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WTO NEWS: 2003 NEWS ITEMS

9 December 2003
INFORMAL HEADS OF DELEGATION MEETING

Chairman reports progress in relaunching trade negotiations

General Council Chairman Amb. Carlos Pérez del Castillo, at an informal Heads of Delegations meeting on 9 December 2003, reported progress in consultations with members for relaunching negotiations but gaps remain wide among positions.

> See also statement by Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi

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Statement by the Chairman of the General Council

I would like to welcome you all to this informal Heads of Delegation meeting. As mentioned in the convening fax, the purpose of this meeting is to provide you with a report on the consultations the Director-General and I are conducting pursuant to the Statement adopted by Ministers at Cancún. As the meeting of the General Council is now only a few days away, I will also outline my approach to that meeting.

I have now concluded the second round of consultations on the 4 key issues we agreed on at our 14 October informal Heads of Delegations meeting. Both rounds of consultations were conducted in a constructive spirit and a good atmosphere. Delegations have avoided general statements and we have explored key issues on the 4 subjects.

On the positive side, much effort has been put in and we have come a long way from Cancún in a short time. Members have been prepared to enter into substance and we have had interactive exchanges on substantive issues. I have put to delegations a number of key questions which have been addressed seriously. There has been progress in a number of areas, which for me as Chair has given a clearer sense of possible ways forward. There is a strong sense of commitment to the multilateral trading system and the DDA, and also of willingness to move forward. I understand that this feeling has also come through very clearly in the Director-General's recent contacts with Ministers.

On the negative side, we have witnessed little real negotiation, or movement towards accommodation among positions, or searching for common ground, with some limited but welcome exceptions. Gaps remain wide not only among positions but also between generalized statements of commitment, engagement, flexibility and any concrete manifestation of those statements in negotiating positions. Many delegations have noted that there does not seem to be a sense of urgency, and I would agree with them. This must be cause for concern.

Unless there are some major changes in positions in the next few days any third round of issue-by-issue consultations would risk running into a problem of diminishing returns. The time has come to look at these issues overall and assess where we are – and where we will be able to go, both on 15 December and afterwards.

From the way it looks at this moment, it is unlikely that we will be able to achieve by 15 December what we might have wished. Unless, as I mentioned, we see some dramatic movement in positions, it will not be possible to reach agreement at the level of specificity that was envisaged at Cancún on the four key issues by then, let alone the other issues covered by the Derbez text. Since I have said all along that any new text must have wide ownership, I see no basis on which to present a “Rev. 3” text for the December Council. It will not be possible, in other words, to get back to where we should have been on September 15 by December 15.

This means that we need to think very carefully about what we will be able to achieve by 15 December, bearing in mind the shared desire to avoid a further setback. Given the continuing divergences in positions, it does not seem likely that we can go further than a Chairman's report of which Members would be invited to take note. This report will, of course, be on my own responsibility and without prejudice to the position of any delegation on any issue.

My intention is that the report should do three things:

First of all it should review the progress that we have made in the consultations. This would be along the lines of my report to the Heads of Delegation meeting on 18 November, but going further to incorporate what we have done in the second round.

Second, it would identify what in my view are key issues that emerged during these consultations and that will need to be addressed when we resume our work early next year.

Thirdly, it would give a sense of a possible way ahead for these issues. This means addressing the question of process, of how these issues could be tackled, including the issue of resuming the work of the negotiating bodies. By this I mean all the bodies operating under the Doha mandates.

So to sum up, the main elements of my report next week will be progress report, identification of key issues and further process.

With regard to the issues I would identify in my report, I can, of course, only take up those areas on which I have consulted in line with what was agreed on 14 October. However, in my report next week I will also highlight the importance of the specific development-related issues, which many delegations have emphasized in my consultations. We clearly need to give these issues full attention next year, in line with the Doha mandates.

On the issues of Agriculture and Non-agricultural Market Access, I will suggest that the negotiating groups should continue to build on our consultations since Cancún, which have taken as their effective starting point the Derbez Text. The elements and the structure of that document seem to be generally acceptable, while of course divergences remain on key points of substance. We have identified the key issues in both of these areas, and I sincerely believe that we can make good progress here in the early part of next year on frameworks which will respect the Doha mandates and allow us to move subsequently into the establishment of modalities, without prejudging the eventual outcome of the negotiations. In returning to their work, both negotiating bodies will also need to take into account the range of views expressed in our consultations.

With regard to the Singapore Issues, we can build on the general acceptance of unbundling these issues – that is to say, treating each of them on its own merits. On this basis, I will suggest that it seems appropriate to continue with the work we have already started on exploring possible modalities for two of these issues, Trade Facilitation and Transparency in Government Procurement, without prejudice to the eventual outcome. What treatment, if any, the other two issues might receive in the future is a matter for further reflection at some appropriate time.

Finally, on Cotton, I am sure that everyone is committed to finding a positive response to the Cotton Initiative and to develop a collective sense of the way forward. During the consultations, we have made progress in identifying the trade-related and development related aspects that should be addressed during our further work, although much remains to be done. In view of the divergent positions on the procedural issue of whether to take up Cotton on a stand alone basis or within the broader agricultural negotiations, I suggest we should try to avoid getting bogged down on this question. Progress is surely more important than procedure in this case, and I urge delegations in the continuing work on this issue to focus on practical responses, since this is what counts in the final analysis.

So, my report would aim to build on the progress we have made in the consultations towards getting our work back on track, and, by identifying the key issues, offer my best judgement as to the orientation of our further work.

At the practical level, all of the DDA bodies should be encouraged to resume their work early next year — presumably once the Chairmanship issue is settled — and to build on the elements that have emerged in our work, both at and since Cancún. The TNC, too, should be reactivated to carry out its Doha mandate to supervise the progress and overall conduct of the negotiations.

I firmly believe that it is now essential to reactivate all of these bodies in order to ensure the transparency and inclusiveness to which we are all committed. Many delegations have endorsed this point in my consultations. Furthermore, restarting all the bodies dealing with the different aspects of the Doha agenda will enable us to give full attention to the development perspective.

Restarting the work in the negotiating groups and other bodies does not in any way mean losing an overview of the process. I am sure that my successor as Council Chair, together with the DG, will continue to maintain oversight of those aspects of the DDA which fall outside the TNC's mandate. Some of these issues will require further consultations on how to take them forward and there have been a number of suggestions during the consultations which may be worth exploring at the appropriate time. At TNC and General Council level, further consideration will also no doubt need to be given to objectives and benchmarks for the work in 2004.

We also have to keep in mind that we face a number of operational constraints in the first weeks of next year. Realistically we cannot count on all delegations being fully operational again before the second week of January. That leaves us only about a month in which to undertake the onerous task of selecting a new slate of Chairs for 2004, a task made more onerous this time by the need to review the chairmanships of negotiating bodies and replace them as necessary. Judging by past experience this exercise will make major demands on the time of the General Council Chair and of Members too.

You can be sure I will continue to do my duty to the fullest right up until I step down as Chair, and I know the DG is equally fully committed. We will of course make the most of any possible opening for progress before and after 15 December. But there is also a need now to look ahead to next year and handle the December Council in the way most likely to help us move forward.

These are the sort of steps I suggest we need to take collectively on 15 December. This would be a forward-looking outcome which leaves all possibilities open and reaffirms the overall structure and aims of the negotiations. From my perspective, the message is that we have made progress towards getting the Round back on track but that we are not yet there.