WTO: 2008 NEWS ITEMS

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Talking points for the Director-General

Thank you all for coming to this meeting. Now that we have had a few weeks of renewed activity, I think it is useful to review, before the General Council next week, where we are in the DDA negotiations and consider the next steps.

We are meeting at a time of global financial crisis. This gives added importance and urgency to our work here. The WTO has over 60 years of solid experience in regulating trade opening. At a time when there are renewed calls for a better regulation in the financial area, the WTO system provides an example of how the lessons of history and experience have led to the construction of a system of international governance. And we have an opportunity to send a signal of our desire to strengthen it by concluding the Doha Round.

Against this sombre backdrop, it is encouraging that negotiators here have got back to work quickly and seriously after our July setback. We have two new Negotiating Group Chairs, and I would like to welcome Luzius and Trevor to their new roles as NAMA and TRIPS Chairs respectively. They will both be working in key areas of the negotiations and I know we can count on them to provide the necessary leadership. I would also like to welcome the new colleagues who have joined a number of delegations since the summer break.

When we last met at the end of July, many delegations signalled very clearly their determination to press ahead with the negotiations and not to throw in the towel. Since then, the responses I have had in my contacts with a wide range of members have been measured and constructive. The collective commitment to the Round remains strong. Nonetheless, it is clearly necessary to face the reality that the Round cannot be concluded this year. However, I believe it is still possible to reach agreement on modalities and the Ministers with whom I have spoken are all determined to push ahead.

Since July, I have had intensive extensive contacts with Ministers and Senior Officials in all regions, including during my visits to Delhi and Washington. I will continue this campaign with the objective of keeping the focus on the need to advance the Round. Looking back in history, we can see that the type of uncertainty which is now infiltrating the international scene can be a precursor to rising protectionist tendencies. Raising barriers at the frontier, starting with barriers to trade in goods or services, is often a tempting political option under such circumstances. The role of the WTO as a firewall against protectionist responses is thus vital. It is not so much about any direct effect on markets as for sustaining confidence in global co-operation and institutions.

The financial crisis may also be having an impact on developing country access to financing of imports and exports. As you know we have held a number of meetings on this issue at the WTO with both multilateral institutions and private banks, the last one last April, to check availability of trade financing at affordable rates. Up until then, the situation seemed to be stable with volumes and rates at normal levels. But just this week Brazil brought this issue to the forefront. Given the deterioration of the financial landscape, and despite the welcomed announcement yesterday by the World Bank IFC of an increase in its trade financing programme by $ 500 million, I have today convened major providers of trade finance to a meeting on 12 November to examine this issue and find ways to alleviate the situation if it was to deteriorate. We will follow this up in the Working Group on Trade Debt and Finance at the end of November, together with Martin Glass. If there are indications that the financial situation could be having serious implications more generally for trade or the trading system, I shall consult with the GC Chairman on the possibility of convening a GC meeting on our Coherence mandate. Let us keep the situation under review, and act as necessary.

Apart from the financial crisis, there are other external influences which are tending to affect our work here, or perhaps the optimism with which we are investing ourselves in it. Maybe any of these factors could provide an excuse to be tempted to throw in the towel, but in fact the reverse is true: they are all the more reason to do the deal rapidly. The increasing level of activity in the negotiations shows that you share this view.

Governments have also been very active in their contacts among themselves and they continue to be. Everyone is aware of the G7 Senior Officials' meetings two weeks ago. They made some progress, but not yet enough to contribute possible solutions on key issues. However, the governments involved have shown the commitment to keep working together and with others.

The main item on their agenda was the SSM in Agriculture. It is, of course, important to resolve this question, but we all know it is not the only issue in Agriculture, and Crawford has now taken up the gauntlet again in this area. There are also key issues in NAMA and the other areas of negotiation which all need attention.

I continue to work with the Negotiating Group Chairs and the General Council Chairman to coordinate our activities. I also continue to consult regularly with members here, both individually and in groups. The focus is now, as it should be, on the multilateral process, which will continue in all areas of the negotiations in the spirit with which we have worked up to now — a step-by-step and bottom-up approach. All the Negotiating Groups have programmes of meetings and consultations over the coming weeks. Agriculture and NAMA remain key to further progress across the board, so I will shortly give the floor to Crawford and Luzius so they can outline their plans in their respective areas.

We do not have much time available — the end of the year is approaching rapidly. Work will continue in the Negotiating Groups over the next few weeks, and any ministerial involvement which might be necessary will take place when the moment is right. Considerable progress has been made, in July and earlier, and I believe a renewed effort can bring us to the point where agreement on modalities is possible.

There should be no doubt — we are working on Plan A, establishment of modalities. Our chances of achieving our goal are clearly less than they were in July, but they are still good enough to warrant a major effort. Speculation about other possible scenarios may be going on, but I would suggest that this is not where we should focus our minds as long as we have a realistic chance of achieving our primary objective — which we do.

Before I open the floor for your comments, I would like to invite Crawford and then Luzius to take the floor.

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