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WTO NEWS: 2004 NEWS ITEMS

Wednesday, 21 April 2004
TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE

Dr. Supachai: “We must redouble our efforts”

Chairman's Remarks

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I would like to welcome delegations to the twelfth meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee. It is nine months since the TNC last met — rather a long time. So it may be useful for me to start by recalling that the TNC was established by Ministers at Doha, under the authority of the General Council, with the mandate of supervising the overall conduct of the negotiations.

Since we are starting afresh, I want to take this opportunity to say a very few words about how I would like to conduct this meeting, and others which may follow in the next three months or so. First, I want to maintain a business-like approach. This means amongst other things starting promptly and focusing our interventions on what is necessary and productive. Secondly, we should recognise that TNC meetings like this one have a very important role to fill in terms of transparency. I set great store by transparency. But let me add that there is a difference between transparency and repetition. Thirdly, the stage we are at in the negotiations means that it is imperative and urgent to focus now on building bridges and solving problems. The period for making our declarations — necessary as it was — has long passed. The Geneva process now has to deliver results.

With these words, let me turn to the agenda.
  

Adoption of Agenda

The first item of business at our meeting today is to adopt the Agenda. A proposed Agenda has been circulated to participants in document TN/C/W/17, which, as you will note, proposes two items. These are:

  • reports by the Chairpersons of bodies established by the TNC; and

  • statements by participants.

Unless delegations wish to suggest any items for consideration under “Other Business” at this meeting, I propose that the agenda be adopted.

  

Agenda item 1

Let me turn now to the first item on our agenda, which is the reports by the Chairpersons of bodies established by the TNC.

Since I have not yet had the opportunity in the context of the TNC, I would like to begin by paying tribute, on the record, to the former Chairpersons of TNC subsidiary bodies who gave up their offices in February this year. Their groundwork was essential, and we are all extremely grateful to them for their hard work and dedication.

As you all know, the new Chairpersons of the bodies established by the TNC have also been working hard since their appointment in order to move the negotiations forward. I would also like to place on record our appreciation for their commitment in taking on these onerous duties. It of course has not escaped my attention that in one case a former Chair has been reappointed to the same body, while another former Chair has been “transferred” to a different body. These two, I may say, are either exceedingly brave or somewhat reckless!

The intensity of the important work in recent weeks has resulted in some reports being circulated only in the last few days, but I think we all appreciate the tremendous pressure that our Chairs have been under to finalize these reports. I should note that the Chairs of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture and the Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body have preferred to provide Members with an oral report which takes into account the most recent activities in their respective areas. I should also point out that the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade & Environment, Ambassador Ali (Bangladesh) unfortunately is not able to be with us today. However, he has provided a written report and will be comprehensively briefed on any comments relating to his area of responsibility.

Written reports have been circulated in the following official documents:

  • Special Session of the Council for TRIPS: TN/IP/9

  • Negotiating Group on Market Access: TN/MA/13

  • Negotiating Group on Rules: TN/RL/8

  • Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services: TN/S/15

  • Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development: TN/CTD/9

  • Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment: TN/TE/8

  

Agenda item 2

I suggest we now turn to our second agenda item which is statements by participants.

I hope you allow me to make a few observations before we start with the statements.

Since the February General Council meeting this year, all the negotiating groups have held at least one first round of formal meetings and of course there has been an impressive number of informal activities that accompany the formal sessions. My sense is that all of us should be heartened by a number of positive developments that we are witnessing at the moment in our negotiating process.

First, I detect a clear willingness of delegations to negotiate with each other. Second, the main thrust of the negotiation is on substance and not procedure, as we have been used to. Third, I clearly detect a sense of growing trust among the delegations, as we saw at the time we launched the Doha round of negotiations. Fourth, I have heard from a number of delegations that participants are changing the way they perceive their positions, in that they have in mind also the positions of other delegations. They are now not only spending time working on their own position, but also finding out what other positions are and how to accommodate and address them. Fifth, it is a clear sign of commitment by the Members that almost every negotiating group has been working intensively and has also mapped out the work programme through the months of May, June and July. So it's a clear sign that there is full commitment to work fully, flat out, so that we can reach our goal. And the sixth point is, while we are working and concentrating our efforts here in Geneva, we are being supported by efforts elsewhere in the world, in various capitals, in various meetings among the Ministers in various forms and configurations, and there will be more to come in the next couple of months. So we can be encouraged that there will be several opportunities when Members can address the remaining issues before we arrive at our target date in July.

