Roberto Azevedo, WTO’s sixth director general who took office from the beginning of this month, made the remarks at a special meeting of the organization’s General Council.
He was appointed to a four-year term by General Council on May 14 after three rounds of selection, replacing Frenchman Pascal Lamy, who stepped down on August 31 after two consecutive terms.
Outlining the picture of global economy in his speech, Azevedo said that many economies were still struggling to recover from the effects of the financial crisis, while others continued to emerge, forming new trading relationships and shifting the landscape of global economy.
He then noted that, against this context, the WTO has a more important role to play.
He went on by highlighting the significance of multilateral trading system, saying that it “remains the best defence against protectionism and the strongest force for growth, recovery and development”.
Azevedo pointed out the problems confronted by WTO, saying that the negotiating arm of the organization was struggling and the failure to address this paralysis casted a shadow over every other part of WTO’s work.
“It is essential that we breathe new life into negotiations. We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the world that the WTO can deliver multilateral trade deals. That’s why success at the Bali Ministerial Conference is vital — this has to be our first priority,” Azevedo noted.
He added that the success in the ninth Ministerial Conference to be held at Bali, Indonesia in December would bring huge benefits, improving people’s lives and boosting trade at a critical moment for the global economy and restore the confidence that the organization is on the right track.
At the press conference in the wake of the event, the director general explained that a success in Bali means negotiated outcomes of multilateral format could be reached.
“If we don’t have a negotiated outcome in Bali, the first cost for the organization and for the world is that we will not be cashing in on the gains that were potentially achievable,” he told reporters.
He added that during his attendance at the summit of G20 in St. Petersburg last week, G20 leaders gave their strong backing to the efforts to reach a deal in Bali, and now “the biggest challenge is to translate those words of commitment into progress”.
The director general once again pointed to the importance of fighting protectionism and updating disciplines, saying that protectionism is much more sophisticated than it was before, and many restrictive measures are more difficult to detect and find room in the gray areas of current agreements.
“If you want to keep the fight against protectionism updated and effective, you have to update disciplines. So in that sense, I think it is important that WTO shows it can once again negotiate multilaterally and can update the disciplines regularly,” said Azevedo.