WTO Director-General Appointed for Second Term

Written by Sandy Williams

The World Trade Organization General Council announced that Roberto Azevêdo has been appointed for a second term as Director-General. The four-year term will begin on September 1, 2017.

Azevêdo, in his thank you remarks, said he believed the WTO was on the right path. He also asked members to show their support for the WTO.

“I ask you to stand up and make the case for the value that you see in trade and the trading system. This organization is here for a reason — to support economic development, growth and job creation, but also to support peace, cooperation and solidarity among nations. I can’t think of a more worthy, more worthwhile goal than that.”

At an event entitled “Making Trade More Inclusive” held February 28 at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Azevêdo talked about global trade.

“Everyone is talking about the backlash against trade and globalisation. There is a growing realization that globalisation could have been better managed — and that not enough has been done to spread the benefits and support those who have lost out. These communities deserve to be heard and responded to.”

A concern by many is that trade contributes to unemployment, said Azevêdo. Although trade can cause displacement, “the effect should not be overstated.” Azevêdo went on to note that technology and innovation play a much bigger part in job losses. He cited a study that said 80 percent of job losses in advanced economies are due to technology and innovation and that 50 percent of jobs in developed countries are at risk of automation, with higher number possible in many developing countries.

“Like trade, technological progress is indispensable for sustained growth and development. So the answer is not to reject these forces,” said Azevêdo. “We must embrace them and learn to adapt.”

Trade barriers are another problem global trade is facing.

“At the same time, we are hearing more and more talk about inward looking policies,” said Azevêdo. “But protectionism would not solve the challenges before us — in fact it would make them worse.”

Barriers are costly for consumers and can negatively affect GDP, he said.

“Moreover, trade barriers raised by one party leads to a response — and a potential domino effect,” said Azevêdo. “That’s why I have been urging caution here. We must not talk ourselves into a crisis, or even a trade war.”

“Trade has proven that it can work for the benefit of people. Inclusivity is the key word here. And I think there are a number of steps we can take to ensure that the gains of trade are better shared across society,” he said.

Among those steps is cooperation with governments to build policies to respond to economic challenges, ensuring people have the right skills to participate in today’s markets, and ensuring trade and labour policies complement each other. Trade reform is necessary as well as helping small and medium enterprises (SMEs) enter the export markets.

Connectivity and infrastructure are also issues to address including expanding access to e-commerce to the four billion people in developing worlds who are still offline, said Azevêdo.

“As part of the right policy mix I believe that trade has been — and will continue to be — a force for good,” said Azevêdo. He added, “The lessons of history tell us that we are all better off — more prosperous and more secure — when nations are trading together and cooperating under mutually-agreed rules.”

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