‘Russia will never be subject to discrimination’ – WTO head

‘Russia will never be subject to discrimination’ – WTO head
The biggest gain for Russia in joining WTO is that it will be never be subject to discrimination according to its rules, Roberto Azevedo, the head of the World Trade Organisation, told RT.

‘There will always be trade tensions’ said Roberto Azevedo speaking about the issues of WTO policies and the world economy on RT’s SophieCo.

RT:Many would argue that trade disputes have been rising in the recent years. Why have they flourished, in your opinion, and what can be done to ease these tensions?

Roberto Azevedo: Trade disputes are nothing new. I mean, they have been there since the beginning of time, since 1947 trade disputes exist. That’s what the [WTO] system is for. The system is precisely to ease those tensions, to allow members to find solutions, to negotiate outcomes which are acceptable to both of them. I have been negotiating, and I’ve been a participant in the WTO since 1997 and over all these years I have never seen a moment, a moment – not a year – a moment when trade tensions were not there.

RT:So you don’t think this is a new thing of present – that tensions are rising?  You think it’s always been there?

RA: Absolutely not. They’ve been there always. And, frankly, they will always be there.

‘Regional unions are not beginning of an end for WTO’

RT:But also there are more and more regional unions being formed around the globe, the likes of the Mercosur, the EU, and the Customs Union of Belarus- Kazakhstan-Russia for instance. Can these grow and develop within the organization; this is a beginning of an end for WTO?

RA: On the contrary, I think they help; they are building blocks towards trade liberalization. These blocks, these groups, these customs unions, these free trade areas – they don’t come up without disciplines. In order to be set up, they have to follow disciplines and these are multilaterally negotiated disciplines which ensure that these blocks, these free trade areas will not raise barriers, on the contrary, that they are going to lower tariffs and begin to ease countries into a more open environment.

RT:But what about the US and EU agreement that’s probably going to be signed soon – the Free Trade agreement, which is said to be an alternative to WTO just because it will control 30% of global trade. What would you do? What’s with the position of WTO after this agreement will be signed?

RA: The same as any other, this is an agreement that will help to move forward trade liberalization. I think that these agreements are very important, they complement the multilateral trading system, but they don’t substitute the multilateral trading system, for several reasons: they are more limited in terms of coverage, there are fewer countries that participate in them, and these agreements are limited in terms of disciplines that they can establish. They won’t address subsidies, for example. They will very hardly address the new forms of protectionism which is coming into place. They will never address this kinds of protectionism globally. The WTO would, but these agreements would not. They are welcome, they are important, they are a step in the right direction, but they are not to be considered as substitutes and will never substitutes for the multilateral trading system. 

The new Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo.(AFP Photo / Alain Grosclaude)

RT:All I am saying is when we are talking about developed countries what we really mean is America and the Western EU countries – if those two blocks merge, wouldn’t there be a threat of them forging a new rules of the game towards everyone else?

RA: I don’t think so, because these blocks, in the US and the EU – they already are very open economies and the fact that they are having an agreement that allows goods and services to flow freely between them doesn’t change the picture very much. What they are actually going to do is going into the area of disciplines; they are going to negotiate regulations which are more harmonized between those two. And that could be helpful, I think, because it diminishes the number of differences and regulations that members have to face when they try to sell their products and services in one or another country. At the same time, it helps to move the environment of negotiations forward. The more countries are engaged in trade liberalization, in negotiations such as these, the more helpful it is for the multilateral trading system to follow and to act in a similar way.

‘Russia will never be subject to discrimination’

RT:Russia and Brazil – your home country – are members of both WTO and the BRICS club of emerging economies, also embracing China, India and South Africa.  How much do you think BRICS can continue developing into a new driving force in the world?

RA: For some time, I have no doubts about that. Even now, as the developed world is recovering and beginning to grow more rapidly that it was before, the BRICS are still major elements for growth in the world economy, and I don’t think that’s going to change very soon. One of the reasons is that they are developing economies, they are still growing, they have incorporated large masses of people into the formal economy – so this phenomenon is not going to change very soon, which doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a club apart – they are just becoming part of the more globally integrated world economy.

RT:What would you say Russia has gained from joining WTO, taken into consideration both the state of the Russian economy and also the way things are looking at the WTO at this present moment?

RA: The biggest gain for Russia is that it will be never be subject to discrimination according to WTO rules, so anybody who wants, for example, to impose protectionist measures on something that would impede Russian products on their territory, they would have to follow the rules, and that was not the case before. And you could see unilateral action for example being adopted against Russia – not anymore! Any unilateral action or any discriminatory action against Russia would possibly lead to dispute settlement and eventually to sanctions against the country imposing that. So, I believe that Russia has had a lot to gain in joining, and will be one of the major beneficiaries of this system.

RT:There’s a question that has been keeping us scratching our head for a while –Russia sought WTO membership for nearly 2 decades, and then suddenly took a cooler approach to joining, but – it was then accepted, even though nothing really had changed in Russia’s economy. What exactly made the accession possible; can you explain that for our viewers?

RA: Well, it’s essentially a negotiation among members, and these negotiations take time. The reasons why one particular accession becomes ripe to be concluded vary from case to case. In the case of Russia it was about lengthy negotiations which were getting mature enough, and the political will on the part of members and on the part of Russia to conclude it. Political will is a very important element in accession negotiations and it was there for Russia. So that, I believe, was the major key component that allowed the accession to be successfully concluded.