Lamy opens WTO Chairs Annual Conference

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Director-General Pascal Lamy hailed WTO’s support to trade research in 15 universities all over the world in opening the second WTO Chairs Annual Conference in Geneva on 21 June 2011. “By providing financial support to universities to undertake research, teaching, curriculum development and outreach activities, we seek to fortify capacities and efforts aimed, ultimately, at strengthening the ability of governments to identify, articulate, promote and defend their trade policy interests,” he said. This is what he said:
Good morning to you all and welcome. It is just over a year since we were last together in this configuration, on the occasion of the launch of the WTO University Chairs Programme. I remember that we had a sense of optimism and high expectations, as we sought to build upon an idea that was somewhat novel for us. This was the idea that we should promote knowledge, increased sophistication in policy analysis, and negotiating effectiveness through a partnership with developing country scholars and institutions. We had, of course, already been working for several years with academic communities in developing countries through the joint teaching of government officials in regionally-based trade policy courses.
We still do this, but the Chairs Programme seeks to forge even deeper links between policy-relevant scholarly analysis and the policy-making process. By providing financial support to universities to undertake research, teaching, curriculum development and outreach activities, we seek to fortify capacities and efforts aimed, ultimately, at strengthening the ability of governments to identify, articulate, promote and defend their trade policy interests.
So, the first question is whether that sense of optimism and those high expectations that I referred to a moment ago have been satisfied in the first year of our new programme. You will certainly be spending a good deal of time talking about this for the rest of the day. As far as I am concerned, I have looked at the summary of the reports that the WTO Chair-holders prepared to cover the first year of their activities, and overall I am impressed with what has been achieved so far by most of the Chair-holder institutions, under the guidance provided by you, the Chairs.
I think you have all seen the summary matrix of activities drawn from your individual reports, along with commentaries and observations made by members of the Advisory Board and members of the Secretariat with whom you have been working. The comments are generally positive and encouraging, although certain suggestions have been made, for example, about trying to augment the research content of the output in some cases, the possibility of greater coordination on curriculum development, and the need to concentrate the use of funds within the broadly set parameters of the programme. I think these are all useful comments and doubtless you will talk more about them. But as I said at the outset, in my view we can be pleased with the overall results of this programme in its first year of operation. We all look forward to strengthening and improving the programme in the years ahead.

There are many possibilities within the programme for extracting greater benefits and building synergistic relationships. I should like to say a little more about this. Some of the institutions holding chairs have already started to collaborate among themselves on joint projects. I have in mind, for example, the joint conference and publication planned for October this year by ITAM in Mexico and the University of Chile on policy challenges at the interface of trade and the environment. I have no doubt there are economies of scale in such collaboration, but even more importantly I believe that working closely with one another is an enriching experience.
We have always had the intention of seeking to broaden the participation of the programme beyond the fourteen — now fifteen — universities where the chairs are located. I am thinking in particular of the links that could be forged between institutions of higher learning from across the world within the framework of the Chairs Programme. An example of such collaboration is that between the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade and the University of Barcelona. Such joint activities can take many forms, from joint research to student and faculty exchanges. While the amount of funding provided by the WTO for this programme limits such opportunities, I believe that well-conceived proposals might find funding favour from other sources. I do not need to make the case for this kind of co-operation to this audience.
Another way in which we are seeking to deepen and extend activities falling under the rubric of the WTO Chairs Programme is by linking up with Chair-holders in organizing and delivering technical co-operation and training activities falling under the WTO's programmes of assistance to developing countries. I am aware of such activities that have either been carried out or are planned with the University of Nairobi, with the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade and with the Universitas Gadja Mada in Indonesia.
I consider that one of the strong points of the Chairs Programme is that it firmly places the Chair-holders and their host institutions in the driving seat. It is you who design and execute the programmes. But with this comes the responsibility of reporting on activities, ultimately to the membership of the WTO, in whose name the programme is established. I think the first year's reporting worked well, but we are going to have to strengthen this function and, I hope, share more of the output among the group. In this, the WTO Secretariat must also play its part, in particular by providing the programme's website with the necessary functions to allow easy communication and exchange among the Chairs community. We are working on this and should have a fully developed website during the course of 2011.
In addition, at the end of the second year of the programme, we intend to organize a deeper assessment of the programme through an examination of activities and output, we hope with the assistance of some members of the Advisory Board. We are in fact working hard in all areas of our technical co-operation to monitor and better assess our activities through Results-Based-Management techniques. We are fortunate under the Chairs Programme that we have concrete and more easily assessed output than is the case for some of our older activities. This makes the application of RBM assessment techniques a little more straightforward. You will be hearing more about these efforts in due course.
Finally, I should like to welcome a new university into the programme — the National University of Singapore — which hosted the Regional Trade Policy Course for the Asian region until last year. We look forward to working with the NUS.
It would be remiss of me not to thank the Advisory Board, particularly the active members, for offering their valuable time, and drawing on their experience, to guide this programme as we seek to strengthen it. You are busy people, and I am most appreciative of the efforts you are making on behalf of the WTO Chairs Programme.

It only remains for me once again to welcome you to the WTO, to thank you all for your efforts, and to wish you well in your endeavours. I would also like to emphasize that we in the Secretariat remain willing and ready to assist Chair-holders in their activities. We have in the Secretariat an excellent and dedicated team which is working with you and for you under the leadership of Patrick Low and Hakim ben Hammouda. Everyone in the Secretariat knows that it is rare that I make compliments. So let me, for once, do it. They deserve it. I look forward to seeing you again next year, if not before.