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2 April 2003
Dr. Supachai underlines importance of Doha progress to global confidence

Click for Doha Development Agenda gatewayDirector-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, in opening an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee attended by many senior capital-based officials on 2 April 2003, stressed that “at a time of growing global economic uncertainty, progress in the Doha Round towards its timely conclusion can make a much-needed contribution to confidence”. He hoped that officials will take back to capitals “a renewed sense of the necessity of political commitment and the urgency of sustaining the momentum of the negotiations”.

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Chairman's Opening Statement

- I -

At the outset, I would like to emphasize once more the reasons why I am convinced it is essential to finish these negotiations successfully and on time, by 1 January 2005. What we are doing here is immensely important to economic growth and development prospects for all participants. It will also make an irreplaceable contribution to achieving a more stable, more equitable — and ultimately more peaceful — world.

At a time of growing global economic uncertainty, progress in the Doha Round towards its timely conclusion can make a much-needed contribution to confidence. The converse is also true.

We cannot ignore the fact of missed deadlines and the disappointment they create. I take this very seriously, and I share the disappointment. The importance of agriculture is self-evident, not only in terms of progress in the Round, but also in terms of its economic and human significance to so many participants. This is why we must continue to work hard in this key area. More broadly, we cannot allow disappointment to distract us from the tasks before us across the whole range of the Doha agenda, nor let it weaken our determination to arrive at a balanced and positive outcome.

Every piece of unfinished business is a potential addition to the burden on Ministers at Cancún, a burden which is already considerable. Of course we must continue to work to resolve as many as possible of these issues beforehand. But where we cannot, this only strengthens the need to prepare the choices we will be putting before the Ministers with clarity and care.

Let us not be dazzled by speculation about prospects for success or failure at Cancún. It is the success or failure of the Round itself that should be our primary concern. Cancún will be part — a very important part — of the successful continuation of our work programme. It is up to us, in Geneva and in capitals, to make it feasible for Ministers to tackle the issues productively and give us the guidance we need to carry on to a timely conclusion. This should be the key aim of our work from here to September. I hope we will all continue it with realism and with resolve.

It is in this spirit that I would like to give you a brief overview of the state of progress as I see it in the bodies set up by the TNC.

- II -

Agriculture Special Session

On agriculture, I regret to have to report that it has not been possible to establish modalities for the further commitments, including provisions for special and differential treatment, by the date mandated by Ministers. This is a setback. The fact that at this juncture the wide divergence of views in key areas could not be bridged must be of serious concern to all of us. Nevertheless, we should guard against the temptation to pass around the blame for the situation — this is not the time for pointing fingers. We should also guard against making negative linkages — it would be counterproductive. Instead, we should reconfirm our collective determination to find solutions to the outstanding issues within the shortest delay possible.

On the positive side, it must be noted that much productive work has already been achieved in the negotiations on agriculture. Even more importantly in the circumstances, at the formal Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture on Monday this week there was overwhelming support for a course of action which involves technical and other consultations on a wide range of matters with a view to further advancing the negotiations. This is a constructive response to the situation we are facing in agriculture. However, it is also clear that sooner rather than later, major political decisions are required on all sides so as to create the room for appropriate compromises on key issues with a view to establishing modalities as soon as possible. The serious consequences for the Doha Development Agenda as a whole of any failure to achieve this are too obvious to require further elaboration.

Services Special Session

The services negotiations are continuing to progress in a satisfactory manner. Several Members have submitted initial requests since 30 June 2002 on the basis of which delegations have been actively engaged in bilateral negotiations. Also, the adoption of the Modalities for the Treatment of Autonomous Liberalization by the Special Session of the Services Council at its last meeting represents an important achievement for many delegations, and no doubt will facilitate the next phase of the services negotiations. So far, 12 Members have submitted their initial offers in accordance with the date of 31 March 2003, as specified by Ministers in Doha. Many other Members have indicated that their offers are under preparation. As you know, this date marks only the start of a new phase in the services negotiations and not a deadline. Of course, we all realize that the services negotiations are part of the broader DDA and that linkages are a reality. However, many delegations realize, as we have seen from the offers submitted so far, that what is needed at this stage is a positive rather than a negative linkage. The submission of meaningful initial offers in services would be the best way to induce progress in other areas of negotiations, including agriculture. It should also be kept in mind that there is a “rule-making” side to the services negotiations. We must make every effort to ensure that negotiations on domestic regulation, emergency safeguard measures, subsidies and government procurement progress in a satisfactory manner towards their conclusion.

