TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Mar17/04)
2 March 2017
Third World Network
Azevedo gets second term, South Africa to chair General Council
Published in SUNS #8413 dated 2 March 2017
Geneva, 1 Mar (Kanaga Raja) - The General Council of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) on Tuesday formally re-appointed Roberto Azevedo to a second
four-year term as Director-General of the organisation.
Azevedo, the sole candidate for the position when nominations closed on 31
December 2016, will begin his second term of office on 1 September 2017.
The General Council also approved by consensus Ambassador Xavier Carim of South
Africa as its Chair for 2017, and Ambassador Junichi Ihara of Japan as the
Chair of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).
However, the outgoing Chair of the General Council, Ambassador Harald Neple of
Norway, reported that there was a blockage with respect to the entire slate of
Chairs of the other regular WTO bodies for this year.
According to trade officials, the Chair also reported that it has been
difficult to come up with a replacement for Ambassador Vangelis Vitalis of New
Zealand, the Chair of the Agriculture Committee in Special Session, who has
left Geneva. A replacement has not yet been found.
Apart from the Chairs of the General Council and of the DSB, this is the first
time that there has been a blockage on the entire slate of chairs of the other
regular bodies, according to trade officials.
RE-APPOINTMENT OF AZEVEDO AS DG
At a media briefing after the General Council meeting on Tuesday, Azevedo,
referring to his re-appointment, said that this was a great honour to him and
pledged to continue to serve "all WTO members to the best of my ability,
and to do all that I can to safeguard and strengthen the multilateral system
Referring to the presentation he had made to the membership on Monday, Azevedo
said that he made the case that the WTO is significantly stronger today than it
was in 2013.
At that point the WTO had not delivered any major multilaterally negotiated
outcomes but since then "we have achieved a run of important agreements.
Within 100 days of taking office as DG, we agreed the Bali package which
includes the Trade Facilitation Agreement, and that success belongs to
"Two years later we did it again. In Nairobi, we delivered a new package
of measures including our biggest agricultural reforms. Development issues were
also at the heart of both of these packages."
The DG also said that at Nairobi, a group of members struck a deal to expand
the Information Technology Agreement.
"So this is a dramatic shift in gears. We also worked to bring the DDA to
the fore, though of course progress was hard to come by. We worked hard and we
tried every approach that we could think of but still we could not bridge the
gaps between members' positions," he said.
Those gaps remain today, he pointed out, saying that the work must continue.
"These issues are critical for a large number of members and we must keep
working to take them forward, and we need to maintain the momentum that we have
"So we need to continue this habit of delivering. And we need to make incremental
progress wherever and whenever we can. So it is encouraging that members are
implementing the commitments that they make here and the entry into force of
the TRIPS amendment [on access to essential medicines] last month and the Trade
Facilitation Agreement last week are clear signs of that," he said.
"This is a sign that we are getting the system to work again and it is
underlined by the speed of ratifications of the Trade Facilitation Agreement
which only opened for ratifications two years ago in November 2014."
"As you know nothing happens overnight here but against the more than 11
years that it took to bring the TRIPS amendment into force, the TFA process has
been completed very efficiently," he said.
"As we look forward, I think we can achieve much more. We must learn from
the lessons that we got from Bali and Nairobi including, for example, from the
innovative and flexible approaches that gave us the Trade Facilitation
Agreement and we must seek to be more open, inclusive and transparent,"
said the DG.
Looking to MC11 in Buenos Aires and beyond, Azevedo said, "I want to see
us moving further, faster across the board and particularly in support of the
He envisaged that technical assistance and capacity-building will become
"I want to put more focus on this work to empower members so that they
feel ownership of the system and this applies to the smallest and the least
developed members the most."
"So we must keep strengthening all pillars of our work. For example, the
dispute settlement system is performing well despite a huge caseload and we
acted to deal with the queue of cases that had built up. So we fixed that but
that doesn't mean that the situation is sustainable. We must ensure that the system
will continue to respond in case we see a further rise in cases."
Azevedo further said: "So we have a lot of work ahead of us. These are
challenging times for the multilateral trading system. Global economic growth
is low. Trade growth is low. The threat of protectionism cannot be ignored.
Multilateralism faces momentous hardships and we struggle with the persistent
challenges of poverty, inequality and under-development."
"Now many feel excluded from the benefits of trade and it is being
connected, wrongly I must note, with structural unemployment. We must respond
to this. I think we must work harder to ensure that the benefits of trade reach
more people especially in the most vulnerable countries."
"It seems to me in these challenging times that the value of mutually
agreed global rules is evident as is the ability to resolve economic problems
between nations according to those rules."
