Statement by the WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo at the 48th session of the Joint Advisory Group

11 June 2014
ITC News

Delivered on 11 June 2014 - WTO headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland

Thank you Madam Chair, Ambassador Salleh,
Secretary-General Kituyi,
Executive Director González,
Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to welcome you all – and to have this opportunity to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Trade Centre

50 years is a long time! And things were rather different in those early days.

When the ITC started operations in 1964 it had a staff of just five people

They were housed at the Villa Le Bocage, just up the hill from here – which was then part of GATT headquarters.

And the operating context was rather different too.

The Kennedy Round of negotiations had been launched around the same time.

The sum of global exports stood at 176 billion dollars per annum – compared to more than 18 trillion dollars now.

Container trade, as we know it today, was in its infancy.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both in elementary school!

It seems like a different world – and there's no doubt that both of our organisations have come a long way since then

But there are some things that have remained constant

One thing you may notice when you look back at 1964 is that at the time Brazil were the holders of the world cup. And I’m sure in a few weeks' time this will be true again! You can always hope

But, in fact, what has remained constant since 1964 is our relationship.

For each of those 50 years the ITC has been a valued partner of the multilateral trading system. And this is because the reason for the ITC’s creation remains valid.

It is more important than ever that we continue to support development through trade – and that we continue to help businesses in the poorest economies connect to open global markets, underpinned by the multilateral trading system.

We know that trade can be an engine of development.

Firms that participate in trade tend to have higher productivity and higher wages than those dealing in non-tradable goods and services.

Encouraging investment in these more productive sectors is central to generating more and better jobs, as well as sustained development and growth.

In recent decades, we have seen large parts of the developing world use trade-led growth to lift hundreds of millions of people from poverty.

We have come a long way. But clearly there is a huge amount more to be done

A crucial part of making further progress will be to create new trade opportunities by updating the rules of the multilateral trading system.

Last December WTO Members took a big step forward by striking a deal on the Bali package - and delivering very important benefits for developing countries.

That success, in turn, has opened up the opportunity to deliver much, much more - and so now we must now seize this opportunity by setting out a well-defined work programme for the conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda

Further progress on this front is essential to the cause of trade-led development, but of course it is not the only element of the equation.

Support to build capacity and competitiveness are also essential. And this is what the ITC is all about.

Since its creation the ITC has worked with the private sector and governments in developing countries to improve the institutional environment for prospective exporters.

In this sense, the ITC has been a key partner in the WTO’s Aid for Trade initiative. In fact, it has integrated Aid for Trade into its institutional structure and service delivery - describing itself now as a "100% aid for trade organization”.

And the ITC has been faithful to the letter of the initial proposal for its creation in 1962.

This document argued that exporters in developing countries were at a particular disadvantage when attempting to break into world markets because of inadequate information and trade promotion support

ITC products like Trade Map, Market Access Map, and Standards Map have become popular sources of useful, timely intelligence about market conditions for developing countries.

And it’s easy to point to excellent work in other areas too - with some really tangible outcomes. Previous speakers have cited many examples of this already so I won't go over the same ground – and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this over the next two days

But we are not here simply to celebrate the past and talk about the progress made to date – rather we are here to look forward to the challenges which will we face together in the years to come.

I think there are a number of areas where our partnership will continue to develop and grow – but, as time is tight, I'll list just a few this morning.

Development was at the heart of the deal we struck in Bali last year. The ITC has a role to play in taking forward all of the decisions that WTO members made – particularly those that apply specifically to LDCs – and including the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

This Agreement broke new ground for developing countries in the way it will be implemented. For the first time in WTO history, implementation of an agreement is directly linked to the capacity of the country to do so.

Previously the focus was usually on specifying a time-period. Developed countries would implement an agreement immediately, while least-developed and other developing countries would just get a few more years.

Nobody ever talked about whether, when the deadline came, those countries would have the capacity to implement those provisions.

Now, for the first time, we have more than that – we are taking a more dynamic approach.

Under the Trade Facilitation Agreement, not only does a country have to have the capacity before it is required to implement the provisions of the agreement, but assistance and support should be provided to help them achieve that capacity.

Those two things have to be there for the obligation to click into place.

This has never happened before and it did not happen by accident. WTO members made the decision together.

So now we must deliver on this promise.

A lot of hard work has been going on, to this end, in the Preparatory Committee here in the WTO.

And there has also been a lot of activity among donors and international organisations – along with the WTO Secretariat – to mobilize the additional support needed under section 2 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Just yesterday for example the World Bank announced a new "Trade Facilitation Support Program”, supported by the US, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Australia and the EU.

Of course this is both very positive and very welcome.

However, I know that concerns remain among developing and least-developed members about accessing the necessary support.

So we need to look at how we can do more.

The fact is that the Trade Facilitation Agreement changes the role of the WTO and the nature of the support that we must provide in some areas.

We have to recognize that, as things stand, the WTO may not be fully equipped to deal with the demands of section 2. That's just the reality. And so we need – together – to consider how we can adapt.

I think that the WTO Secretariat can potentially play an even more positive, complementary role here - and we are currently looking at options for this.

And of course our partners will also have an important part to play.

I know that the ITC has already done some good work in this area – for example: through supporting countries to categorise their TF commitments; or by raising awareness and supporting capacity building in private businesses.

Within a fortnight of Bali the ITC had already published a guide explaining how businesses in developing countries could understand and take advantage of the Trade Facilitation Agreement – and how policymakers could identify the technical assistance they would need to implement those decisions.

Clearly the ITC's SME clients would stand to benefit greatly from easier, more predictable border and customs procedures.

And so I look forward to working with you to take this forward and deliver those benefits.

Another priority for the WTO, as I have already mentioned, is to build on the success of Bali by drawing up a work programme to conclude the DDA.

This would create new trade opportunities for all WTO members, and particularly for developing countries.

Again, the ITC can help with this work. First, to help ensure that the value of the multilateral trading system is recognised and that this work is supported. And second, to ensure that ITC clients in the private sector have the capacity to reap the benefits of these opportunities when they materialise.

The final priority area that I would like to highlight is the debate which is now underway in New York on the post-2015 development agenda.

I believe that the WTO, the ITC, UNCTAD, and others must join forces to anchor trade firmly within this agenda.

All countries that have managed to sustain high growth for a generation or more – which is the duration necessary to truly transform a society's human development prospects – have been active participants in the open global economy.

As the Commission on Growth and Development put it – and I quote – they "imported what the rest of the world knew, and exported what it wanted."

We know the role that trade has played in overcoming poverty in the past.

What's at stake now is ensuring that trade can continue to do so in the future in the most effective way possible.

So this must be a priority for all of us in the coming weeks and months.

In closing, I must say that it is a pleasure for the WTO to host the ITC's Joint Advisory Group, as well as the anniversary celebrations.

Over the next two days, you will have an opportunity to discuss the issues I've raised this morning - and others - and to consider how we can work together to help the ITC become even more effective in the future.

There will also be an opportunity to review the ITC's recent work, as set out in the Annual Report, and begin the conversation on its Strategic Plan for 2015-2017.

I am sure there will be some lively discussions.

But, as we look forward to the challenges ahead let’s take heart from what has been achieved over the last 50 years.

Since 1964 our organisations have worked together to ensure that instead of development being a servant of trade, we make trade a servant of development.

For half a century we have worked together to improve people’s lives. Let’s make sure that over the next 50 years we deliver even more.

Thank you very much – and congratulations to ITC.