Negotiating Group on Non-agricultural Market Access

With respect to the Negotiating Group on Market Access, Members will need to work expeditiously in the coming 2-month period in order to reach agreement on modalities for the negotiations. As you are aware, this negotiating group has set a target date of 31 May 2003 to reach agreement on modalities. At this point in time it is clear to me that it is only through the concerted effort of the whole Membership that this will come to fruition.

I would furthermore note that there are two formal meetings scheduled during this time-frame in which Members will have to continue to analyze the specific modalities proposed on both tariffs and non-tariff barriers (NTBs). Because the range of elements for tariff modalities is vast and there are approximately 25 submissions to consider, Members will likely need to focus more attention in this area during April and May. As part of the core modality on tariffs, there are many formula-based approaches submitted by Members that will need to be analyzed in detail.

The issue of NTBs will also need adequate attention by Members, as many have noted that this is an equally important area to improve market access. From the information received from Members on this subject, there appear to be important matters that may need further direction by Members at the level of the NGMA, TNC, or elsewhere. This pertains to the appropriate forum or WTO body to address some of these NTBs. As you are probably aware, many of the NTB issues brought before the NGMA concern barriers with respect to existing WTO Agreements that are not specifically addressed in the Doha Declaration. However, at this juncture, the NGMA needs this time in April and May to clarify many of these issues on NTBs. Thus, I hope that these issues of modalities on tariffs and non-tariff barriers will be given the dedicated input by Members in April and May so that they can advance according to the parameters set by the membership.

TRIPS Council Special Session

In the negotiations in the TRIPS Council Special Session on a multilateral system of notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits, a great deal of work has been done over the last year or so to clarify the issues and the proposals on the table. This has been brought together in a way which delegations have found helpful in a Secretariat compilation. The basis for the final negotiating phase has thus been laid.

However, positions remain far apart. While there is perhaps some measure of common ground on the notification phase of the procedure, differences are as wide as ever on issues of the legal effect of a registration system, of whether there is need for a multilateral opposition or challenge procedure and of whether the notification and registration system should have effects on non-participating Members.

Given that the negotiations in this area are to be completed by the Cancún Ministerial Conference, as an “early harvest” element of the single undertaking, there is an urgent need to make more progress. The Chairman of the Special Session intends to table a draft negotiating text in good time prior to the next meeting of the Special Session at the end of this month, unless such a text can emerge from delegations themselves. I would like to invite participants at this meeting to seek to come up with ways of narrowing the differences so as to give him as much guidance as possible in the formulation of this text.

Negotiating Group on Rules

Paragraph 28 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration envisions that the Rules Negotiations begin with an initial phase where participants indicate the provisions of the Anti-Dumping and Subsidies Agreements that they seek to clarify and improve. The Rules Negotiating Group has been meeting regularly for more than a year and considering issues identified in written submissions by participants. While additional issues will doubtless be identified over the next few months, the Group is rapidly approaching a critical mass in terms of issues identified by numerous participants and reflecting a broad range of perspectives with respect to both agreements. Work is most advanced on anti-dumping, and least advanced with respect to the question of fisheries subsidies. Further, some participants have already begun to shift from issue identification to the development of more detailed proposals. In short, the Negotiating Group is on track and should be prepared to shift to a more detailed phase of the negotiations after Cancún.

The fact that there are no particular problems at this stage in the Rules Negotiations does not mean that participants should not start already thinking about problems that may emerge as the negotiations intensify. A key issue for progress in the Rules Negotiations is the extent to which trade-offs will be available, both among issues covered by the Rules mandate and with issues elsewhere in the DDA. In this context, there is the possibility that some participants may seek to feed into the WTO process work that has been done in other fora. It is also important to ensure an even progress in all subject areas covered by the Negotiating Group. While I believe that it is premature at this point to engage in a concrete discussion of these issues, I would encourage all participants to begin reflecting on them so as to be prepared when the time comes.

In its work on Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs), the Group has concentrated on discussing ways of addressing identified issues of a primarily procedural nature, under the generic label of “RTAs transparency”. Given the growth of RTA numbers and scope, more transparency should be an aim to be pursued in parallel with the clarification of criteria attached to the consistency of RTAs. It is possible that the Group could arrive at a consensus on “RTAs transparency” before the Cancún Ministerial, but only if Members are convinced that any change in this area will be without prejudice to their interpretation of WTO provisions on RTAs, and will not be an obstacle to further “substantive” negotiations.

DSB Special Session

The negotiations on dispute settlement have reached a critical phase considering that the deadline for concluding the negotiations is only eight weeks away. A great deal of work has been done since the beginning of this year. It started with a consideration of the proposals submitted by participants and most recently ended with a consideration of the draft legal texts put forward by participants on the basis of the proposals submitted by them. The discussions have revealed significant differences in the positions of participants on some of the negotiating issues reflecting their priorities and levels of ambition.