In his view, this organisation is more important than ever.
Asked about the trade policies of the US and what advice he would give Mexico
about the renegotiation of NAFTA, Azevedo cited the article (in the Financial
Times) that quoted the White House Deputy Press Secretary as saying, 'We aren't
going to comment on trade policy until we have a USTR in place. It would be
premature to say that the administration is committed to any specific policy
until that point'.
Azevedo said that he entirely shared this position.
"So I would not be in a position to be commenting on any kind of specific
policy on the part of an administration where the nominee for USTR has not even
"That's normally my main interlocutor. Once confirmed, I hope that we will
have a fruitful dialogue with the new administration and with the new trade
team. But until then I will refrain from commenting on any kind of policy that
may or may not be put in place."
As far as bilaterals are concerned and the fact that maybe the US is unhappy
with trade deals or agreements that were put in place in the past, the DG said,
"the parties of those agreements or those undertakings are better placed
to answer your questions than I am."
"What I would say is that normally in these situations the best way
forward is dialogue."
Asked about Trump's 'America First' policy, Azevedo again said that it is difficult
for him to comment on specific policies when they are not in place.
Asked whether the risk of a trade war is now bigger, the DG said: "I try
to not speculate about trade wars because they are serious. I said before that
we should not be talking ourselves into a trade war."
"We saw examples in the past where unilateral actions on all sides ended
up by wiping out two-thirds of global trade in just three years. And we saw
what happened after that in terms of economic depression, and also in terms of
conflict among nations."
"So I hope we can avoid anything that even remotely resembles that,"
Asked about the WTO dispute settlement system which is being seen as being
extremely slow, the DG said that if it does exist - the perception that the system
is extremely slow - it is mostly because the headlines usually confine
themselves to those issues which are very difficult to be handled.
At the end of the day, he said, "we have to end up with a mutually agreed
solution and there is nothing that the system can do to impose that mutually
agreed solution on members. It recommends. It makes determinations. It says
which actions are in violation of WTO rules and which ones are not. But it
At that point in time, members then have to talk to each other and find
solutions amongst themselves. If they don't want to find a solution, there is
nothing that the system can do to force a solution on them.
But that is the minority of the situations. Ninety percent of all WTO disputes
have been implemented, and ten percent are still ongoing, in the sense that a
mutually agreed solution has not been found yet, he said.
The DG maintained that compared to other international courts and international
tribunals, the WTO is by far the fastest dispute settlement system that there
is out there.
The DG was asked about the fact that four years ago in 2013 several developing
countries including India had given maximum support to Azevedo (for his first
term) and that last week on 23 February (informal HOD meeting), India had
levied several charges against the manner in which things are happening in the
WTO under his leadership, mentioning in this context selective visibility, the
way meetings are conducted, the way the negotiating climate is vitiated, and
the way the Secretariat tends to be the proponent of the issues of the
developed countries. In this regard, the DG was asked what lessons he would
take for the next four years.
In response, the DG said that he was in New Delhi a few weeks back "and I
heard none of that whatsoever. I heard comments about the fact that the
Secretariat may have been giving more visibility to some issues than others,
and they took exception to that."
"What I have to say about that is that not all members want the same thing
in the WTO. There are a very large number of developed and developing countries
who want to see those issues being discussed, who want to have a conversation
about many issues. There are others though."
"Now it is my job as Director-General to ensure that a fair chance for any
member and for all members to discuss whatever they want to discuss. I am not
going to be precluding conversations. I am not selective on conversations. I
try to help all those who ask for help," the DG maintained.
The DG was also asked about the fact that when he was in New Delhi he had
pointed out specifically that issues such as public stockholding and SSM are
all proponent-driven issues and that the proponents have to talk while on
e-commerce or micro, small and medium sized enterprises, which a small number
of countries, primarily the developed countries, are pushing, the DG is acting
as a proponent here, putting up positions at the G20 meetings. There seems to
be an inconsistency in what he said in New Delhi and what he actually does here
Azevedo replied that it was actually a quote from an Indian newspaper, that he
claimed, misrepresented what he said.
"I did not say that the proposals were member-driven with regard to public
stockholding or any of those issues. I said that all WTO issues are
member-driven, and any proponent that wants to push his issue has to find
traction and engagement on the part of other members. All issues. I was not
referring to one or two issues in specific," he maintained.
"All the issues on the table will have to be the responsibility of the
proponents. They will have to get traction. They will have to get engagement on
the part of the other members. They will have to convince the other members
that they have to talk about this. And this applies to everything. And by the
way, I have said this consistently in every single meeting that I
"Now if they misconstrue what I said over there, I don't have
responsibility for that," said Azevedo.
