13th WTO Ministerial Conference , 26-29 February 2024, UAE

  • Speech

Hello everyone. I am pleased to be speaking to you as Australia's Minister for Trade and Tourism.

Trade is a great enabler – it has lifted millions of people out of poverty, and built strong and enduring relationships between countries.

The Australian Government believes in an open, rules-based global trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its core. This system has underpinned global economic security and economic prosperity.

However, the global trading system faces major challenges.

Members are dealing with the consequences of state intervention in industrial sectors, unilateral environment measures, inadequacies in agricultural trade rules, food insecurity, worsening inequality, and more. Such challenges will not be solved by unwinding the rules-based global trading system.

The thirteenth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference provides a valuable opportunity to deliver necessary reforms, which will improve the World Trade Organization's ability to respond to these challenges and serve the interests of all Members.

To do so, we Ministers should launch new discussions on issues such as industrial policy, environment, and social and economic inclusion.

The Conference will be an opportunity to build confidence in the effectiveness of trade rules, and to help developing countries maximise the benefits of open trade.

At the Conference, Australia's top reform priority will be to make as much progress as possible towards fixing the dispute settlement system. A fully functioning system would ensure the rights and obligations of Members can be enforced, providing confidence in the predictable enforcement of global trade rules.

Australia, particularly as Chair of the Cairns Group, also wants to find a way to address the inadequacy of rules on agricultural trade – to make this sector stronger and fairer. It will not be possible to meet global food security, climate, and biodiversity goals, without making progress on agricultural trade reform, including production and trade-distorting subsidies.

We have an opportunity to build on the the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement which was a key outcome of the Twelfth Ministerial Conference. We want to bring it into force and strengthen it, through agreeing to new rules that will limit subsidies contributing to the overfishing of seriously depleted resources.
We are proud to support the Fisheries Funding Mechanism, which will support developing countries implement and benefit from the Agreement.

Renewing the moratorium on imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions would sustain the World Trade Organization's most important contribution to the digital economy. Extending the moratorium is key to supporting greater predictability and confidence in the digital environment for developing countries, for small businesses, and for women-owned enterprises and remote communities.

Re-vitalising rulemaking in the World Trade Organization will be a crucial reform. I wish to underscore the importance of open and transparent plurilateral initiatives. Joint Statement Initiatives have already delivered rules to facilitate high-quality investment and break down behind-the-border barriers to services trade. We are also close to finalising an initial package of digital trade rules. These innovative rulemaking efforts are critical to ensuring the World Trade Organization keeps pace with how modern trade is done.

International rules matter. We live in a time of increasing geopolitical tensions threatening to undermine global prosperity, stability, and security. The Conference is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance we place on those rules.

The World Trade Organization cannot be missing in action on the major challenges facing the global trading system. A reform-driven agenda will be crucial for the legacy of the Conference and the strength of the organization.

Finally, I look forward to welcoming Timor-Leste and Comoros to the World Trade Organization. These accessions are a welcome endorsement of the organisation and the rules-based order.

Thank you to the United Arab Emirates for hosting this year's Ministerial Conference. Australia looks forward to working with you all to advance our shared interest in open rules-based trade.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: 02 6277 7420
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