Speech by Minister Skinnari at WTO in Geneva
Speech by Minister Skinnari at WTO in Geneva, 3 July 2019
Check against delivery
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to attend this WTO Global Review on Aid for Trade and have the chance to address such a distinguished audience gathered here today.
This is also a very special occasion for me since on Monday Finland took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
During our EU Presidency, our objective is to advance the EU trade agenda, strengthening the multilateral trading system and taking forward EU’s bilateral trade relations.
Our government believes in an ambitious, open and rules-based trade policy. In the era of global trade tensions and protectionism, we need to defend the multilateral trading system and common rules, as well as resist inward-looking tendencies and creation of new trade barriers.
Smaller and poorer countries are prone to suffer most of these protectionist tendencies. Closing of borders would threaten to reverse those development achievements that international trade integration has brought to many developing countries during the last couple of decades.
Assisting weaker nations to be able to seize fully the opportunities offered by trade opening is an essential part of the rules-based multilateral trading system and at the heart of the Aid for Trade philosophy.
The European Union is a strong supporter of the Aid for Trade Agenda. Together the EU and its Member States are the leading Aid for Trade provider, accounting for nearly one third of global Aid for Trade flows.
Finland is also a longstanding supporter of Aid for Trade and an active partner since the launch of the initiative nearly 15 years ago.
In fact, it was during our last EU Presidency in 2006 when the EU decided to draft its first Aid for Trade Strategy. After 10 years of its adoption, this EU Strategy was updated in December 2017 to better reflect the realities of today’s trade and development agenda highlighting topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global value chains and the role of private sector.
* * *
Finland’s trade and development policy objectives are well in line with the global Aid for Trade agenda.
We strongly believe that trade openness creates economic benefits. Our own economy has grown substantially because of the integration to the international trading system, accompanied by gradual diversification of our export base, and increasing of its value added contents. Over the decades, we have been able to transform our economy from a low value added raw materials producer to an exporter of high tech products. This is quite an achievement since Finland got its independence just 101 years ago.
* * *
The topic of this plenary session is “Seizing opportunities for economic diversification”.
The key question is how facilitate the private sector to add value to existing products or moving into new products. Diversification requires new investment; therefore, we need to look at how to attract investment and how to change the underlying factors that affect investment flows. Furthermore, investments mean also better productivity.
Let me highlight a few issues that I believe are crucial in this respect and particularly relevant for the trade community.
- Regional economic integration. Regional markets can offer important opportunities for diversification and expansion of exports. For Finland, the EU market accounts for about 60 percent of our goods exports. This is also why the improvement of the functioning of the single market is very important to us.
The recent entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is a great achievement and could generate important development benefits in the future.
Together with our EU partners, we are ready to support African economic integration processes with a vision to form an EU-Africa Free Trade Agreement in the future.
Our new government will also prepare a comprehensive Africa strategy, which will be based on the 2030 Agenda with an aim to expand our political and economic interaction with African countries. Africa is and will also be in the future the main focal area of our development cooperation.
- In the global value chains of today, as components move across borders multiple time, we need smart and smooth borders. Tapping into global value chains cannot be achieved with protectionist measures. On the contrary, they are like shooting oneself in the foot. Implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement plays an important role in bringing down trade costs.
- Digitalization and e-commerce offer new opportunities for developing countries. Digitalization makes the physical location less important. Digitalization brings also challenges, such as secure data protection. New work force skills and infrastructure investments are needed. Well functioning digital services and logistics are essential for connecting into global value chains.
- Transparent rules. When we look at investment, it is much more about modern rules than about tariffs. In order to attract investment, we need to have smart and business-friendly rules in place for services, intellectual property rights and public procurement, to name a few.
All these areas I have mentioned, are key parts of the Aid for Trade agenda and are supported by programs aimed at improving trade policy and regulations, building productive capacity and supporting trade-related infrastructure.
* * *
One key priority area in Finland’s development policy is to support our partner countries to develop their own economies stronger, more dynamic and more diversified. We will continue to work towards this aim with our multilateral trade and development partner organizations, international financial institutions and through our bilateral development programs as well as civil society organizations.
We will also continue supporting private sector investments that promote sustainable development in the developing world. Mobilizing job-creating investments is an essential part of the Aid for Trade agenda.
The role of trade for development is well acknowledged in the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. It is clear that reaching the SDGs will require an active role by the private sector in creating jobs, tax revenues and producing solutions for our common development challenges such as the climate change.
It is important to highlight that it is not only the trade volumes that matter, but the quality of jobs and the environmental and social impacts of production as well.
This is also important for developing countries since the environmental and social sustainability of production is becoming an increasingly important factor in entering into global supply chains.
Our new government will pay more attention to the environmental dimension, labor rights and gender equality in our trade policy. We will also support measures that improve the impacts of trade and sustainable development chapters of EU’s free trade agreements and policies that support the uptake of responsible business conduct.
Trade policy can also support fight against climate change. For example, we should further liberalize trade of environmental goods and formulate policies that support circular economy. Our government is also committed to increase our climate financing in line with the Paris Agreement.
* * *
Ladies and gentlemen,
Lastly I would like to pay attention to another long-term key priority of our development policy, which is the rights and status of women and girls.
This is not only a deep-rooted value in our society but makes significant economic sense. I believe that one of the reasons why Finland was transformed from a very poor country to a modern high-income country is the fact that both women and men are educated and in working life. As women and men are active contributors to the economy, and have access to education, health, assets, financing and employment, this enables Finland to be more efficient and innovative in business and trade as well as in other sectors of life.
The rights and empowerment of women and gender equality are an important part of our Aid for Trade agenda, as well. I would like to take the opportunity to highlight that we are organizing two side-events on these issues here at the Global Review. One with the International Trade Centre ITC, the United Kingdom and Ireland, which is starting right after this event at twelve thirty.
And another event tomorrow with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on Women's enhanced participation in trade through technological upgrading in agriculture.
I wish you all very productive discussions here during the next three days, taking this important agenda forward. Thank You.