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WTO NEWS: 2003 NEWS ITEMS

9 December 2003
INFORMAL HEADS OF DELEGATION MEETING

Director-General: members show unwavering commitment, determination and confidence

Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, at an informal Heads of Delegations meeting on 9 December 2003, urged members to keep working with a sense of urgency and engagement.

See also statement by General Council Chairman

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Statement by the Director-General

Let me begin by speaking, I am sure, for everyone Mr Chairman in paying tribute to the heroic efforts you have been making to follow up on the Cancun Ministerial Statement. You continue to show tremendous dedication and energy in pursuit of the objective of taking the action necessary to enable us to move towards a successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations. Nobody could be doing more.

We have discussed matters between ourselves and the analysis of the current situation which you have just given is shared. I give my full support to the proposed course of action for the General Council on 15 December, in particular the three point approach — a substantive review of progress; identification of key issues; and a sense of the way ahead. We should also, as you have said, foresee the reactivation of the negotiating groups, bearing in mind that the “horizontal” element of our operations will of course continue to be provided by the General Council and the Trade Negotiations Committee. We should be working on the DDA across the board next year through all the relevant bodies.

Let me add a few observations on recent developments and on the future from my own perspective. As you know, and as I foreshadowed at the last Heads of Delegation meeting on 18 November, I have been continuing to spend a fair amount of time travelling to various regions to meet groups of Ministers. I have been able to do so secure in the knowledge that the consultations here are in capable hands. This does not mean that I take this process for granted. Far from it. I realize that it is here that progress has to be made. However I felt that, rather than simply duplicating your efforts here Mr Chairman, I might be able to add some extra value through further ministerial contacts. And so, I think, it has proved, as I shall mention in a minute. But first, let me emphasize that, even while I have been away from Geneva, I have been kept constantly and closely in touch with events here through a stream of reports. Indeed I have even been quoting some of the things that you have been saying here, Mr Chairman, to the Ministers I have met, to give them a flavour of how things are going back in Geneva.

At the last Heads of Delegation meeting I mentioned my contacts with some groups of Ministers in Bangkok and Cairo. Since then I have, in addition to continuing as usual to see a number of Ministers and Ambassadors here in Geneva, met certain other gatherings - of Central American Ministers in Tegucigalpa, thanks to Minister Garcia of Honduras; and of Caricom Ministers and representatives in Georgetown, thanks to Minister Rohee of Guyana. The discussions obviously did not go into great detail. But — as previously at Bangkok and Cairo, so with Tegucigalpa and Georgetown — all the Ministers present strongly reaffirmed their determination to ensure that the Doha Development Agenda negotiations regain momentum at the earliest possible time. And they indicated, despite varying degrees of difficulty with one or other aspects, or a desire to see certain enhancements, a willingness to take the Derbez text as a general starting point.

The degree of general commonality of views I have encountered among ministers around the world in the last six weeks or so is striking. It is absolutely clear that the initial reports in certain quarters about the demise of the DDA are completely unfounded. The political will to carry on and conclude the round is fully in evidence. Ministers I have spoken to want to see Cancun not as a failure but as a stepping stone to success. The status quo is not acceptable.

The challenge, as ever, is to translate this general sense of commitment into concrete progress in the negotiations. Of course this is difficult, given the complexity of both our agenda and the way in which the WTO operates. For you, the Heads of Delegation who have this highly onerous task, it must sometimes seem Sisyphian, as Ambassador Seixas Correa is fond of saying.

The report to the General Council on 15 December will certainly need to mention quite a number of the continuing problems with the negotiations. There is no point in glossing over difficulties. We have to be realistic. It is worrying that we have seen too little real negotiation in recent weeks, and too little searching for common ground. We should all reflect on what we might have done differently, and on what we might do differently in future, in order to move into a more urgent problem-solving mode.

Having said this, we have made some headway in the last few weeks, as you have indicated in your introductory remarks, Mr. Chairman. We have also in some key areas been able to identify what exactly are the main sticking points or crucial issues. Furthermore, as I have said, the overall sense of commitment is most definitely still there.

I believe therefore that the message that we should give both to each other and to the outside world on 15 December should, while being realistic, be overall a positive one, of unwavering commitment to the DDA, determination to make concrete progress, and confidence that we are going to succeed.

The message would be entirely consistent with what Ministers everywhere have been telling me. It would be helpful in my view if we could take it as a collective responsibility to get such a message across to others.

So, in conclusion, let us not flag in our efforts. On the contrary, let us keep working, with a renewed sense of urgencies and engagement, taking steps forward progressively towards the ultimate objective. For my part, I shall continue to listen closely to your views. The Secretariat and I stand ready to assist in any way that we can with your ongoing efforts in this noble cause.