WTO: 2008 NEWS ITEMS

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Statements by delegations

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Introductory Remarks

Good morning and welcome. The purpose of this meeting, as always, is to update you on the consultations I have been holding and to hear your views on the negotiations.

Let me at the outset offer my sincere thanks to Minister Støre, the negotiating group Chairs, and each of the Ministers and delegations representing their Governments here for their hard work and patience over these past few days. I know that for many this process is frustrating, complex, difficult and perhaps obscure from time to time, but it is part of the contribution you have to make to trying to find a way forward.

Since our Heads of Delegation meeting yesterday, I have held further consultations with delegations, together with the negotiating group Chairs, in order to progress our critical work. Taking into account your concerns yesterday regarding participation and inclusiveness, the format of my consultations involved both a small as well as a larger and broadly representative group of delegations, including group coordinators.

Focus in these discussions continued to be on the six key elements in Agriculture and the three key elements in NAMA which I outlined to you on Wednesday, and which I considered to be the most difficult and urgent, and therefore key to possible progress in other areas as well. At the same time, the negotiating group Chairs have continued to consult on a number of other issues.

My overall impression is that some convergences have been recorded, but that progress remains painfully slow after four days of Ministerial-level negotiation. We have to change gears very quickly today to turn things around in the limited time remaining, and I will come back to this in a moment.

To report briefly on substance, on Agriculture, there is agreement to work within the ranges in the draft modalities text, but there remain serious differences between the low end and high end of many ranges. On the US and EC OTDS, we are not there yet. However, there is convergence around a 70 per cent cut in the top band. Let me note once again that the Cotton issue is linked to the outcome of the OTDS cuts.

With respect to tariffs in excess of 100 per cent, there was a discussion of the ranges in the Chairman's text, but no convergence yet

Regarding sensitive products, we discussed both the numbers and treatment. There was some convergence on the number of products which could be designated as sensitive by Members, but still problems for some.

Differences also persist on the size of TRQs expansion as percentage of domestic consumption that should be provided as compensation. There was limited discussion on whether Members should be permitted to create new TRQs, as this issue is linked to the broader issue of the number of tariff lines that could be designated as “sensitive”.

Regarding special products, we are not there yet on both the number of tariff lines and the exemption of a certain percentage of tariff lines from tariff cuts.

With respect to the special safeguard mechanism (SSM), which is obviously a major issue, there was positive engagement and a number of ideas were floated which the negotiating group Chair is following up. With respect to the special safeguard (SSG), there were some signs of flexibility.

On NAMA, there has been limited progress in narrowing the ranges on formula and flexibilities. On anti-concentration, there were limited signs of flexibility with references being made to possible numbers of tariff lines and the value of trade. There was some sympathy for the suggestion that small chapters containing few tariff lines could be exempted from the application of this anti-concentration clause. On sectorals, Members explored the possibility of language that would make clear its non-mandatory nature but at the same time allowing for its operationalisation, and the reference on this remains the Chair's text.

The NAMA Chairman also reported to the larger consultative group on his separate consultations, notably regarding non-reciprocal preferences, SVEs, and treatment for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

So, as I have said, modest progress in four days of Ministerial-level negotiation. I believe there is still time to turn this around. But, the issues will not mature unless positions move — and move quite radically — in our next round of consultations starting with the small group after this HODs meeting. If we do not see this rapid progress towards convergences, I am afraid that the deal you all came here to do this week will not happen, with the attendant consequences.

This is the blunt reality. The situation as I see it is critical, edging between success and failure. I believe a mutually beneficial Doha package is very much within your grasp, but you will all have to give hard thought to your red lines, not in a week or month but in the next hours. If you, the negotiators, show no further flexibility to deliver outcomes that take account of different interests in the next hours, you will face the serious consequences of failure.

We are confronted with both a historic opportunity and, equally, a very heavy responsibility. The world outside will not understand if we fail to grasp this opportunity to be able to conclude a Round that already has a great deal on the table.

Time is running out, and the next 24 hours are crucial. So I ask all of you once again to spare no effort to resolve the outstanding issues. The result will truly be a grand prize for all of you.

I would now like to ask Minister Støre to report on the work he has been doing on my invitation on the TRIPS-related issues of GIs and the TRIPS/CBD relationship.

[Report by Minister Støre.]

I would like to thank Minister Støre for his report and for the work he is undertaking to facilitate convergence on how to take these issues forward.

In the light of what I have set out regarding our process over the next few hours, it will be necessary to postpone the formal TNC originally convened for tomorrow, and an airgram will shortly be issued for that purpose. If the Services Signalling Conference were also to be rescheduled, delegations will be advised accordingly. Finally, I would urge all delegations to stand ready to meet again in this format at short notice and at any time over the next 24 hours. So please ensure that the links between the Secretariat and your delegations can be activated at any time. This is absolutely indispensable.

With these words, I will ask now those delegations who wish to speak at this HODs meeting to take the floor. May I request that, as you have done before, you keep your remarks as brief and focused as possible. Following this meeting, the negotiating group Chairs and I will renew our consultations on Agriculture and NAMA, starting first with the small group. We will then revert to the larger group format, with the participation of coordinators of the various groups, before reporting back to this HODs meeting.

The floor is open.

[Statements from delegations.]

 

Closing Remarks

Thank you for your observations and suggestions. Let me address rapidly a few points. As far as the process is concerned, there will be no surprises: we are working in concentric circles leading to a meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee. As far as texts are concerned, once again there will be no surprises. We are working with Chairs' texts which — if convergence appears — will be revised. You know these texts and have been working on them for months and months. There is no way new texts could appear without convergence. The only way to proceed is to try and bring about the convergence that's potentially in these texts, narrow it, and then revise the texts. So, if convergence appears, these texts will be revised and you will all then need to look at them. I know that all of this takes a bit of time. Time can be painful in the incertitude as long as the process is edging between success and failure. But, if we were to move to the other side of probability of success, time will be useful. We don't have a lot of that, but I can tell you the way you measure time will change at that moment. You have repeatedly said that you would need time to consider, review and consult on any revised texts, and if we get to that point you will have some time.

As to the question of the availability of the Chair of the Agriculture negotiations to consult with the G-10, for the moment I need his expertise, his knowledge and his wisdom as I do that of the NAMA and General Council Chairs. I need them with me. The G-10, like others, will undoubtedly have a moment to shoulder its responsibilities if convergence is accelerated. But, we have to settle the general before going to the specifics. We need an overall balance. At the same time, we know that there are specific sensitivities here and there. We have a system of rules that are for everybody — we know that for 60 years — but some have a bit of a stone in their shoe when they have to run on Agriculture or NAMA or TRIPS. So, we know that we have to address the specificities at some stage, but we cannot do that before we have a balance that might work. So, there will be a time for the G-10 countries to re-express how specific their problem is, and it will also be the time where they will have to call their shots, politically, on whether or not the G-10 can live with what is on the table. As any other Member, the G-10 will have the right to agree or disagree. It is just a question of getting there.

Finally, while questions of process are of course important, in the coming hours what is important is substance. The only question in the coming hours is whether Members are ready to cross the red lines they've expressed until now. If the answer is yes, it can work; if no, it won't work. And that is a purely substantive issue. That is what we are trying to do, and I hope we can make it. I am not sure we can make it, but that's what we have to work on and then come to this HODs meeting. Thank you, and we will reconvene tomorrow at the same time and place.

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