Thanks very much Mr Chairman, colleagues, it's a great honour to address the Tenth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization and I do thank the Kenyan Government and the people of Kenya for the organisation and hospitality that we are all enjoying.
This year, we celebrate the WTO’s 20th anniversary and the first WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Africa. It is important to acknowledge the strong and committed contribution of African Members to the WTO.
Colleagues, we come together in Nairobi at a time when the WTO’s negotiating function faces a genuine crisis.
The Doha Round of negotiations has been underway for 14 years now. While we came close to conclusion in 2008, differences on key issues have not been bridged. In some cases, the differences have widened. It's now clear that a comprehensive outcome from the Round is no longer in prospect.
We have long tested the patience of the governments and the peoples that we represent. The credibility of the WTO is at stake. If this situation is allowed to continue unaddressed it will even start to undermine the critical dispute settlement functions of the WTO. As a strong proponent of the multilateral trading system, Australia is deeply concerned about this situation.
This is the context for our meeting this week. We have two key challenges before us; firstly, to work together to deliver a credible package of outcomes from this Doha Round. Australia will be an active and constructive participant in striving for balanced and fair outcomes.
We believe it would not be acceptable to finish MC10 without an outcome on export competition in agriculture. As chair of the Cairns Group, we have consistently advocated for agricultural trade reform as a core objective of the WTO. And earlier this week the Cairns Group reiterated this stance.
The Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries was formed in the 1980s to promote agricultural trade reform, yet many of the damaging trade issues which prompted its initial formation over 30 years ago, remain unresolved today. We are committed to working towards a credible export competition outcome that covers all of the issues where it is possible for us to reach agreement. Such an outcome would demonstrate that the WTO is capable of delivering outcomes which benefit both developed and developing members alike.
Our second task this week is to find a way to address the deep problems of the WTO’s negotiation function and move forward from Nairobi. Clearly, it would not be credible to reaffirm the Doha Round here in Nairobi. We all know that no one can see a finish line for the Doha Round, despite 14 years of negotiation. Equally, we know that there is no consensus to bring the Round to an end.
The issue is not whether Doha is alive or not. The issue is how do we collectively make the WTO’s negotiation function more effective? The issues are not going to go away, but the negotiating methodology is failing all of us. That should be our focus post Nairobi.
We should have a focussed period of reflection in 2016 to assess the ways the WTO can deliver future outcomes. Australia sees merit in exploring new approaches to global trade liberalisation and reform, approaches that have the prospect of delivering substantial outcomes in time frames that are meaningful to business and to other stakeholders. This is what ultimately will contribute to global economic growth.
I want to emphasise that Australia’s interest in different and more agile negotiating approaches does not in any way undermine our commitment to ensuring that trade rules work in the interests of all Members at all levels of development.
On the contrary, it is precisely because of our deep commitment to such outcomes that we are now supporting different approaches.
In considering new approaches, it is sobering to recall that the WTO has not been able to agree to lower one tariff multilaterally since the Uruguay Round. Not one tariff. Nor has it cut trade-distorting subsidies by one dollar. Not one dollar. That must be a sobering reflection for all of us. It must inject a note of urgency into how we address a negotiating function that addresses all the important issues that we have been looking at for 14 years.
At the same time, free trade agreements have been flourishing, delivering preferential market access, addressing new issues and developing rules for the contemporary global economy. There exist nearly 300 completed FTAs worldwide, and another 100 currently under negotiation.
It is not a question of developed versus under-developed. The TPP which just concluded had countries from Brunei and Vietnam all the way through to the United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan, and everything in between. It is not a matter of excluding developing countries from effective outcomes on preferential market access and developing rules for the contemporary global economy.
It is easy enough to dismiss a process or an organisation on the grounds of developed versus developing. There are effective programs of reform and free trade agreements, regional trade agreements and plurilateral agreements which are accommodating the genuine and legitimate interests of both developed and developing countries.
So there is clearly no lack of interest in pursuing trade liberalisation and reform through preferential arrangements. If we have 300 agreements concluded and another 100 currently under negotiation, clearly there is no lack of interest in pursuing liberalisation.
This raises the question of how the WTO can ensure the positives around free trade agreements are multilateralised through the WTO for the benefit of all members.
We believe that one of the possible alternative ways forward for the WTO is through plurilateral negotiations. When completed and implemented, the Information Technology Agreement and the Environmental Goods Agreement will provide extensive tariff elimination. This more flexible negotiating model should not be seen as weakening the WTO.
Rather, by delivering a new negotiating dynamic that generates benefits for business and consumers, it will bolster the WTO, putting it once more at the centre of efforts to underpin sustainable global growth.
Australia believes that full participation of members in the WTO is important to a strong and effective system. This year, we have committed support of some $AUD15 million to WTO-related initiatives on aid for trade. This includes contributions to:
- the Enhanced Integrated Framework to help LDCs address their constraints to trade,
- the World Bank's Trade Facilitation Support Program and to
- the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility, to assist developing countries implement the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.
This is logical, necessary and rational assistance for those who can afford to assist the developing world to participate fully in all the agreements that are reached.
We have also made a commitment to contribute to the Global Alliance on Trade Facilitation and helped to ensure a LDC trade target was included the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr Chairman, we in Australia are committed to helping every person across our global community to ultimately have the opportunity to enjoy the choices and the lifestyle, standard of living that most in the developed world take for granted.
To this end, Australia is committed to developing a way forward for the WTO that serves the interests of all members, but equally responds to the reality of the contemporary global trade and investment environment by changing and by adapting.
This agenda is quite simply, I say to you colleagues, too important to allow differences to be a stumbling block to finding agreement.
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