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were speaking in a working session on the “Review of WTO activities,
including the Doha Work Programme” on the second day of the Geneva
Ministerial Conference, when they also discussed regional trade agreements,
Aid for Trade, countries’ negotiations to join the WTO and some other
The four subjects were suggested in an opening statement by Director-General
Pascal Lamy, in a session that was chaired by the Conference chair, Chilean
Finance Minister Andrés Velasco.
Doha Round: more than stocktaking?
On the need for action over the coming months,
some delegates such as Australia and Pakistan went further than their
colleagues in arguing that ministers’ involvement in early 2010 should be
more than simply to take stock of the situation. These members said
ministers should get down to bridging the gaps on outstanding political
Some delegations also said a “roadmap” for future work will be needed. Some
speakers envisaged this as a possible outcome of a week of meetings of
senior officials from members’ capitals, already scheduled to take place in
Geneva in the week of 14 December.
This would continue the sequence of monthly senior officials' meetings set
up in response to the urging of a group of ministers who met in New Delhi in
September. Sessions of the various negotiating groups have also been
organized around these senior officials’ meetings.
The result has given the negotiations some structure, but some delegations
such as India said the topics discussed have only been technical and
therefore have not moved the substance of the negotiations forward.
Doha Round: bridging the gaps
India called for discussions on “headline” issues,
such as cotton, domestic support in agriculture, and “mode 4” in services
(when the supply of a service involves workers going into the consuming
Singapore referred to seven issues that Mr Lamy recently highlighted as
politically difficult subjects that need to be settled: in agriculture the
special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, resolving conflicting
proposals over tropical products and products currently enjoying preferences
in richer markets, and cotton; in non-agricultural market access (NAMA)
bilateral testing of the implications of various flexibilities, and free
trade in individual sectors; services; rules, including fisheries subsidies;
and intellectual property. (Some of these are explained
“The days of only nice statements should be over,” said EU Agriculture
Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.
Several ministers or officials also repeated the positions that their
countries have held for some time.
Ministers generally acknowledged that quite a lot has been achieved in the
Doha Round since the last Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in 2005. Most,
but not all, referred to 2010 as the deadline or target for concluding the
Round and indicated that the pace of the negotiations would have to
accelerate if members were to achieve that.
Minister Rita Lau of Hong Kong, China, urged her colleagues “to exercise
maximum flexibility in the Doha Round” in the coming months.
Many countries said that the drafts on
and non-agricultural market access
circulated by the negotiating groups’ chairs in December 2008 should remain
the basis for negotiation and that the development dimension should be
retained at the heart of the Round.
Doha Round: kick-off questions
At the start of the session, Mr Lamy said: “The
longer it takes to conclude the negotiations, the longer the WTO’s insurance
policy to guarantee stability and predictability of market access to
governments and traders alike will remain unsubscribed.”
He added: “The amount of progress that has been made since the last
Ministerial Conference, in 2005, is quite impressive.”
Mr Lamy asked: “How do we translate this political will into concrete
action? How do we organize ourselves to tackle the last few remaining
issues, bridge the last gaps, paving the way for a successful conclusion of
“We already have a meeting of senior officials scheduled for December here
in Geneva. Isn’t it time to agree on a calendar of future meetings and to
take a deep breath and push for this last stretch?”
Regional trade agreements
Speakers broadly agreed that the proliferation of
bilateral or regional trade agreements was a concern for the multilateral
trading system. They said members need to ensure that the two approaches to
trade liberalisation continue to support each other, although different
speakers had different views about how to do this.
Some supported putting a mechanism in place which would ensure the eventual
convergence of the two approaches. However, some rejected the idea of
converting the benefits offered in regional agreements into the multilateral
Some suggested that the new WTO transparency mechanism — information
compiled and distributed on various agreements — had worked quite well but
that it could still be improved.
Several ministers representing current members
said they wished to see negotiations to become members streamlined so that
neighbouring countries with which they trade actively could join the WTO.
They were particularly keen to see this happen for least-developed
countries. Five observer governments negotiating membership or waiting to
negotiate — Sudan, Iran, Algeria, Ethiopia and Montenegro — called for their
accessions talks to conclude as quickly as possible.
Speakers broadly agreed that accession is important for broadening and
strengthening the WTO. But views differed on how to advance these: through
closer collective attention (the “multilateral” part of the membership
talks) or through the usual practice of giving priority to bilateral
Mr Lamy had asked them: “Some questions to help the debate: are you yourself
given the necessary attention to all of these processes ? Of course there is
political attention — and perhaps too much attention — to the accession of
some countries, but then not enough to other countries.
“Why is it that some small candidates, some of them LDCs [least-developed
countries], who have already made a lot of progress in bilateral
negotiations and in internal reform, do not seem to be able to make it in?
Are we doing everything we can to facilitate accessions? Is there something
acceding countries need from members to help them push the necessary
“My purpose here is not finger-pointing, but simply to try to clarify and
try to help us enlarging the family, in a way which addresses the interests
of all members.”
Aid for trade
Speakers also recognized that providing market
access for developing countries and least-developed countries is not enough.
They said Aid for Trade is important to address supply-side constraints and
other bottlenecks. Several called for donors to live up to their
The question Mr Lamy posed was “How can we secure future financing of Aid
for Trade programmes, in a time when public treasuries are suffering from
the crisis, but in a time where previously available private finance has
disappeared to support capacity building in areas like transports or energy
Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said it is
important to remember that there are some good stories to tell on trade as
well. As an example, he cited the fact that the share of global trade held
by least-developed countries has more than doubled from 0.6 per cent to 1.1
per cent since 2000.
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For the first time in the WTO,
the name “European Union” was used in the 1 December 2009
working session at the Geneva Ministerial Conference. This was
the result of the Lisbon Treaty taking effect.
Before that, for legal reasons the European Union was known
officially in the WTO as the European Communities and that name
will continue to be found in older documents.
Press conference by WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell
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