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Remarks by Ambassador Michael Froman to the Opening Plenary Session of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization

Remarks by Ambassador Michael Froman to the Opening Plenary Session of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization

Nairobi, Kenya
December 17, 2015

**As Delivered**

Good morning. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Deputy Director-General, fellow Ministers, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen. Let me thank our hosts, the Government of Kenya and President Kenyatta and Minister Mohamed, for the friendship and leadership they’ve shown in hosting this important event.

There’s a Kenyan proverb that states, “The day before yesterday and yesterday are not the same as today.”  That captures the crossroads we have arrived at, here in Nairobi.

Many days before yesterday, in 2001, our governments gathered to launch the Doha Development Round. Then, we hoped that we would be able to achieve a single undertaking that advanced a range of issues, with a particular focus on development.

More than fourteen years later, the conviction behind Doha – that trade-driven growth can be inclusive growth – remains just as powerful. We know that trade can be an engine for development, helping to replace vicious cycles of economic stagnation, poverty, and ill health with virtuous cycles of growth, rising incomes, and healthier societies.

That’s why the United States has been unwilling to allow global development to wait on Doha. As Doha has drifted, we’ve moved forward with preference programs designed to help developing countries harness the power of trade. Earlier this year, for example, we renewed the Generalized System of Preferences and extended an updated African Growth and Opportunity Act by a decade, the longest extension in that program’s history.  And through the bilateral, regional, and plurilateral agreements we have led, we have engaged developed and developing countries alike in tearing down barriers and expanding trade.

In important ways, the rest of the world has moved forward as well. Hundreds of agreements have been signed by scores of WTO members since Doha was launched – including work on this continent toward regional, trilateral and continent-wide free trade areas. New rules on critical 21st century issues, such as e-commerce and the digital economy, are emerging. The result is a growing gap – stalemate within Doha and progress outside it – which has led many to question whether the WTO’s role in trade negotiations will long endure.

But experience suggests that the WTO can deliver with pragmatic approaches:

  • Two years ago, at Bali, we reached agreement on the Trade Facilitation Agreement.  Ratification of that agreement, which would benefit developing countries even more than developed countries, is within reach.
  • Three accessions this year – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Liberia – remind us that WTO membership can catalyze important reforms.
  • Progress on the Environmental Goods Agreement is also promising.
  • Later today, a group of Members will announce their strong support for establishing substantive disciplines on, and enhancing the transparency of, fisheries subsidies.
  • And finally, just yesterday, we reached an agreement that expands the Information Technology Agreement, eliminating tariffs on an estimated $1 trillion of exports, 10 percent of all trade.

All of this suggests that a better path forward is a new form of pragmatic multilateralism. Moving beyond Doha doesn’t mean leaving its unfinished business behind. Rather, it means bringing new approaches to the table. Development is too important to leave to Doha.  All of us – and especially developing countries members – should find it unacceptable that the critical issues of Doha have been held hostage to an architecture that has demonstrated its incapacity to produce adequate results. 

Freeing ourselves from the strictures of the Doha framework would allow us bring new, creative approaches to those issues, as well as allow us to explore emerging trade issues, revitalizing the WTO and the multilateral trading system.

Let’s work together, starting here in Nairobi, to move beyond the cynical repetition of positions designed to produce deadlock and instead have an honest, forthright discussion about what’s doable in terms of a strong package of outcomes here in Nairobi.  And let Nairobi be remembered as the place where we began writing a new chapter for the WTO that reflects today’s economic realities. By doing so we can ensure that global trade will drive development and prosperity as strongly this century as it did in the last. By remembering that Kenyan proverb’s guidance, that yesterday is not today, we can begin to shape a better tomorrow. Thank you.