Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala concluded a two-day trip to Brazil on 18-19 April, her first to Latin America as head of the WTO, meeting government officials, parliamentarians and businesspeople. She thanked Brazil for its constructive role in the WTO, highlighted the country’s potential role in alleviating risks of a food security crisis linked to the conflict in Ukraine and acknowledged the government’s concerns about the difficulties in securing fertilizers. She also sought Brazil’s continued and strong support for multilateralism and a fruitful 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12).
DG Okonjo-Iweala met President Jair Bolsonaro, Foreign Minister Carlos França and other senior government officials in Brasilia on 18 April. She also held meetings with parliamentarians and agribusiness sector representatives and delivered a lecture at the Rio Branco Institute, Brazil’s diplomatic academy.
The Director-General thanked President Bolsonaro for Brazil’s commitment to the WTO and its pragmatic and forward-looking positions in negotiations towards new agreements and in the day-to-day work of the Organization’s bodies. She urged Brazil to play an active role in adding to global food supplies to mitigate a global food security crisis brought about by the reduced availability of agricultural exports from Russia and Ukraine, a call which was well received by the President. She acknowledged President Bolsonaro’s concerns about the conflict’s impact on trade in fertilizers, a key input for increasing yields that would allow Brazil to expand food exports to help combat food insecurity.
“We need those of our members who are agricultural powerhouses to step up and put more food in the international market. The President and the Minister have asked us to raise this fertilizer issue to see what can be done,” she told reporters after her engagements in Brasilia. The Director-General also asked President Bolsonaro for Brazil’s continued leadership in support of a fruitful 12th Ministerial Conference, to be held in Geneva during the week of 13 June.
Earlier in the day, meeting with Foreign Minister Carlos França and other senior officials at Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, the Director-General discussed the negotiating agenda for MC12. She encouraged Brazil to actively engage in discussions towards WTO reform, including a fully functioning dispute settlement system — of which Brazil has been a frequent and successful user.
DG Okonjo-Iweala welcomed the fact that Brazil participates in several initiatives by groups of WTO members seeking advances in topics ranging from e-commerce rules to investment facilitation and improving the participation of small businesses in international trade. She also praised Brazil for being one of 67 signatories to a deal on services domestic regulation. In addition, she welcomed the country’s active engagement in discussions relating to the environment. Mr França and DG Okonjo-Iweala also talked about Brazil’s drive to join the Government Procurement Agreement, which opens up public sector markets in participating economies.
The Director-General met with members of the Agricultural Parliamentary Front along with representatives of several agribusiness associations. Members of Congress and business representatives called for concrete results in agriculture negotiations at MC12 and shared their concerns about protectionism in food markets and the risks of lack of fertilizers connected with the crisis in Ukraine.
Interactions with business groups
In São Paulo, on 19 April, DG Okonjo-Iweala spoke with a group of businesspeople in sectors ranging from the aircraft industry to pharmaceuticals in a dialogue organized by the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI) and São Paulo’s Federation of Industries (FIESP). She suggested Brazil may benefit from further integration in global supply chains and that higher productivity growth is vital for Brazilian businesses to “punch at their full weight” in the world.
Business leaders expressed their strong support for the multilateral trading system and its fundamental role in promoting the prosperity of all countries. They listed some priorities for WTO action, including a fully functioning dispute settlement system, agricultural trade reform and more transparency and strengthened rules on industrial subsidies. The Director-General said she was heartened by the support expressed by the Brazilian private sector for the WTO.
DG Okonjo-Iweala also met a group of female small business owners, who shared their experiences about starting and expanding their businesses. Access to start-up capital, credit, new markets and innovation as well as the need for digital solutions were some issues raised as impediments to growth. The Director-General talked about discussions at the WTO to make trade work better for the inclusion of women and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. She also highlighted joint work with agencies such as the International Trade Centre, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the Standards and Trade Development Facility to help women entrepreneurs tap into business networks, access market information and meet global standards.