WTO: 2011 NEWS ITEMS

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCES: 8TH, GENEVA 2011

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“MC8” = 8th WTO Ministerial Conference, Geneva 2011

Geneva Ministerial Conference 2011
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FULL NEWS COVERAGE

 

THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.

  

Samoa and Montenegro will become members 30 days after they have notified the WTO that they have ratified the deal, as is the case with Russia whose membership was approved the previous day. A fourth applicant, Vanuatu has already had its membership agreed.

The Ministerial Conference ended with decisions on:

 

Chairperson: ‘this must not dissipate’

The concluding summary of chairperson Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, Nigeria’s trade minister, included “elements for political guidance”, members’ shared view of the current situation in the WTO, and an account of ministers’ two-day informal discussions on a range of WTO topics.

He told ministers that the conference was significant in three ways:

  • a number of positive decisions were taken, including the membership agreements of Russia, Samoa and Montenegro, on the Government Procurement Agreement,  and the seven ministerial decisions.
  • the conference sent a strong collective message that the WTO is more than ever important for the world
  • the ministers engaged in important dialogues

“It is essential that we don’t let this positive political mood dissipate,” he said. He said he hopes the informal dialogue of this meeting will continue afterwards.

 

Director-General: ‘don’t cut the branch you’re sitting on’

“Go back to business, my friends,”WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy urged the ministers in his concluding remarks. “In doing this, you will show that you care about the multilateral trading system, that you care about the WTO, that you are willing to help finding solutions to the economic crisis.”

That includes work on the Doha Development Agenda negotiations: “The DDA — declared dead so many times, lambasted as a negotiation of the past, decried as a failure — is all the more important today, with an ever deeper crisis looming, than it was in the past.”

The conference was a first step, Mr Lamy said. Ministers recognized that the talks are at an impasse, and that they need to explore different negotiating approaches. The WTO has plenty on its plate.

He observed that this will be his last ministerial conference — his term ends in mid-2013, before the next two-yearly conference is likely to be held.

“I am deeply convinced of the need to keep the WTO strong and meaningful,” he said. “To fulfil its mandated objectives of raising the standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand. To contribute to sustainable development. …

“…I am, more than ever, convinced that political courage and goodwill can make a difference in helping us weather the storm. I am more than ever convinced that a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude will not be helpful.”

He quoted a Russian proverb: Don’t chop off the branch you are sitting on. “This is an appropriate saying for times of crisis,” he said, “when governments are looking for drastic measures to address difficult social and economic problems.”

The concluding press conference is here.

 

The working sessions

Earlier, ministers finished their informal two-day discussions — “working sessions” — on three topics:

 

Trade and development

Ministers and other heads of delegations continued their discussion from the previous day. New speakers repeated the view that trade is a driving force for development. Several said that in order to achieve this trade barriers should be removed to allow them to export more, some including non-tariff barriers such as technical and safety standards.

Many speakers referred to duty-free, quota-free market access for least developed countries, some developed countries saying that they have already given this for 100% of products. Some higher income developing countries also said they have applied this on some products.

Some focused on agriculture and the need to remove market distortions caused by subsidies and high import duties. Some focused in particular on cotton, welcoming some countries’ recent announcements on improving market access to cotton and cotton products from least developed countries, but called for members to live up to their commitments to cut distorting subsidies for cotton by more than the reductions on other agricultural products.

Several spoke of “marginalization” among developing and least developed countries that have not been able to benefit from the trading system. The high cost of finance needed for exporting was also an issue. Some smaller middle-income countries said they are deprived of finance because the single indicator of gross domestic product per person (per capita GDP) is used to determine whether funds are available rather than including other measures such as the human development index (HDI).

Most speakers welcomed the decisions ministers were about to take on least developed countries’ issues. Again, they stressed the importance of aid for trade. And several reiterated the call for the WTO’s Trade and Development Committee to be strengthened and for a monitoring system to see how special treatment provisions for developing countries are being implemented.

 

Doha Development Agenda negotiations

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who chairs the Trade Negotiations Committee, urged members to work pragmatically on the Doha Development Agenda (Doha Round) in the coming year: on identifying which issues might be settled more quickly and on how to deal with other issues that are more difficult to resolve.

One danger, he warned, is that members will spend too much time haggling over which issues are “low hanging fruit” — candidates for quicker agreement. Instead of getting to work on those issues, members would simply go round and round the tree trying to choose the low hanging fruit, he warned, a metaphor that some other ministers echoed.

Mr Lamy said members broadly agree on the diagnosis of why the Doha Round is deadlocked. They also share a desire to finish the negotiations as a whole (“single undertaking”) package. The have to fill the gap between the diagnosis and the desire, he said.

Ministers and other heads of delegations agreed that the talks’ impasse is disappointing and that ultimately the outcome should be the entire “single undertaking” package, even if some issues are tackled first.

The candidate topics for quicker “early harvest” agreements that were mentioned most frequently were trade facilitation and duty-free and quota-free market access for least developed countries’ exports.

However there were differences in emphasis. For example some developing countries stressed the importance of liberalizing trade, some stressed the need for special treatment to allow them room to raise tariffs or subsidies or take other action in trade (“policy space”), and some complained that failure to conclude the Doha Round has left countries the policy space to raise tariffs and subsidies. Some countries said restrictions on food exports should be outlawed.

Several argued that agriculture must be at the heart of the negotiations and should be included in any effort to reach early agreement because subsidies and trade barriers in the sector seriously distort markets and because it is essential for development in many countries.

