At a meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on 10 October, the heads of four international organisations issued a strong call to ease trade tensions and refocus on the importance of trade and the multilateral trading system in fuelling economic growth. This call was made by Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, together with IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, World Bank President Jim Kim and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, at a jointly-organised conference under the theme “How global trade can promote growth for all.”
WTO Director General Azevêdo said:
“The trading system is not perfect — but it represents the best efforts of governments around the world, working together for 70 years, to find ways to cooperate on trade issues. It took a lot of people and a lot of time to push the boulder this far up the hill. Even keeping it in place requires constant effort.
“Today the WTO covers around 98% of global trade. It is has overseen a historic opening of markets and integration of economies. Since 1980, average tariffs have been cut by two thirds. The system has provided stability and predictability in global trade — holding firm even during the financial crisis. And, as a result, it has helped to fuel unprecedented growth and development around the world, as well as a dramatic reduction in poverty. The system has real value. So we have to keep working at it.
“We have to explore all avenues which could ease the current tensions and strengthen the trading system. We all know the risks of further escalation — risks to the economy and risks to the trading system itself, which would multiply the economic risks over the long term. We can’t let that happen. We need trade and the trading system to play their part in fuelling growth — just as they have done so effectively for seven decades.”
DG Azevêdo’s full speech is available here.
Introductionary speech of Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF;
Director-General Azevedo, President Kim, Secretary-General Gurría, Ladies and Gentlemen: it is a pleasure for me to welcome you, on behalf of the IMF, to our joint conference on global trade.
Let me start by quoting Adam Smith, who once said: “ Commerce, which ought naturally to be among nations, as among individuals, a bond of union and friendship, has become the most fertile source of discord and animosity .”
These lines from The Wealth of Nations could have been written today—for they remind us that building a better trade system has never been an easy task.
Today’s generation of policymakers will be measured by their ability to help create a lasting bond of union and friendship, a trade system that works for all. How? I see three priorities:
First—we need to work together to de-escalate the current trade disputes and enter into a constructive discussion. Here I am hopeful because there is an appetite to improve and expand trade.
Think of the flurry of welcome discussions and proposals to strengthen the WTO.  Or think of all the new trade deals, such as TPP-11 and the African agreement, and the progress made on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal. So, let us use that momentum to turn tension into rapprochement.
Second—we need to join hands to fix and modernize the global trade system, not destroy it . This means looking at the distortionary effects of state subsidies, improving the enforcement of intellectual property rights, and taking steps to ensure effective competition—to avoid the excesses of market-dominant positions.
It also means unlocking the full potential of e-commerce and other tradeable services. In all these areas, we could use more flexible negotiating approaches within the WTO, including “plurilateral” agreements among subsets of the WTO membership that are ready to move ahead in certain areas.
Third—we need to implement domestic policies to ensure that global trade is more effective in delivering for people —all people.
We know that trade has helped transform our world—by boosting productivity, spreading new technologies, and making products more affordable.
Here in Asia, for example, trade has been instrumental in creating the world’s largest middle-classes. And around the globe, economic integration has boosted per capita incomes while creating millions of new jobs with higher wages.
And yet, we also know that some workers, and some communities, are heavily affected by the human cost of disruption—whether from technology, or trade, or a combination of both.
That is why we need more effective domestic policies, including scaled-up investment in training and social safety nets—so that workers can upgrade their skills, transition to higher-quality jobs, and earn more.
We can all do more—but we cannot do it alone. The IMF is supporting its members through analysis and policy advice.
This includes our most recent World Economic Outlook and a new study  on trade jointly produced by the IMF, WTO, and World Bank. It also includes our annual assessments of individual economies where we often advise on country-specific aspects of trade regimes.
And of course, we always provide a platform for sharing best practices and fresh ideas.
Today’s conference is a great example of how we can share ideas and work together to build a better global trade system. This is how we can help create lasting bonds of union and friendship among individuals and nations.
I look forward to our discussions. Thank you.
 Canada and the European Union have offered reform proposals.
 Joint Paper by IMF, WTO, and World Bank: “ Reinvigorating Trade and Inclusive Growth.”