Opening Remarks by the Chair of the Special Virtual Forum WTO Trade Ministers Roundtable, Hon Faiyaz Koya

Honorable Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport – Fiji, Chair of the Forum Trade Ministers

FORUM SECRETARY – 28 August 2020


Your Excellencies,

Honourable Ministers,

Secretary-General of the Forum Secretariat,

Senior Trade Officials,

Bula Vinaka, Good morning and a very warm welcome to you all for joining us in this virtual Special Forum World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Ministers Roundtable.

I wish to register my appreciation for your participation in today’s Special Virtual Forum WTO Trade Ministers Roundtable. It seems like we will be doing more meetings virtually now, since this has become a new normal for all of us!

I acknowledge the Secretariat for facilitating and coordinating this Roundtable. I believe this is the first time that Forum WTO Members are coming together to discuss the WTO Director-General (D-G) selection process. Never before have Pacific WTO Member states actively participated in scrutinising the candidates for the WTO D-G position.

Today’s roundtable discussion is a testimony of our growing commitment towards the multilateral trading system. This is why, it is important to put into perspective the way forward for multilateral trading system and where the Pacific fits into this equation.

Honourable Ministers,

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected almost all economies. The Pacific has not been immune to this, especially the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Region. The economic impacts include our respective tourism sectors coming to a grinding halt and the flow of goods and services and the global value chains (GVCs) being critically disrupted.

The initial instinctive reaction to the COVID-19 crisis by most countries was to look inward and act alone. As a result, borders have closed, supply chains have been affected and regional economic activity have fallen.

This has created considerable global uncertainty. As a result, the world merchandise trade is forecasted to contract by between 13% and 32% in 2020. The fall in trade that we are now seeing is historically large and it will be the steepest on record.

The global growth projections have been revised down further to a 5 percent contraction –– the sharpest fall in one hundred years. The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked the deepest recession of our lifetime. Many of our most important industries have been victims of the most severe global recession in a century, a COVID-fueled collapse for which no nation was prepared.

Honourable Ministers,

Director-General Azevedo’s departure comes at a critical time for the organization and the global trading system. A long-running criticism of the WTO is that decisions are often taken by a handful of powerful nations, then presented to the other members as a fait accompli.

The incoming D-G may not be able remove power politics from the WTO, but they can change how debates and negotiations are structured, starting by giving voice, recognition and equal platform to Small Island Developing States of the Pacific.

As trade and power rivalry grows amongst bigger nations, the next D-G will need to work hard to ensure that the voices of smaller players continue to be heard, while keeping discussions productive.

There is broad consensus that the WTO needs reform, but no consensus on what these reforms should look like.

Today we will have an opportunity to interact with the candidates to learn how they aim to advance the WTO reform debate, demand leaders’ attention, broker important deals, such as the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. The successful candidate should be able to galvanise efforts towards finding an inclusive and balanced way-forward and offering a positive narrative for the organisation’s future role.

Honourable Ministers,

An effective D-G must combine technical knowledge with creativity, leadership and political judgement. They must have boundless energy and near infinite patience. They must be seen as a fair and honest broker, trusted by all 164 Member countries, without favouring any particular one. Most importantly, they must have ambition and vision complemented by the humility to maximise the limits of their influence.

It is very clear that we need comprehensive reform processes to align the multilateral trading system with the realities of the 21st century commerce. If the job was tough in normal times, at present, it is even tougher. Nonetheless, the new D-G will have the opportunity to make a big difference.

New issues such as E-Commerce, MSMEs, Climate Change, including the remaining Doha Development Agenda (DDA) issues must be tackled as a matter of urgency in order to realise progress.

It is equally important that the genuine developing economies, are accorded protection and are in need of a strong, effective and functioning multilateral trading system, which recognises Special and Differential Treatment and development objectives.

Honourable Ministers,

It is an opportune time for the Pacific Region to become more vocal and visible in our approach to show that our votes matter. We have more to contribute than just making numbers in the WTO. A strong Pacific trading bloc equals a strong multilateral system and a strong WTO.

For this session, I encourage frank and constructive discussions with the candidates, but strictly adhering to the time limit. The Secretariat has prepared some framing questions, which only set the scene and provides a guidance for interactions with the candidates. You are welcome to address specific question to each candidate, if you deem necessary.

Vinaka Vakalevu.



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