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WTO NEWS: 2003 NEWS ITEMS

Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Statements by the Chairman of the General Council and the Director-General

Informal Heads of Delegation meeting

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Since this is the first Informal Heads of Delegation meeting since Cancún, I would like to welcome you all back to Geneva. I hope that you all have had a well deserved rest and have recovered from the stress and the emotions of Cancún. Today it is one month since the close of the Ministerial Conference, and it is time to get down to business in this new phase of our work.

The purpose of today's meeting is to inform you of the process the Director-General and I are undertaking to put our work back on track after the Ministerial Conference in Cancún. Let me say at the outset, that I do not intend this meeting to be an occasion for retrospection, for a post mortem of what happened or did not happen at that Conference, or for recrimination as to the responsibilities for the outcome. I know that some of you feel that this exercise should take place sometime, but this is not the proper occasion. Our task now is to look forward and to do everything possible to rebuild the necessary trust and confidence among Members, essential ingredients to move this process forward. I trust that I can count with your support in this endeavour.

The Ministers in Cancún gave us a clear mandate to continue our work on outstanding issues with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose, and to proceed, taking fully into account all the views expressed in the Conference. Ministers asked me, as Chairman of the General Council, working in close cooperation with the Director-General, to coordinate this work. They also requested me to convene a meeting of the General Council at Senior Officials level no later than 15 December 2003 to take the action necessary at that stage to enable us to move towards a successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations. Ministers also reaffirmed all their Doha Declarations and Decisions and recommitted themselves to working to implement them fully and faithfully, and I should underline that this is the basis on which we will be working.

Since our return to Geneva, the Director-General and myself have been involved in a very intensive round of consultations with Member Governments, both in Geneva as well as in certain capitals. In preparing this meeting we met with a very wide range of delegations. These consultations have taken different formats. We met with different, including regional, groups as well as individual Members. We have discussed with all of them our approach on how to move the process forward and sought their advice and orientation. We have greatly benefited from their ideas and suggestions.

I am glad to report that after these consultations, our assessment is encouraging. We have sensed that there is a willingness on all sides to get back to work in line with the mandate agreed by Ministers at Cancún. While it is true that this willingness may, at this stage, be greater in some Members than others, my sense is that everyone continues to support a strong and reinforced multilateral trading system and that they are willing to engage and show the necessary flexibility in order to get the process, which was derailed in Cancún, back on track.

Our intention is to undertake from now on a process of consultations with Members in various formats and focusing on individual key areas of work. We will continue to adhere to the principles of transparency and inclusiveness as we did in the preparatory phase towards Cancún. We will make every effort to keep everyone periodically informed on progress, including through meetings such as this. It is also our intention to meet regularly with regional and other groups. In that regard I am pleased to note that in our consultations, all Members recognized and supported the need for us to hold smaller meetings as well as bilateral meetings or confessionals with any interested Member on the core issues in order to achieve our goal. We are also all aware that any decisions can only be taken by the membership as a whole, and that proper consultation is essential to prepare any such decisions.
Our consultations will serve the purpose of seeing whether we can edge closer to a successful outcome. The aim is neither more nor less than to try to arrive at the position we should have been in after Cancún. We know that this is going to be a very difficult task and we are under no illusion with regard to the problems that will need to be overcome. We fully recognize this, but at the same time, we feel that there is so much at stake that it is well worth a try, and let me assure you that the DG and I will put our best efforts towards a successful outcome and will fully dedicate ourselves to the task. If we do not succeed by December to reinvigorate the process, the chances of concluding the Round on time — which are even today severely questioned — will be even slimmer.

In line with the mandate given at Cancún, the primary focus of our work will be to concentrate on key outstanding issues: in our judgement, backed up by our consultations, these are first and foremost agriculture, cotton, NAMA and Singapore issues. We know that the rest of the Draft Ministerial text has not been approved in Cancún, and that there may be certain other issues that also need to be addressed. For example, issues with a particular development importance have been strongly emphasized in our consultations. We feel, however, that in many of these issues we were closer to agreement, and there is no point addressing any adjustments to texts that may be needed before we have sorted out the major difficulties in the key areas I have identified and unblocked the process as a whole.

In the new phase of negotiations we are starting today, we will begin with agriculture. We will first have a round of consultations that will allow us to test the will of the Members to show flexibility and the possibilities for reaching common ground on a framework for modalities in this sector. We will then engage in similar exercises with regard to the other key issues that are identified. In a second round of consultations on these issues, we will seek to deepen the substantive negotiations. We are committed to a horizontal and integrated process where progress in specific areas can contribute to progress across the board.

