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DG Azevêdo at India’s ministerial meeting of developing and least developed countries: ‘Make your voices heard’ on reform issues

DG Azevêdo at India’s ministerial meeting of developing and least developed countries: ‘Make your voices heard’ on reform issues
Photo credit: Office of Minister of Commerce and Industry, Government of India

14 May 2019

Participating in an Informal WTO Ministerial Meeting organised by the Indian government in New Delhi on 13 May, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo outlined the current discussions regarding WTO reform and told those attending that “this is your organization... make your voices heard in this debate.”

The meeting was hosted by Mr Suresh Prabhu, Commerce and Industry Minister of India, and was attended by a number of developing country ministers.

After giving an overview of members’ discussions in all three pillars of the WTO’s work – monitoring, dispute settlement and negotiations – DG Azevêdo said:

“This is an important moment. The decisions members take on the issues I’ve raised today will determine the future of the global trading system. Equally, a failure to confront these issues would also determine the path forward in what could be a very negative way. I personally don’t believe that the status quo is an option. But what happens next is up to you, the members. This is your organisation. I think we have an opportunity now to make it stronger and to set it on a positive path for the future. So I urge you to make your voices heard in this debate.” 

In his overview, DG Azevêdo addressed the impact of rising trade tensions on trade expansion and global economic growth. He emphasized the fact that all will feel the effects and that developing countries and least-developed countries would be the most negatively affected.

He outlined the key areas in which reform is being discussed and underscored the importance of engagement on all areas. He also observed that apparently not all issues are on the table yet, and the debate is in its early stages. He said that members seemed to prefer not to attempt to create a package of reforms as it would be better to work to change and adjust progressively, “harvesting what we can when we can”.

The DG observed that the informal meeting comprised a representative group that can contribute significantly to the process of understanding where we are, and considering where to go. He stressed that the WTO has to be better, work faster, and be more responsive to today’s challenges. He noted that no one is talking about trashing the system that we have and “starting from scratch”, adding that the main focus is on preserving the system and building on what we have.


Outcome of the WTO Ministerial Meeting of developing countries working collectively to strengthening the WTO to promote development and inclusivity

  1. We, the Ministers and high-level officials from Arab Republic of Egypt, Barbados, Central African Republic, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Jamaica, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, People’s Republic of China, Republic of Benin, Republic of Chad, Republic of India, Republic of Indonesia, Republic of Malawi, Republic of South Africa, Republic of Uganda and Sultanate of Oman met in New Delhi, on 13 and 14 May 2019, to discuss recent developments at the WTO and explore ways for working with all Members to strengthen the multilateral trading system.

  2. We reaffirm the pre-eminence of the WTO as the global forum for trade rules setting and governance. We note with concern the multiple challenges confronting the rules-based multilateral trading system and agree to work together with all WTO Members to strengthen the WTO, make it more effective and continue to remain relevant to the diverse needs of its Members, in line with objectives of the WTO.

  3. We re-affirm that the dispute settlement system of the WTO is a central element in providing security and predictability to the multilateral trading system. This has proved to be more effective and reliable as compared to its predecessor, GATT. We note with concern that Members have failed to arrive at a consensus in the selection process to fill vacancies in the Appellate Body. This ongoing impasse has weakened the dispute settlement system and threatens to completely paralyze it by December 2019. We, therefore, urge all WTO Members to engage constructively to address this challenge without any delay in filling the vacancies in the Appellate Body, while continuing discussions on other issues relating to the functioning of the dispute settlement mechanism.

  4. An inclusive multilateral trading system based on equality and mutual respect should ensure that all WTO Members abide by WTO rules and abjure any form of protectionism. The core value and basic principles of the multilateral trading system must be preserved and strengthened, particularly with a view to building trust among Members. To this end, we urge WTO Members to adopt measures that are compatible with WTO rules to avoid putting the multilateral trading system at risk.

  5. Multilateral avenues, based on consensus, remain the most effective means to achieve inclusive development-oriented outcomes. Members may need to explore different options to address the challenges of contemporary trade realities in a balanced manner. We note that in the post-MC 11 phase, many Members have evinced interest in pursuing outcomes in some areas through joint initiatives approach. The outcomes of these initiatives should be conducive to strengthening the multilateral trading system and be consistent with WTO rules.

  6. We recall that international trade is not an end in itself but a means of contributing to certain objectives, including raising standards of living. Special and Differential Treatment is one of the main defining features of the multilateral trading system and is essential to integrating developing Members into global trade. Special and Differential Treatment provisions are rights of developing Members that must be preserved and strengthened in both current and future WTO agreements, with priority attention to outstanding LDC issues.

  7. We stress the importance of technical assistance and capacity building provided to developing Members, in particular LDCs, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework, Aid for Trade and other tools. We urge Members to continue doing so.

  8. The process of WTO reform must keep development at its core, promote inclusive growth, and fully take into account the interests and concerns of developing Members, including the specific challenges of graduating LDCs. The way forward must be decided through a process that is open, transparent and inclusive. We agree to work collectively with the aim to develop proposals to ensure that our common interests are reflected in the WTO reform process.

  9. WTO rules seek to foster an open and non-discriminatory trade regime. In order to instill confidence among the Members, it is imperative that the Ministerial Conferences of the WTO are organized in a more open, transparent and inclusive manner. WTO notification obligations must consider the capacity constraints and implementation related challenges faced by many developing Members, particularly LDCs. In the WTO, a more cooperative and gradual approach is the best way in dealing with the issue of transparency, where many developing Members struggle to comply with their notification obligations.

  10. Some WTO agreements, for example the Agreement on Agriculture, contain imbalances and inequities that prejudice the trade and development interests of developing Members. There is a need to provide adequate policy space to the developing Members to support their farmers through correcting the asymmetries and imbalances in this Agreement on priority. This should be undertaken on the basis of work done and progress already made in the past, and provide further flexibilities to the LDCs and Net Food Importing Developing Countries. It is really time that cotton receives concrete and appropriate responses it deserves.

  11. We agree to consult on various issues of common interest to developing Members, including comprehensive and effective disciplines on fisheries subsidies with appropriate and effective Special & Differential Treatment provisions for developing Members.

  12. We urge WTO Members to expedite the process of accession of new Members.

  13. We reiterate our commitment to work towards strengthening WTO by promoting development and inclusivity for the benefit of all Members.

Source World Trade Organisation and Government of India
Website Visit website
Date 14 May 2019
  10 minute read
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