Public governance

Launch of the OECD/WTO joint study: The Role of the WTO in Supporting International Regulatory Co-operation


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

03 July 2019 - Geneva, Switzerland

(as prepared for delivery)


Dear Director-General Azevêdo, Dear colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here at the World Trade Organization (WTO) with my dear colleague Director-General Roberto Azevêdo to launch our joint study ‘The Role of the World Trade Organization in Supporting International Regulatory Co-operation.’ The WTO is a key partner institution of the OECD across many policy areas, including digital trade, trade facilitation, agriculture trade, trade in services, and of course International Regulatory Cooperation; we have a long history of supporting the WTO by providing data and analysis relevant to ongoing multilateral trade negotiations.

Before I go into some of the insights of our latest joint work, let me provide some context of where we stand today.


Multilateralism is increasingly essential today

Like many other international organisations, our two institutions are first-row witnesses to these challenging times. Trade tensions keep escalating, they weaken investment prospects and growth potential, and put a strain on the international trading system. Our latest Economic Outlook, launched in May, shows that global growth is projected to slow to 3.2% in 2019 before edging up to 3.4% in 2020. This is well below the growth rates of the past three decades. Business investment growth – strongly linked to trade – is also set to slow to 1.8% per year over 2019-20, from around 3.5% per year in 2017-18.

In addition, public trust in governments remains at record lows. In fact, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that overall less than half of the general population – in countries surveyed – trust their government. At the OECD, we have also found that only one third of the population think they have a say in what the government does. Populism is growing in many countries, largely provoked by the anxiety of those who feel left out from the benefits of globalisation. And international organisations are being challenged to manage globalisation better.

At the same time, the challenges we are witnessing remind us of the importance of rule-based multilateralism. The world has never been as interconnected as it is today. Global trade intensity doubled between 1990 and 2015. Today, products cross many borders before being finally purchased in a given country. The increase in global carbon emissions, decline in biodiversity, growing migration flows as well as the omnipresent digitalisation of our economies and societies cannot be addressed by any country alone. In this respect, international regulatory co-operation is more crucial than ever.


The importance of international regulatory co-operation 

International regulatory co-operation can help us address many of these challenges. It is a fundamental building block of good regulatory practices, it helps us to learn from each other, in order to identify common approaches to common challenges, and to reduce costs of different regulations on citizens and businesses.

In the context of international trade, unnecessary regulatory divergences may impede the flow of goods and be costly for traders. Traders need to get information on what regulations apply in different countries. They also need to adapt to the different requirements that apply in different countries. And sometimes, they need to undergo duplicative processes to demonstrate that they comply with regulations in all the jurisdictions where their goods are sold.

International regulatory co-operation can help address these costs; it can take several forms, from the simple exchange of information on new regulations that may prevent divergences “by default”, to active adoption of similar approaches.


The OECD – WTO joint study

The joint study that we are launching today comes on the back of an important volume of work between our two organisations. At the OECD, we have spearheaded a partnership for effective international rule-making gathering some 50 IOs – to which the WTO secretariat is contributing actively – to share experience and improve the quality of international rules and standards and make them more relevant, inclusive and effective.

Moreover, the WTO provides meaningful opportunities for its 164 Members to establish the rules for a well-functioning multilateral trading system. This case study showcases the depths into which the WTO Agreements on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) allow for its Members to co-operate on regulatory matters and prevent unnecessary barriers to trade.

It also acknowledges the strong interlinkages between the trade disciplines and good regulatory practices and specifically highlights opportunities for taking our work forward and enhancing the benefits of the WTO. Let me provide some examples:


  • More transparency, through better feedback from foreign stakeholders, allows us to predict and mitigate unintended impacts of regulations across the border;

  • More and better co-operation among WTO Members can help mutual learning and result in similar policies across countries;

  • Greater uptake of good quality international norms and standards can offer a common approach to the same policy issue, as well as prevent regulatory arbitrage and foster regulatory alignment;

  • And, closer co-operation between the trade and regulatory communities in these areas can help reinforce the importance of these disciplines in the rulemaking process.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Co-operation is essential not only in difficult times, but also to maintain stability when business is ‘as usual’. Today, more than ever, it is crucial that we continue to work together, to pursue our goals in unison and ensure that consumers and businesses are adequately shielded.

The OECD remains committed to working with you and for you in designing, developing and delivering better policies for better lives. Thank you.



See also

OECD work on Public Governance


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