Asked if he told the Bild newspaper that without trade America will never be
great again, the DG said that he did not recall saying that textually.
"But I think American development and greatness passes through trade. I
have no doubts about that in my mind whatsoever."
Asked about what issues he sees as the most promising for an outcome at MC11,
the DG said that the promising issues are the issues that make progress. At
this point in time, he had told the informal HOD meeting, all the issues were
"And I didn't see a whole lot of progress in any of the issues and that
proponents needed to do better. If they wanted to actually have deliverables by
MC11 they would have to put proposals on the table. They would have to do
better in terms of clarifying the issues and moving from a conceptual conversation
to a more specific conversation where that is needed."
Asked about the blockage over the slate of chairs for this year and whether
this will affect the work for MC11, Azevedo pointed out that this process is
being conducted by the General Council Chair.
The DG said that this is not the first time we have difficulties in selecting
the chairs. There are a number of things that go together with that, which is
geographical representation, nominations by groups, and rotation as well.
"It is normally and usually difficult to get the slate done," he
said, adding that he had urged members to show flexibility so that we can get
it done as quickly as possible.
He pointed particularly to areas "where we have important conversations
and negotiations ongoing, for example, the case of agriculture. If we don't
have a chair, that could have an impact on the development of the work, and
that could affect the ability to get outcomes in time for the ministerial
conference in Buenos Aires."
Q&A WITH THE DG
Earlier on Monday, under the first agenda item on the appointment of the
Director-General, Azevedo made a presentation and this was followed by a
Guyana (for the ACP), Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Luxembourg, Japan, Pakistan,
China, the United States, Uganda, Spain, Argentina, Montenegro, Korea,
Thailand, Ukraine, Finland, Cameroon, Uruguay, Bulgaria, and Canada posed
questions to the Director-General.
[The General Council Chair had informed members on 17 February about the
process that he was going to adopt for the selection of the DG. This
"compressed" process had caused some concern among the developing and
least-developed countries, according to several trade envoys. See SUNS #8407
dated 22 February 2017.]
According to trade officials, Guyana, on behalf of the African, Caribbean and
Pacific (ACP) group, asked the DG that as he prepares for his second term in
leading the organisation, what will he do as the DG and the Chair of the Trade
Negotiations Committee (TNC) to engage and activate development deliverables to
support economies that are lagging behind.
Azevedo said that development has to be first and foremost, the issue that is
taken up in all of our conversations. It has to be at the centre. The Doha
Development Agenda (DDA) has had development woven through it. And we can't
lose what has been done there, he said.
He highlighted the importance of trade-related technical assistance and
There are too many issues right now where there is a large degree of asymmetry,
where countries are indeed lagging behind, and e-commerce is one of these
It is very difficult to have a discussion on e-commerce when you have many
members who do not really even have connectivity, he said.
Implementation of WTO commitments - those taken at ministerial conferences, for
example, the LDC package, duty-free quota-free market access for LDC products
(DFQF), rules of origin, cotton - are things which absolutely must be resolved
in the course of the coming years.
He said that he understands that these are difficult issues. Rules of origin is
a tremendously difficult issue, but it needs to be tackled, Azevedo added.
Luxembourg asked the DG as to what are his main achievements and what are his
The DG replied that the main achievement was to put the WTO back on the map.
With the results in Bali, things changed, and after Nairobi they changed even
more. This means that now businesses, NGOs and academics have shown interest
that had been lagging for many years.
He said the WTO is now even in more demand but for the wrong kinds of reasons
because there is a lot of anti-trade, anti-globalisation (sentiment) and
everyone wants to know what we are going to do about it.
Azevedo said that there is only so much that we can do. The members have got to
get their act together and they have to make the case for trade as well. He
said that he will be active in making the case for trade, but we need to do
Japan pointed out that there are 164 members and that it is not so easy to get
things done in a multilateral context. It asked the DG how he felt about
amongst others plurilateral initiatives.
The DG replied that multilateral outcomes are to be prioritised. We should try
do as much multilaterally as we can.
But doing things multilaterally is not easy. If you are going to have an
agreement that is multilateral, you need to have flexibility so that you can
take into account the differences among the members, he said.
China asked what specific actions will Azevedo take to try and counter the
rising levels of new protectionism.
The DG said that it is a joint effort. We all must do our part. The members
need to take the lead on this too. You are all opinion makers, he said, adding
that their word counts. So use your word.
We will be speaking up for trade, Azevedo said, noting that in Hangzhou (the
G20 summit), many members and leaders said that they were extremely concerned
about what they were hearing.
The United States said that it does not consider trade remedies to be protectionist.
