Annual Conference of the WTO Chairs Programme gets under way

WTO Chairs Programme Annual Conference 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Annual Conference of the WTO Chairs Programme, a partnership between the WTO and academic institutions, started on 2 November with a stocktaking of the achievements of the programme and with a call by Deputy Director-General Xiaozhun Yi for the Chairs to engage in greater networking and collaborative projects and to initiate regional projects across the developing world. The Chairs Programme, initiated in 2010 and now with 21 participating institutions, aims at enhancing knowledge and understanding of the multilateral trading system among academics and students in developing countries.

Opening remarks by DDG Yi
Ambassador Van Schreven,
WTO Chairs,
Advisory Board members,
colleagues from the Secretariat,
ladies and gentlemen.
Good morning. I am very pleased to be in your midst at this two-day annual conference of the WTO Chairs Programme.  
The WTO Chairs Programme (WCP) is part of the WTO's trade-related technical assistance programme to enhance the quality and level of participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system. The WCP's core objective is to enhance the knowledge and capacities of academics in developing countries in trade and WTO-related issues and to encourage dialogue between policy makers and academics.
In 2010, the first phase of the WTO Chairs Programme was launched. A total of 15 institutions in developing country members were awarded a WTO Chair, of which 14 are currently operating. Given the success of the programme, a second phase was launched in 2014 through the generous support of the government of the Netherlands. An additional seven institutions were selected to be part of the existing network. These institutions succeeded in a highly competitive selection process, involving nearly 80 academic applicants from around the world.
I would like to take advantage of Ambassador Roderick Van Schreven's presence today to express the WTO's thanks to the government of the Netherlands for the support that has been provided to the programme. Hartelijk bedankt!   
Let me also thank the Advisory Board members for their time, their willingness to put in the hard work to review the work of the Chairs, and for their wise counsel, insights and perspective. 

Purpose of the Annual Conference
The annual conference gives us time to take stock of the achievements of the programme, identify problems that have been encountered along the way and distil lessons that will help improve the direction of the programme in the future.  
For this purpose, we have brought together all the Chairs (from Phase I as well as Phase II), members of the Advisory Board, relevant WTO members and Secretariat staff to collectively conduct this assessment. I trust that with all this assembled brainpower in one room, we will arrive at useful insights and at practical and actionable recommendations on the way forward. 
Without intruding into the details and the substance of your deliberations, I believe that the first year of Phase II has been quite productive, across all three pillars, although like all beginnings there are bound to be teething problems. I hope these can be quickly ironed out and the programme will then go from strength to strength.  
I would also like to see the annual conference involve a reflection not only of what the Chairs can improve on, but more broadly what all the constituents of the programme, and that means the members of the Advisory Board and the Secretariat, can improve on. All of us should be in the hot seat, so to speak.
For its part, the Secretariat staff members have effected improvements in the way they interact with the Chairs and monitor their activities. The WCP team conducts regular video conferences (at least once every two months) with all the Chairs, giving the team a means to better communicate with them, review activities and plans, and collectively deal with problems whenever they arise. The regular video conferences also afford the WCP team a way of informing Chairs of the issues that loom large in the WTO's priorities so that they could take these into account in their work on the three pillars. We trust that the Chairs do not feel the video conferences to be intrusive. Certainly that is not the intention and we firmly believe they will only improve the running of the programme and benefit all parties.  

Looking forward
As much as an opportunity for reflection, the annual conference needs to be forward-looking as well.   
On the research side, I see the value of establishing a firmer connection between the research priorities of the WTO (as reflected in the programme of work of the Economic Research and Statistics Division) and those of the Chairs. We know of some immediate short term priorities. Small and medium-sized enterprises will be the topic of next year's World Trade Report. After the successful launch of the joint report on “The Role of Trade in Ending Poverty” by the World Bank and the WTO, both organizations want to build on that success by continuing work in this area. If there are opportunities for the Chairs to contribute to these research topics or if there are prospects to introduce them, even as sub-themes to already planned or programmed research by the Chairs, I would like them to be pursued.
In the medium to long term, the Secretariat will continue to do work on the topic of global value chains and try to expand the country coverage as well as use of the trade in value added (TiVA) database which it has jointly pioneered with the OECD.  
We would like to see greater networking and collaborative projects among the Chairs. I understand that the Chair holders are now working on a book that will include some of the papers presented at the Fifth Global Review of Aid for Trade in July this year on trade facilitation and inclusive growth.  I look forward to reading the book when it comes out in the last quarter of 2016.  
Phase II Chairs should look beyond collaborating among themselves and also engage with Phase I Chairs. There's plenty of scope for initiating regional projects given that we have Chairs liberally sprinkled across all the developing regions of the world. We have four WTO Chairs in the MENA region (Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Tunisia); the same number in the Asia Pacific region (Singapore, China and two Chairs in Indonesia); five in Sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Kenya, Mauritius, Senegal, South Africa); five in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile and Mexico); and two in the CEECAC region (Russian Federation and Turkey).
I offer these ideas as suggestions, not prescriptions, and hope that they can stimulate your discussions.  I wish all of you a very productive two days of reflection and deliberations. Thank you.