ITC Executive Director statement at the MC11

11 December 2017
ITC News
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference
11 December 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

Minister Malcorra
WTO Director General Azevêdo
Ladies and gentlemen

This is the seventh WTO Ministerial that I have attended and in many ways it is the most critical one. Trade and multilateral cooperation both face serious headwinds today. In some quarters trade is seen as a zero-sum game. Multilateralism is seen as weakening national sovereignty. Even worse, as the realm of the weak. This Ministerial has the responsibility to set the record straight.

Trade and multilateralism are tools. Trade is a tool that can help us generate growth. That can help us create jobs. That can help us end extreme poverty by 2030. Multilateralism is a tool to can help us ensure this is done in a cooperative manner, maximising the benefits while minimising the cross border frictions. How are we going to ensure our fish stocks survive us if it is not through multilateral efforts to curb incentives to overfishing?

Like any tool, the question is what countries do with it. This is why multilateral trade needs to be combined with strong domestic policies and smart investments.

I have spent the better part of the last two years since the 10th Ministerial conference in Kenya, advocating for the power of multilateralism. The Organisation which I head, the International Trade Centre, the joint development agency of the WTO and the United Nations, has the promotion of trade led growth for jobs and inclusive development at its core.

And it is the people that I meet on the ground in your countries that continue to re-emphasize these convictions. It is about the two businesswomen I met in Senegal a few weeks ago. Marième is a software engineer in charge of an IT services firm in Dakar. Aminata runs a mid-sized mango company outside the city. On the face of it, they’re not much alike. But they both see exports as central to the future of their businesses.

It is about Rosalie, a weaver in Burkina Faso, who because of finding greater markets for her textiles can now send her children to school. Nabila in Morocco who now uses e-Commerce to get her cosmetic products to international markets leading to a ten-fold increase in revenue. It’s Swaby in Jamaica who is adding value to his coconut agri-processing business through better quality standards. And Mohammed in The Gambia who is a young entrepreneur employing other young entrepreneurs by creating a scalable business through trade.

For all these people and millions like them, trade is a path to larger markets, more competitiveness, value addition, and the creation of more and better jobs. And that, ladies and gentlemen, has a great deal to do with you.

Trade-led growth is a viable growth strategy only because of the open global economy. The open global economy is, in turn, the product of decisions your governments took at home, and anchored here, in the WTO system.

By ensuring predictable and open markets you have given farmers from Kansas to Argentina the security to ramp up investment, because they can be confident their soybeans will not face unexpected barriers in overseas markets. Predictably open markets allow tech visionaries from Silicon Valley to Seoul to source components and services from around the world to transform ideas into affordable products and services.

And predictably open markets are why mango growers in Guinea can hope to get a better price for their products in Paris or Lagos than they would at home.

Trade has increased purchasing power and broadened our horizons. That does not mean it is smooth sailing for everyone. If I’m buying more mangoes in Paris from Senegal maybe I’m buying fewer French apples.

Trade has made our countries more prosperous. But in too many places, the intertwined benefits of trade and technology have skewed towards the richest and best-educated citizens. This has helped give rise to the current scepticism about trade. If large numbers of people feel that the modern economy is not working for them, trade becomes an easy scapegoat.

The challenge before us is to make trade work for the 99%. To make majorities feel that the benefits and opportunities of trade far exceed the risks and vulnerability that come with it.

This is an agenda for all countries. This is the responsibility of us in this room that have been lucky enough to benefit from open trade. While economic marginalization within developed countries is finally getting the attention that it deserves, too many least developed countries, small and vulnerable economies, small island developing states and landlocked developing countries remain on the margins of the global economy.

One part of making trade work for the 99% is to ensure that businesses of all sizes are able to connect to regional and international value chains. When micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises are able to thrive in international trade, it goes a long way towards making growth inclusive.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement that you are implementing will reduce trade costs, yielding disproportionate benefits for MSMEs. And the on-line Global Trade Helpdesk, which ITC has launched today together with WTO and UNCTAD will help businesses exploit the opportunities of more open markets building on your WTO notifications and trade data available in many of our organisations. A separate cotton on-line portal will bring together the full spectrum of trade and market information for the sector.

Meanwhile, learning from each other’s good practices can help countries improve the effectiveness of their inclusive growth policies. This is why many of you are supporting a declaration on trade and women’s economic empowerment. Only one in five exporting companies is a woman. We surely can do better. And if we do so, we will grow more for the benefit of all.

The second part of the answer actually has little to do with trade ministries. It is much more about domestic social and educational policies to equip people to acquire new skills and thrive amidst economic change.

International cooperation can help on both fronts. In a globally interdependent world where global problems need global solutions we cannot look inward.

In sum, we need to act on the supply side to enable businesses of all sizes to trade. Where the rules need fixing, we should work together to fix them. Learn from each other. Above all, we need to work together. Abandoning cooperation would make all of us poorer. We must stand up for multilateralism. We must make trade great again.

I thank you for your attention.