Flexibility, inclusiveness and transparency are needed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to prevent fragmentation, its director general Roberto Azevedo said on Wednesday.
He was speaking before ministers and trade ambassadors on a discussion on "plurilaterals" which consist of select groups from the multilateral trading system and they are often more akin to regional trading groups.
Azevedo said people often see WTO disciplines as a monolith, "or as a rigid, one-size-fits-all set of rules" after its ministerial meeting in December in Buenos Aires ended without a conclusive agreement under its system of consensus which needs wide-ranging support negotiations to succeed.
However, he said the monolith scenario is far from true and that while its core rules do apply to everyone, specific obligations vary considerably across the membership.
"Flexibility will not lead to fragmentation. In fact, in a system with 164 members of different sizes, different priorities and different stages of development, flexibility is precisely the way to avoid fragmentation," said Azevedo.
The success of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) which cuts outs clogging trade regulation has been a great, galvanizing, uniting force for WTO members said the director-general.
He said it showed that flexibility and the search for common ground can deliver benefits for all.
One hundred and thirty-one or 80 percent of WTO members have now ratified the TFA agreement with Namibia as the most recent, having submitted its instrument of acceptance on Feb. 9.
"The TFA structure is certainly not a panacea. It will not work every time and in every circumstance. But it shows that solutions can be found if we are truly committed to multilateralism," said Azevedo.
He said, "We must ensure the WTO is as responsive to members' interests as possible -- and that, working together, we can deliver the positive results that we all want to see."