Trading a path to growth
In 2015, the international community took some historic steps to promote sustainable development, from the United Nation's new sustainable-development goals to the Paris agreement on fighting climate change.
Adding to these accomplishments, late last December World Trade Organisation (WTO) members delivered a set of very significant results at our Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. As we look ahead to 2016, we must seek to capitalise on this progress. The work to promote growth and development continues, and trade will be more important than ever in this effort.
For island states like Jamaica, trade is an essential means to secure growth and development. Smaller economies can often face specific challenges to their integration into global trading flows, such as limited scale or high trading costs.
These challenges must be addressed, and the WTO provides Jamaica with an invaluable platform to do so. At the WTO, all members have a seat at the table - and Jamaica is often a very prominent, constructive voice in multilateral trade negotiations.
Indeed, Jamaica played an important role in securing the recent success in Nairobi, where WTO members agreed on a set of very important results. These included abolishing agricultural export subsidies in order to help the process of levelling the playing field for farmers in poorer countries so they can compete in global markets.
We also took steps towards improving food security, and to help least-developed countries to benefit from trade. In fact, we delivered some of the biggest reforms in global trade policy for 20 years. These breakthroughs will have real-world economic effects, which can help to improve people's lives - particularly in developing countries.
The success of Nairobi builds on the results of our Ministerial Conference in Bali, which included the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
By streamlining, standardising, and simplifying border processes around the world, this agreement will boost global trade by an estimated $1 trillion each year, helping to create around 20 million jobs.
Jamaica's ratification of this agreement will do much to help cut trade costs, speeding up the flow of goods through the Kingston Container Terminal and helping to improve the economy's ability to trade.
Together with the many reforms Jamaica is undertaking to improve the business climate, trade is a vital ingredient in boosting economic development.
So multilateral negotiations in the WTO are starting to deliver concrete results, but we should not rest on our laurels. The recent negotiating successes have been achieved despite some persistent and fundamental divisions between members on the way forward for multilateral trade negotiations.
These divisions are one reason why countries have been putting their energy into other non-multilateral trade initiatives, such as bilateral and regional trade deals. Jamaica itself is part of several ventures of this nature, such as CARICOM. Steps to improve trade and integration at the regional level can be very important in boosting trade, but effective global cooperation on trade remains essential.
Despite the important differences I have mentioned, there is agreement on many fronts. For example, it's clear that everyone wants to tackle the big, outstanding trade issues, such as agriculture (market access and domestic subsidies would be obvious priorities), market access for industrial goods, services, and fisheries subsidies - to name just a few.
In addition, there is a strong desire to maintain development at the centre of our efforts. We need to build on these elements of agreement and learn from our recent success. We need to take a flexible approach so that we can deliver the much-needed reforms to global trade rules.
It is essential that all countries can benefit from a reformed, modernised global trading system. The WTO can go further. It can and must deliver more and at a faster pace to support growth and development. The world is now deciding on the future of global trade negotiations. This debate has already started.
All WTO members have a responsibility to engage in this pressing discussion, and I have no doubt that Jamaica's contribution will be as important as ever.
-Roberto Azevêdo is the director-general of the World Trade Organisation.