Having said this, I would like to balance this optimistic mood by also expressing my concern, having heard the Chairpersons of different negotiating bodies and particularly their conclusions, about the task ahead of us. We should not be under any illusions about the scale of our task, the urgency of our task. We are talking about this window of opportunity that is now still open but I don't think you need to be reminded that this window of opportunity is very narrow. The window is open but it's very narrow and is closing quite rapidly. It's not going to be wide open forever. I believe that we if we want to finish our tasks before the summer break, we really cannot lose any time at all before the target date. It is clear that the shape of the framework level package should emerge by the end of May, not in June but by the end of May, if we are to proceed along the lines that we have set for ourselves. So I look to you in your remarks to focus on how to make progress, and not just plainly restate known positions.

In the meetings that I have had with the negotiating body Chairs and the Chair of the General Council, we have also begun to consider the nature and scope of the outcome that it could be realistic to aim for in the coming weeks. These discussions are still ongoing, taking into account the progress being made in the various bodies, and I think that it would be premature to have a debate on this at today's meeting. Nevertheless, we shall clearly need to reach an understanding before too long at the level of the membership as a whole about the product that we are aiming for, and I hope that in future consultations the General Council Chair and I will have some ideas to share with you. But in the meantime, I would ask delegations to give this issue some further thought.

I would like to supplement my comments by referring to the kind of political commitment that I have witnessed around the world at the Ministerial level. As you are aware, I have been engaged in a number of meetings in various places around the world and discussions with numerous Ministers. Everyone that I have talked to has agreed on the need to achieve concrete progress before the summer break, and as one of the Chairpersons said, of course if we can do it earlier it would be even better. At the same time I have also been told that we need to work to find solutions. Ministers have emphasized this point and they themselves have been in touch with each other in the search for solutions. So we must redouble our efforts to make the options available for Ministers to work on.

I have also heard in several meetings of groups of Ministers that we need to adopt positions of flexibility. But of course it has always been said at the same time that we also need to define our flexibility. It is not sufficient to say that we need flexibility, we need to define what this flexibility is, and what the flexibility that we are demanding from each other should include.
The last point that I have heard repeatedly from Ministers is that it would be of great help in their own process of analysis and consideration if Members could be as precise and as clear as possible as to their positions. As Amb. Groser said when he gave us a choice of the model A, clarification of positions at the last moment, and model B, which is to be as constructive as possible, as early as possible, we do not have an option here. It is a necessity that we can move in a constructive manner as soon as we can, because otherwise it will not be feasible to achieve the goal that we have set for ourselves.

So the message is that the Ministers, it seems to me, are more determined than ever to succeed and therefore we have here a major challenge on our hands. The onus is clearly on the negotiators in Geneva to turn this political will into concrete results. I and the other Chairs — and, I know, certainly the Chairman of the General Council too — are committed to work unremittingly with you to help bring this about. But it is only you, the Geneva representatives, who can actually deliver results.

I certainly do not want to over-dramatise, but I truly believe that the coming days and weeks are critical for the DDA and to some extent for the multilateral trading system. I urge you all to reflect on our situation if there is no tangible progress by the summer. The risk is not just of wasting this year but also possibly a good part of next year as well, bearing in mind other events which will be occurring around the world and in the WTO. It could indeed be difficult to get the round going again for quite a long time without a solid platform achieved now in terms of framework agreements. With these words, I would like to request you again to make your remarks in the most business-like manner, to be brief and to indicate the space that we can make use of to move ahead with no delay.

  

Closing remarks

I would like to thank all delegations for their co-operation in making this session of the TNC a very business-like and useful one. I would like to emphasize the need for all of us to continue with the good work that we have started, and the need to move from one stage to another in a seamless manner. We should not wait too long before moving into the process of problem solving. We need to be aware that using the July meeting as the target for achieving concrete progress does not mean that this would be the end of the round. July is just another goalpost in the round and it will certainly not be possible to solve all the issues by then. We also have to keep in mind that the need to make progress by focusing our efforts does not mean losing sight of the overall agenda to which we all attach importance.

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