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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

07 September 2021

ES speech

Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen   

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Regional Consultation on Harnessing Trade for Faster Recovery and Sustainable Development, in preparation for the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC12). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily disrupted the existing regional and global supply chains in goods and services. But more importantly, countries in Asia and the Pacific have seen a reversal of their earlier socio-economic gains and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.  

The region was already falling short of its 2020 SDG milestones before the pandemic. With the pandemic, we find that the region may now achieve less than 10 per cent of the SDG targets. Therefore, it is key that policy responses support progress towards the SDGs to the maximum extent possible.  

This is no easy task, and will require resources, including from a dynamic and sustainable trade environment. Effective participation in the multilateral trading system has been acknowledged as the first-best approach to secure stable market access across the globe. In principle, it provides a universal system of enforceable rules to  balance stability and efficiency of international trade transactions.  The primacy of multilateral trade governance under the WTO has been weaved into the design of the SDGs.   

However, we are all aware that the global framework for rules-based trade, which also underpins many regional trade arrangements, is in crisis, with a once-strong enforcement mechanism now significantly weakened. Unabated trade tensions among leading trading nations and unchecked protectionism and nationalism in the wake of supply disruptions in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened economic uncertainty for all but especially for developing and least developed countries.  

Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen   

The MC12 outcome will have serious consequences for the future of the multilateral trading system and the ability of its members to rely on trade in pursuit of sustainable development. This is especially relevant for the economies of Asia and the Pacific, which have anchored their development on the opening of their economies to international trade and investment. 

I would like to recall our member States’ commitments – expressed at the ESCAP Committee on Trade and Investment – to open borders and markets; and to resist taking protectionist measures. Member States also agreed that promoting trade and investment was the core element of the strategy to recover from the crisis and build back sooner while considering legitimate public health concerns. With that in mind, I would like to invite delegates to  discuss how the multilateral trading regime can support trade and how it can contribute more directly to achieving the SDGs.  

Let me point to several relevant initiatives and knowledge products of the secretariat. For example, in  collaboration with UNCTAD, WTO, civil society and many high-level experts, the secretariat has prepared a Handbook on Provisions and Options in Trade Agreements for Trade in Times of Crisis and Pandemic. Furthermore, our annual Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report 2021 focuses on climate-smart trade and investment. Our theme study at the 2020 session of the Commission on Oceans also offers constructive ways to improve regional cooperation and address the issues surrounding fisheries subsidies, which will be discussed in this meeting. Lastly, ESCAP’s framework agreement on cross-border paperless trade facilitation, which entered into force earlier this year, provides a regional mechanism to support further discussion and implementation of some of the e-commerce-related rules discussed at the WTO. I invite all member States to join this agreement as soon as possible.  

These examples demonstrate ESCAP’s continuing readiness to support the Asia-Pacific region in becoming a leader in trade-led sustainable development.  

I wish you all a fruitful discussion during the coming sessions. 

Thank you very much. 

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