Villars Summit for a Sustainable Trading System

Statement by Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD

Villars Summit for a Sustainable Trading System

Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland
22 September 2023

Dear friend, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the WTO.

Dear Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the ITC,

Professor Dan Esty, from the Yale Center of Environmental Law and Policy,

Participants of the Remaking Trade Project,

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Global trade, as we know, is undergoing a profound – some even say “tectonic” – transformation and we have a role to play in this transformation, a very important role indeed, to ensure that this transformation is inclusive, transparent, and multilateral.

But we must also recognize that this transformation, driven by geopolitical and geoeconomic imperatives, also has a life of its own. Recent UNCTAD research has shed light on this dynamic.

This month we will release our Review of Maritime Trade, which shows that while maritime trade volumes are still increasing, and indeed are foreseen to keep doing so for the next five years (although at a lower rate of growth than the historical average), it is also true that trade routes and shipping patterns are already shifting.

A clear result of this dynamic is that the average distance travelled for several key commodities is increasing.

Shipments of oil cargo and grain, for example, travelled longer distances in 2023 than any other year on record. This has implications for shipping costs, imported food and energy inflation, especially in the countries that rely on trade the most, such as the Small Island Developing States and net food importing countries.

The key mission of the project that brings us together today, in all these 10 Remaking Trade Project workshops, is to jump collectively onto the wild horses of change, seeking to tame them before it is too late, and a new trade status quo arises, even more opaque, more uncertain, and more damaging to the planet than the one we are leaving behind.

Trade, as we know it, has been an engine for tremendous growth and development in the global economy. But it has also been fraught with challenges.

Premature de-industrialization, commodity dependence, volatile boom-bust cycles, concerns of countries at different levels of economic development, misalignment with climate imperatives and illicit financial flows are some of the key problems that all of us here, through our research and consensus building efforts, have identified over the years. The Rio Summit of 1992, the Marrakesh Agreement of 1994 (nineteen-ninety-four), the Doha Round in 2001, and all UNCTAD ministerial conferences through this period have recognized as much.

In our view, within these discussions, there are three policy areas in urgent need of implementation to deal with trade, climate, and sustainable development:

First. A framework to secure production or access to affordable clean energy and associated technologies for the transition to net zero.

Second. Institutional, policy, and financial support for developing countries in capturing trade opportunities arising from the energy transition.

Third. Advancing the conversation around trade and investment policies for NDCs, to ensure that this conversation is truly multilateral, coordinated, and evidence-based in relation to the needs and concerns of countries at different levels of development.

Your excellencies, dear friends,

These workshops and this summit could not have come at better, more urgent time for the world. I especially want to congratulate the organizers for bringing to it a multi-stakeholder approach.

UNCTAD is committed to working closely with all stakeholders to remake the face of global trade in a way that is equitable, sustainable, and just.

We are committed to working in tandem with other international organizations, with our friend organizations; WTO, ITC, and the plethora of regional bodies that have a say in how trade evolves.

UNCTAD provides a safe space to convene intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder meetings on trade and sustainable development to advance consensus, based on the evidence produced by our research and other partners contributions.

We also have special initiatives as part of our technical cooperation on trade and development and the interface between trade, investment, technology, digital economy, gender, and South-South trade cooperation.

So, as we wrap up our sessions, I really want to thank you all for your active participation, your intellectual contributions, and your unwavering commitment to the idea that trade can and should be a force for good in the world.

I thank you.