Taking into account the views expressed by participants, the Chairperson of the Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body intends to circulate a “framework document” very soon, which hopefully would evolve into a “Chairman's text”. Given that a strengthened dispute settlement system is in the interest of all Members, I would urge participants to show the necessary flexibility and to accommodate as much as possible the interests of other participants to enable a meaningful result to be achieved by 31 May 2003. The negotiations in the remaining eight weeks will be difficult. The challenge, however, is to come up with a text that would be broadly acceptable to all participants, taking into account the level of convergence of views on each proposal.

Committee on Trade and Environment Special Session

The Committee on Trade and Environment in Special Session (CTESS) has made some progress in its work, but overall, the negotiations on environment are still at an early stage. Some key procedural issues have been resolved, notably with regard to the phasing of work. The participation of UNEP and a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) at the next meeting of the CTESS should help Members progress further on relevant aspects of the negotiating mandate.

The main focus in the negotiations so far has been the relationship between existing WTO rules and specific trade obligations set out in MEAs (Paragraph 31(i)). The CTESS has now engaged in an analysis of specific trade obligations contained in relevant MEAs, based on concrete examples. This exercise is important in order to assess whether such specific trade obligations have in fact raised — or may raise — difficulties in terms of their compatibility with WTO rules. In other words, it is still unclear at this stage which are the problems, if any, that the negotiations should be addressing. The more analytical phase in which the CTESS has entered will hopefully shed light on this question.

On information exchange between WTO committees and MEA secretariats (Paragraph 31(ii)), useful suggestions were made in the context of the MEA Information Session held in November 2002. However, Members still need to address whether the negotiations should be limited to formalizing existing forms of cooperation, or whether new forms of collaboration should be envisaged. On criteria for the granting of observer status to MEAs, few proposals have been put forward so far and Members need to continue to discuss how to fulfil this part of the mandate.

With respect to the negotiations on environmental goods and services (Paragraph 31(iii)), which are conducted mainly in the Negotiating Group on Market Access and in the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, some discussions have taken place in the CTESS on the identification of environmental goods, but more work remains to be done.

CTD Special Session

As you are aware, the CTD Special Session submitted its report, containing a number of recommendations, to the General Council on 10 February. The General Council took note of the report and of the statements that had been made, and agreed that the Chairman of the General Council, in coordination with the Chairman of the CTD in Special Session, would undertake consultations on how to take this important matter forward. The General Council Chairman has now initiated his process of informal consultations.

- III -

This concludes my overview of the situation in the bodies reporting to the TNC. Overall, the picture remains a mixed one. There is significant progress in a number of areas, but there are also clearly significant problems. The current situation underscores the need for participants to engage seriously in real negotiations. This has not happened yet. We should convert the disappointment we feel now into determination to negotiate in earnest. We have a sufficient basis for this in the work done so far, which is considerable. This week, I am looking for clear signals of movement in this direction. I have seen a few such signals, including greater bilateral activity, and I encourage this.

I am also looking for signs that participants will do more than just talk about positive linkages and actually start constructing them. Here also we have seen some encouraging developments, such as some active demandeurs on agriculture making comprehensive offers on services.

Our challenge at this point in the negotiations is to build on the elements of progress to help us tackle the problems, always keeping in mind that this is a Single Undertaking. This is what I had in mind in formulating the questions I have put before you in my fax last week.

Can I remind you that these questions are designed to provide the main focus for our meeting today. I have just outlined my overview of the situation in some detail, and delegations may wish to comment on individual areas of our work, but I would ask that they do so in the framework of the broader questions I have set out. These questions are intended to promote a sense of the positive linkages we need and of the totality of our endeavour in light of the TNC's overview function.

I can assure you that this is the spirit in which I will go on working together with the Chairs of the bodies reporting to the TNC and in close cooperation with the Chairman of the General Council. Over the weeks ahead our work will intensify, both at the negotiating group and TNC level. We will also need more informal consultations and more contact among delegations. I will continue to work in full respect of the principles of transparency and inclusiveness to which I am committed and which our guidelines require.

To be successful, the work in Geneva will require the continuing close support of capitals. This is why I am pleased to see so many senior capital-based officials here this week. Meetings like this are not a substitute for the excellent and essential work of your Geneva representatives — on the contrary, they should reinforce and encourage it. The conversations you have among yourselves while you are here can also make a valuable contribution to bridging gaps. I hope you will take back to your capitals a renewed sense of the necessity of political commitment and the urgency of sustaining the momentum of the negotiations. I will certainly continue to stress this need in my contacts with Ministers.