APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting — Session One: Supporting the Multilateral Trading System

Kazan, Russia

Speech, check against delivery

4 June 2012

Well thank you, Mr Chair, and could I both welcome the processes that are leading up to the Russian accession to the WTO, and also your opening remarks and your point just then about lowering transaction costs, which goes to the heart of the trade facilitation negotiations that are occurring in Geneva.

But to set the scene, we had a report from Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the WTO, and I think it’s fair to acknowledge that that is the most worrying report, by far, that the Director-General of the WTO has delivered. The report is based on the most recent assessment and that is that there is rising protectionist action, and an absence of reductions in protectionism, at the very time that it is crucial that we do see reductions in protection. Because, with the developments in Europe in particular, and the pursuit, for some time, of both fiscal stimulus and monetary stimulus, both of those having run their course, effectively, there is only trade liberalisation available as a long-term, sustainable response to the economic circumstances in which much of the world finds itself.

And unless and until we have that acknowledgement genuinely by the world, then we are going to get more pessimistic reports from the Director-General of the WTO and we will be wringing our hands and determining that we should have another statement coming out of the relevant regional body. We’ve had many of those, and I must say, to give credit to APEC, that this is arguably the most effective forum under which trade barrier reductions have occurred in pursuit of the Bogor Goals that were set back in the mid-1990s.

We have credibility as a group. The APEC community has credibility, and the statement that came from the Leaders last year was the best statement of all of the regional groupings, including the G20. So we do need of course to reaffirm that. We reaffirm it with the credibility that APEC has earned over more than 20 years, and if I could acknowledge around the table, APEC Ministers — Trade Ministers — have been on the right side of the argument in terms of trade liberalisation. But frankly, I think our negotiators in Geneva need to hear from us regularly, that we need to be actively involved in encouraging and even demanding that these negotiations be brought to a successful conclusion.

Japan graciously acknowledged the role of Australia in Paris just a few weeks ago, and we think that the priorities that have emerged from those discussions are, before the summer break, to complete the negotiations on LDC accessions and, during this year 2012, surely we can bring to successful completion the negotiations on trade facilitation.

And if I could simply reiterate, in response to arguments that trade facilitation is a developed country agenda and has nothing to do with the developing world, that is completely wrong, and quite outrageous for some countries, not here, to suggest that this is all about rich countries trying to get richer, and have multinational corporations benefit from trade facilitation.

Two-thirds of the estimated benefits of trade facilitation accrue to the developing world. This is a good thing to do, Mr Chair, and this is directly what you’re talking about in reducing transactions costs.

So, I’d suggest that we have a very strong commitment in our final declaration here, at APEC, to bring the trade facilitation negotiations to a successful conclusion in 2012. To give confidence to the system, to give confidence to the negotiators that we can then move on to other important items, but not wait for the grand bargain to descend from the sky. It’s not coming – it hasn’t come for ten years. And to pretend that something is magically going to happen is frankly absurd.

So let’s bring trade facilitation to a successful conclusion. And if I could just finish on this: the key to the conclusion is that the developed world supports capacity building amongst the developing countries and the least developed countries, so that they themselves can be confident that there will be aid for trade, there will be financial support for them to improve their customs procedures. It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation on the part of those countries, and I think we simply need some sensible text – not a two-year negotiation on the text – but some sensible text to explain that the developed world will stand by and support the developing countries, including the least developed countries, to improve their capacity so that they can sign the trade facilitation agreement with confidence. Thank you very much.

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