Let me recall that Ministers have instructed us to carry out our work on the basis of the valuable work achieved during the Conference. After giving this issue very serious thought and consulting with all of you, I feel our best option is not to take a prescriptive view of the basis for further work in one area or another. It is clear that individual Members' assessments differ depending on the subject and it will therefore be difficult to reach consensus on one single basis on which our future work should be based. I believe that, in this process, the important point will be to identify and build on areas of common ground. We can only do this by working together in a pragmatic way to test the possibilities for movement.

What I can say is that we will build on the work in Cancún, as requested by our Ministers. I am sure everyone has very clear in their minds the positive or negative issues that emerged on the different areas during that process. I can confirm that we will ensure that all these aspects will be taken into account during this new phase of consultations. I hope that you will give the DG and myself the necessary trust and flexibility to engage in this process without getting bogged down in procedural issues that we can hardly afford to contemplate and even less solve at this stage. My aim is to focus on the substantive and core aspects and to engage in real negotiations. I believe that procedural demands would not only make us waste valuable time but would also be detrimental to positive results.

As you know, we have decided to discontinue, for the moment, the work of the negotiating bodies (except the DSU negotiations, which are on a separate track). This is not a suspension sine die, since together with the DG I will be taking up the key negotiating areas in the process I have described, and we will revert to addressing those matters in due course of time. Furthermore all other regular business in the WTO is continuing in line with existing mandates.

This is basically what I wanted to transmit to you today. Clearly, the process in Geneva will have to be supplemented by direct contacts with Ministers and senior officials in capitals, since they have indicated they want to exercise close personal supervision of this process, and both the Director-General and myself have been involved in this process of consultation with capitals in the last few weeks.

Let me close by emphasizing that it is now up to the Geneva Ambassadors to reverse the situation and get the Doha agenda back on the road. My feeling is that capitals will not react until they see signs of serious progress and commitment coming from our work. This is certainly a major challenge for all of us. The costs of the setback in Cancún are high and should not be underestimated.

Cancún was a missed opportunity and there are lessons to be learnt from it that may have great and lasting implications for the world economy and for the multilateral trading system. We all know that, and I ask you to work with me and the Director-General, in good faith, to get this process back on its track.
  

Director-General

As I said at the closing Session, we could perhaps have achieved more at Cancún. But we have to accept the reality that our work programme is a very complex undertaking and that the WTO is a very complex organization. Seen in this light, although the results were disappointing — and we must not underplay that — much very good work was done at the Ministerial Conference. The Ministers acknowledged that we had made considerable progress and that this should be brought back to Geneva.

From my discussions with delegations and capitals I have an overwhelming impression that, despite the current difficulties, no one wants the Doha Development Agenda to be sidelined or neglected. Everyone is still very committed to the multilateral trading system. Even some of our detractors in civil society are urging us to get back to the negotiating table with renewed energy. There is a widespread understanding that we can contribute to development and growth through the expansion of trade.

We all therefore have a very strong interest in continuing our work, taking into account all the views expressed in the Ministerial Conference. We must now re-engage in serious discussions on substance in key areas and make every effort to move ahead. The Cancún Ministerial Statement constitutes our mandate and instructions.

Your efforts have my full support and cooperation, Mr. Chairman. Our collective aim is to arrive at a sufficient degree of consensus in all areas by December to enable the negotiations to resume their full momentum. No one is under any illusion that this will be easy. Time is not on our side. It will call for an effort from all sides, and I appeal to everyone to contribute. In particular I urge you to focus on substance. There are certainly procedural and institutional issues that need consideration, but if we are to live up to the mandate Ministers have given us we have to re-engage on substance as a priority.

In parallel with this process, I have resumed and will be intensifying my contacts with Ministers. I have already spoken to quite a number of them by telephone. I have also recently visited Pakistan, and I am seeing other Ministers as they pass through Geneva. From my contacts so far, I can tell you that there is a will to try to make further headway. Everyone I spoke to wants to see progress and they all back our efforts here. I will be using the opportunity of further contacts in the context of regional Ministerial meetings to widen the circle of support, starting with the forthcoming APEC meeting.

There may therefore be periods when I will not be in Geneva over the coming two months. This should not be mistaken to mean that I am not an active partner. On the contrary, my efforts will be continually complementing yours, Mr. Chairman. And I shall be actively involved here too.

This round is too important to all of us to allow our setback at Cancún to keep us from our objective — an ambitious and balanced round that delivers better market access and more equitable rules for all our member governments and for the people they represent. While acknowledging the reality of the obstacles that lie ahead, I believe that we do now have a new opportunity, based on the real progress we have made, and on the lessons we have learned, to produce a much better result in the end.