WTO: 2009 NEWS ITEMS

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Statement by the Chairman Amb. Mario Matus

I would like to draw your attention to a communication dated 28 April from the delegation of Uruguay which was circulated in document WT/GC/W/599, requesting that the date and venue, and the election of officers, of the Seventh Session of the Ministerial Conference be placed on the Agenda of today's meeting.

I suggest that we take up these two sub-items together, and invite the delegation of Uruguay to introduce its communication.

(Uruguay made a statement.)

Members will recall that the question of the holding of the next Ministerial Conference has been the subject of consultations by successive Chairmen of the General Council since December 2005, when Ministers in Hong Kong requested the Council to hold such consultations with a view to determining the date and venue of the Seventh Session.

At the February 2009 General Council, my predecessor made a statement on this issue, following consultations he had held, and suggested that clarity was needed on some of the parameters surrounding the holding of such an event before any decision could be taken.

Since then, the consultations I have been holding on this issue have indicated that there is a strong and widespread feeling that a regular Ministerial Conference should take place this year, given that it has now been almost four years since the most recent Ministerial Conference in 2005. I would like to stress the word “regular”, as it has also become clear that this Conference is not intended to be a negotiating session — the DDA negotiations are on a separate track. The intention is simply to fulfil the Rules of Procedure agreed for sessions of the Ministerial Conference, adopted by the General Council in January 1995. These, following on Article IV of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, provide that “[r]egular sessions of the Ministerial Conference shall be held at least once every two years.”

In my recent consultations on this matter, I suggested that the Seventh Session of the Ministerial Conference could be based on three guiding principles which I termed “FIT” — Full participation, Inclusiveness, and Transparency, and that for this reason, it should be centred around plenary sessions in which all Ministers may participate equally. This idea seemed to meet with widespread approval.

There also seems to be wide agreement among Members on setting an overall theme for discussion in the Plenary Sessions, which Ministers could address in their statements. Ideas have also been put forward regarding the question of providing sub-themes for the Ministers' discussions, and the format in which discussion of these sub-themes could take place.

Taking all these points into consideration, it is clear that we are planning a very different sort of Ministerial Conference from the recent past. One where the emphasis will be on transparency and open discussion rather than on small group processes and informal negotiating structures. It also follows that the aim need not be to negotiate a Ministerial Declaration, though of course we will have to consider the most effective way of recording the substance of the Ministers’ discussions and any convergence or conclusions they may reach.

In the light of what I gleaned from my consultations on these matters, on 11 May I circulated the draft decision contained in document WT/GC/W/601. This draft decision sets the dates for the Seventh Session — 30 November to 2 December, its venue — Geneva, and its overall theme. Subsequent discussion with delegations indicated the need to review the proposed theme, and after further consultations I therefore circulated yesterday document WT/GC/W/601/Rev.1, proposing as a general theme “The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment”. This document is also available outside the room.

The draft decision also establishes a mandate for the General Council Chairman to undertake all necessary action to prepare the Seventh Session in consultation with Members and in co-operation with the Director-General and the Swiss authorities.

Here I would like to refer to the second sub-item we have before us today — Election of Officers. The Rules of Procedure for Sessions of the Ministerial Conference require the election of a Chairperson and three Vice Chairpersons. As noted in Uruguay's communication, Ministers in Hong Kong requested the Council to hold consultations on this question, as well as on the question of date and venue. These requests are very much in line with the practice of the recent past, and on each previous occasion the Council has first decided on the question of date and venue, and then taken up the election of officers at a later date. From my consultations so far, it is clear that this latter issue requires further consideration, and I suggest that that it be taken up in the consultations to take place under the mandate provided to the General Council Chairman in the decision before you today.

It is also under this mandate that I will be taking up all aspects of the organization of the Seventh Session. Among the points raised in my consultations so far which I have just mentioned, I believe preparing the substantive agenda will be central to how we prepare the format and logistics of the Conference. Therefore, this issue is the logical starting point for the consultations I will be undertaking with Members in the near future. These consultations will be carried out in line with our principles of full transparency and inclusiveness, so that we can together prepare the substance and logistics of the Seventh Session in a positive and efficient manner.

Before we take up this draft decision, I would like to stress a number of points.

I think there is wide agreement that, given the global economic environment, this Conference should be a much more lean and economical event than in the past. At the present juncture, holding the sort of Conference Members have become accustomed to would not only be inappropriate, but would no doubt be seen as extravagance. This departure from past Ministerial Conferences could help us establish a new model of Ministerial-level meetings conducive to good governance and overall review of the WTO, and one that is not inextricably tied to any particular ongoing negotiations.

Needless to say, this kind of scaled-down, no-frills, low-key meeting of Ministers on a regular biennial basis would require a similarly radical change in delegations' approach to this event, particularly in terms of the numbers of representatives from each Member attending.

In practical terms, the Conference would take place during a fixed three-day period. The Opening Ceremony would take place on the afternoon of the first day, with Plenary Sessions taking place over the following two days. A brief Closing Ceremony would then take place at the end of the third day.

As in the past, there would be a time limit on the statements by Ministers, and all the statements would be on the record of the Ministerial Session, with the possibility of circulating longer statements where necessary. Also as in the past, the speakers list would be open in advance, as per the normal practice for Ministerial Conferences.

The physical space available for the Conference will inevitably be more constrained than in the recent past. This means, as I suggested earlier, that Members will have to accept limitations in several areas, such as seating in the various sessions, hotel accommodation, and so on. It will, therefore, be in everyone's interest if delegations are kept lean. In this context, the nature of this Conference should be kept firmly in mind — the meeting is not intended as a negotiating session, but rather a regular gathering of Ministers to engage in a broader evaluation of the functioning of the multilateral trading system.

Following today's decision on the date and venue of the Seventh Session, I will begin my consultations as soon as possible. As in the past, information on the logistics and organization of the Ministerial Conference will be circulated by the Secretariat in due course.

(Following the discussion, the General Council adopted the draft decision contained in document WT/GC/W/601/Rev.1.)

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