as Director-General, the WTO and the multilateral trading system are at an important crossroads. The choices that the WTO’s 159 members make in the coming months will determine the path we take as we set out together to strengthen and support the multilateral trading system.
The 9th Ministerial Conference, which will be held in Bali from 3 to 6 December 2013, is a key priority. A successful meeting there will provide a much needed shot in the arm for the global economy and the WTO.
The multilateral trading system, which is embodied by the WTO, has been the foundation for non-discriminatory, inclusive, transparent and predictable world trade since its creation in 1948. Since then global trade has grown from $59 billion to over $18 trillion, global incomes have risen, many countries have climbed the ladder of development and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Trade, underpinned by the multilateral trading system, has been a powerful force for growth and development.
The WTO and the multilateral trading system are as important today as they have ever been. We need only examine the system’s resilience during the economic crisis in Asia in the late 1990s and the global crisis that struck in 2008. In the face of protectionist pressures, markets have largely stayed open and trade has continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate than recent decades.
The economic strains of recent years have undoubtedly contributed to the difficulties we have experienced as a negotiating forum. The Doha Round, launched in 2001, has been at an impasse since the onset of the crisis. The resulting stalemate has been a great source of frustration to trade negotiators and has led some governments to explore other avenues for opening trade and developing new rules.
But this year things have changed. WTO members have identified some important areas of the Doha Round where agreement is within reach. This is only a small part of the overall Doha package, but agreement on these issues will provide an opportunity to help unblock other areas of the negotiations. It will also provide negotiators the much-needed confidence that we can still achieve multilaterally negotiated results if the political will is there.
Agreement in Bali on “trade facilitation” measures to streamline customs procedures globally, on some agriculture issues and on areas of importance to developing countries — notably the least developed countries — would bring significant economic and development gains, and would have profoundly positive systemic consequences.
Of course there are other important priorities across the Organization that must be pursued. Bali is an immediate focus, but it is important not to forget the breadth of work taking place in our regular committees as well as in areas like dispute settlement, accessions, development and the monitoring and reviewing of trade policies.
Regardless of the outcome in Bali, the WTO and its members will face the inevitable question: “What next?” But what is evident to all is that the options available would be considerably richer and more diverse in the event that negotiations in Bali are successful.
Governments do have regional or bilateral trade negotiating options. But I have never heard a trade negotiator from any country say that these options were preferable to a global deal through the WTO. A global deal encompasses more countries and more segments of economic activity than any regional accord could possibly deliver. But if we are to help build a multilateral path forward, all 159 members must work together to deliver in Bali.
I believe that a deal can be struck despite the short time we have between now and Bali. I shall do everything I can to see that agreement is reached. But there is no such thing as a sure thing, and a great deal of work and commitment are required in the coming weeks if we are to succeed.
I look forward to your continued interest and engagement in the WTO.