Government officials, business leaders, representatives from international organizations, and staff and friends of the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. to honor the director general of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo, and to celebrate a banner year for the multilateral trading system.
Coming on the heels of a breakthrough at the World Trade Organization on the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), USCIB’s annual award dinner gave the American business community a chance to thank Azevedo for his stewardship of the Bali agreement, which was brokered last December and once fully implemented is estimated to add $1 trillion to the global economy and create 21 million jobs.
The atmosphere was warm and celebratory at the Four Seasons on Wednesday evening as over 240 guests congratulated Azevedo over cocktails and dinner. United States Trade Representative Michael Froman gave special remarks in which he commended USCIB for its support of President Obama’s ambitious trade agenda and happily remarked that last week was “a good week for trade,” given recent progress on the TFA, the Information Technology Agreement and the G20 Summit in Brisbane where leaders listed trade as one of the main drivers of economic growth.
Five other officials joined Ambassador Froman, USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson, and International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and USCIB Chairman Terry McGraw in thanking Azevedo for breathing new life into the multilateral trade agenda, including director general of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Guy Ryder, Customs and Border Security Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, ICC Secretary General John Danilovich, BIAC (Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD) Secretary General Bernhard Welschke and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL).
“The WTO is essential, it’s rules-based, and we’ve got to get behind it.” – Terry McGraw
Robinson kicked off the dinner by welcoming USCIB’s guests and friends, and by formally thanking Azevedo for his commitment to realize the promise of the WTO’s Bali agreement.
“We are delighted to be honoring Roberto Azevedo of the WTO,” Robinson said. “Indeed, tonight is a celebration of global trade and investment, and its potential to contribute to better lives and help tackle shared global challenges.”
It was a bittersweet moment when Robinson told attendees that Azevedo could not be with them in Washington for the very reason he was being honored – Azevedo had withdrawn quickly to the WTO’s headquarters in Geneva to oversee the TFA breakthrough.
But as McGraw noted in his remarks during the dinner, it was ultimately “a good thing that Azevedo isn’t here. He’s doing what he has to do. The opportunity of trade facilitation came alive again.”
Although he could not be at the gala in person, Azevedo recorded his acceptance speech a few hours before the event in a video that was shown during the dinner.
“I am extremely proud to receive your backing in this way,” Azevedo said of the International Leadership Award. In his acceptance speech he gave a progress report on the TFA and assured viewers that he will continue to press ahead with a multilateral trade agreement.
Following the acceptance speech, McGraw presented Azevedo with the International Leadership Award, and he called on attendees to give their full support to the WTO. “We’ve got to do everything we can to elevate the prominence of the WTO,” he said.
With a new G20 agenda in which trade plays such an integral role, McGraw praised the progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and summed up the evening’s ethos by saying free trade “means more prosperity for our world, and that’s what we’re all about.”
“The stakes are huge…for the billions of people around the world that stand to benefit from expanding trade.” – Ambassador Michael Froman
After joking that building consensus among members at the WTO “is like herding animals: cats, frogs or venomous snakes, depending on the day,” Ambassador Froman commended Azevedo for his role in securing a meaningful outcome at the WTO’s ministerial in Bali last year. Froman noted that Azevedo’s perseverance during those contentious negotiations was essential for a successful deal.
The recent resolution to the TFA impasse is one of many victories for global trade that made last week “a good week for trade.”
Froman listed the week’s many accomplishments: on November 10, when President Obama convened a productive meeting of all the TPP leaders, on November 11, when Obama announced a major breakthrough with China to help pave the way for the Information Technology agreement – the first tariff elimination agreement in the WTO’s 17 years and an encouraging signal in the U.S.-China relationship, on November 12 when the U.S. and India reached another breakthrough that allowed the WTO to move forward on the TFA, and over the weekend on November 16 when U.S. and EU leaders committed to moving forward with a high-standard TTIP.
“It was a good week for trade,” Froman said. “I wish we could do that every week, but we’ll try and keep the momentum going.”
“We need to make sure that the trade debate doesn’t stay in the echo chamber.” – Congressman Peter Roskam
The dinner ended with congratulatory remarks from leaders of USCIB’s global network and a U.S. government representative.
Ryder commended the WTO for ensuring progress on international trade and for producing “results that everyone wants to see. He reminded attendees that since the financial crisis, in the G20 alone 54 million people lost their jobs, and that’s a gap that must be closed.
“This evening recognizes those who are closing the gap,” Ryder concluded.
Commissioner Kerlikowske said USCIB is a great partner in the Customs and Border Security’s mission to spread the supply chain, improve efficiency and facilitate the movement of goods and people across borders.
ICC secretary general Danilovich echoed those sentiments, saying “we’re warriors in this effort to bring about free trade,” and while he admitted that it’s “a tough racket” to get consensus at the WTO, the world is on the verge of a major breakthrough for multilateral trade, and Azevedo is helping to lead that fight.
Many speakers noted urged attendees to communicate why world trade is so important to the general public. “The multilateral trading system needs to be developed,” said Welschke. “We need to explain why trade is so important to growth. It’s an important mission.”
Congressman Peter Roskam concluded the evening’s speeches with a vigorous call to advocate for free trade at every opportunity and make the case for why multilateral trade liberalization is good for us all. With so much inaction on Capitol Hill, Congressman Roskam pointed out that the U.S. trade agenda is one of the few areas where there’s common ground on both sides of the aisle. For those of us who firmly believe that expanded trade will benefit all, we should take advantage of that.
Staff contact: Peter Robinson