Anti-dumping (AD) duties and countervailing duties (CVD) are used to address
unfair trade practices. Trade remedies are an essential part of the global
trading system. How does he view these kinds of actions, the US asked the DG.
In response, the DG said that members have the right to use these tools.
Members understand that the rules allow for these practices. And we need to
have more discussion.
One of the things that need to be done is that people need to discuss how these
things are applied so that people understand them, and this can help reduce
There has been a variety of papers that have been put forward that gives some
idea as to how these anti-dumping and countervailing measures might be applied
in the most effective, transparent rule-oriented manner.
The DG reiterated that anti-dumping and countervailing duties are not
protectionism. And very often the country that has these duties applied is the
one that is adopting practices that are not fair.
Uganda (represented by Ambassador Christopher Onyanga Aparr) asked the DG:
There is a growing perception that you, as Chair of the Trade Negotiations
Committee (TNC), have tended to lean heavily towards the developed countries.
What do you intend to do differently during your second term that would help
address the needs, concerns and interests of developing countries and
especially the LDCs?
According to trade officials, Azevedo said he disagreed with the premise of the
question. Developing countries and LDCs have been big beneficiaries both from
Bali and Nairobi, he maintained.
The Trade Facilitation Agreement is going to be very positive for developing
countries. It was a fantastic outcome for them, he said. The agreement on
export competition is also a fantastic outcome for developing countries.
He said that he has a very clear conscience on this. But it is true that nobody
gets everything they want here, but they are getting the best of what is out
After Bali, there was a full agenda for LDCs. We have to work to get this done,
whether it is DFQF or rules of origin.
These are very important and we also need to look at the supply-side concerns,
that even with the opportunities, the capacity constraints for producing remain
in many of the world's poorest countries, he said.
Developing countries and LDCs were the biggest winners from Bali and Nairobi,
the DG claimed.
Uganda then asked: Is technical assistance and capacity building sufficient
compensation for the adoption of legally binding multilateral disciplines by
LDCs even if it would lead to loss of policy space for, inter alia, structural
transformation and industrialisation?
Azevedo said that there have been big gains but more needs to be done. He
pointed to the Sixth Global Review of Aid for Trade, saying that when the
programme started in 2006, the annual disbursements were $20.8 billion, and in
2014 they were $42.8 billion.
The Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility (TFAF) has been very helpful. The
founders of the WTO did not consider capacity-building to be one of the columns
of the work of the WTO, but now everyone acknowledges that this is a major part
of our mission, he said.
Argentina, in reference to lessons learned from Bali and Nairobi, asked the DG
what lessons have been learned for MC11 in Buenos Aires, in terms of what
should be done the same and what should be done differently.
The DG replied that on the negotiating process, Bali was done relatively well
but it was different for Nairobi.
In Bali, he said that there was a handful of issues under discussion - public
stockholding, trade facilitation, LDC issues, cotton - and we were close when
we left Geneva. At Nairobi, this was not the case.
In Bali, there was no need for big meetings, there were some one-on-one
delegation by delegation discussions and a few bilaterals here and there. But
Nairobi was difficult.
He said that he had warned members about this before they left Geneva for
He is worried about it for MC11 as well. I don't see a lot of progress. We
don't need to despair just yet but we must walk a good deal of the road before
we get to Buenos Aires, he said.
Azevedo added that it is very important that we continue with a successful
outcome that delivers. We've had two successful ministerials in a row. We need
to maintain momentum.
But he said that Buenos Aires in any event will not be the end of the road. It
could be that we make progress in (some) areas and lock that progress in and
then we move on.
We need to move forward soon and we need to start looking at delivery-oriented
outcomes in the coming weeks and months, said Azevedo.
We need to walk a good deal of the way to an outcome here in Geneva and at this
point we have not yet even walked 20% of the road yet, he added.
Thailand asked the DG what was his feeling about trying to conclude issues like
domestic support and market access in agriculture. Have these issues been
sidelined by those who are seeking to talk about 'new issues' like e-commerce
and micro, small and medium sized enterprises?
The DG replied that we have to move ahead on the Doha issues. They are
He has been trying to push this forward but one of the problems with
agriculture is that we do not have a chair.
He said that you - the members - have the power to get a chair, so do it.
The WTO spent all of 2015 trying to address the three pillars of agriculture
and at MC10 in Nairobi, they could harvest export competition, but the other
two issues were absolutely impossible, said Azevedo.
There could be space for some progress possibly in trade-distorting domestic
support. In agriculture market access, he has not seen too much progress or
heard too much new, he said.
We have to align the stars and the way to do that is to get a chair, he added.