A number of developing countries said members should heed the ministerial declaration of the “Friends of Development” group (document WT/MIN(11)/17).

As in the previous sessions, a number of delegations commented on suggestions that the WTO should start to look at new issues such as climate change. Some favoured this. Some others said new issues should be discussed after the Doha Round is completed. Some opposed bringing climate change into the WTO, arguing that the WTO is a trade organization, not an environmental one.

Process. A number of members focused on how the negotiations are conducted. Some simply repeated their concern that the talks should be “transparent” (information shared fully among all participants), “inclusive” (involving all members) and “bottom-up” (ideas coming from the members, and not imposed on them).

Some went further, complaining that the “elements for political guidance“ document did not reflect the views of the full membership because some were not represented (see also “Position on the document ‘Elements for Political Guidance’ “, document WT/MIN(11)/W/4). They warned that they will find it difficult to be flexible in forthcoming discussions if the negotiating system remains unchanged. (General Council Chairperson Yonov Frederick Agah, Nigeria’s ambassador and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy explained the origins of the document on 24 November 2011 and 30 November 2011.)

 

(Consensus part of chairperson’s concluding statement)
Elements for political guidance

WT/MIN(11)/W/2
1 December 2011

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE
Eighth Session
Geneva, 15– 17 December 2011

In line with the procedure agreed at the General Council meeting on 30 November 2011, the following document is being circulated to Members and will be forwarded to the Chairman of the Ministerial Conference for inclusion as the consensus part of his statement.

Importance of the Multilateral Trading System and the WTO

1. Ministers emphasize the value of the rules-based multilateral trading system and agree to strengthen it and make it more responsive to the needs of Members, especially in the current challenging global economic environment, in order to stimulate economic growth, employment and development.

2. Ministers underscore that the WTO’s role in keeping markets open is particularly critical in light of the challenging global economic environment. The WTO has a vital role to play in the fight against all forms of protectionism and in promoting economic growth and development. Ministers also acknowledge that experience has shown that protectionism tends to deepen global economic downturns. Ministers fully recognize WTO rights and obligations of Members and affirm their commitment to firmly resist protectionism in all its forms.

3. Ministers underline the importance of the work of regular WTO bodies including their role in the oversight of implementing existing Agreements; dispute avoidance; transparency through monitoring and reporting and as a forum for the consideration of trade-related issues raised by Members. Ministers call for strengthening and improving their functioning.

4. Ministers recognize the important asset that the WTO Dispute Settlement system represents and commit themselves to strengthen it, including through concluding the DSU review negotiations.

5. Ministers welcome the accessions of Vanuatu, Samoa, and the Russian Federation to the WTO and recognize the contribution of accession to strengthening the multilateral trading system. Ministers remain committed to efforts to facilitate accessions, in particular of least-developed countries (LDCs).

Trade and Development

1. Ministers reaffirm that development is a core element of the WTO’s work. They also reaffirm the positive link between trade and development and call for focused work in the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) which is to conduct this work in accordance with its mandate and report the results achieved to Ministers at the Ninth Session. Ministers call on WTO Members to fully operationalize the mandate of the CTD as a focal point for development work.

2. Ministers reaffirm the need for the WTO to assist in further integrating developing countries, particularly LDCs and, without creating a sub-category of WTO Members, small, vulnerable economies, into the multilateral trading system.

3. Ministers acknowledge the needs of LDCs and commit themselves to ensure that LDCs’ interests are given due priority in the future work of the WTO. In this regard, they have taken decisions concerning LDC accession in document WT/COMTD/LDC/19, extension of the LDC transition period under Article 66.1 of the TRIPS Agreement in document IP/C/59/Add.2, and LDCs services waiver in document TN/S/37. Ministers also urge the full implementation of Decision 36 of Annex F of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of 2005 on measures in favour of LDCs. Ministers also welcome the Istanbul Programme of Action for LDCs for the decade 2011-2020.

4. Ministers confirm their commitment to on-going dialogue and engagement to progress the mandate in paragraph 11 of the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration to address cotton “ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically”, within the agriculture negotiations. Ministers highlight the value of on-going reporting on cotton, and invite the Director-General to continue furnishing periodic reports on the development assistance aspects of cotton to each Ministerial Conference. Ministers commend the work being undertaken within the Director-General’s Consultative Process to advance developmental assistance aspects of cotton.

5. Ministers reaffirm the integrality of special and differential treatment provisions to the WTO agreements and their determination to fulfil the Doha mandate to review them with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational. Ministers agree to expedite work towards finalizing the Monitoring Mechanism for special and differential treatment. They also agree to take stock of the 28 Agreement-specific proposals in Annex C of the draft Cancún text with a view to formal adoption of those agreed.

6. Ministers take note of the progress achieved on Aid for Trade and of the Third Global Aid for Trade Review. They agree to maintain, beyond 2011, Aid for Trade levels that at least reflect the average of the period 2006-2008 and to work with development banks to ensure the availability of trade finance to low income countries. Ministers reiterate their commitment to funding the WTO Global Trust Fund in a predictable and timely manner to enable the Secretariat to continue to provide the Technical Assistance and Capacity Building required.

7. Ministers acknowledge WTO’s co-operation with other development-related organizations, in particular, the International Trade Centre (ITC). Ministers reaffirm the ITC’s role in improving and enhancing trade support institutions and policies for the benefit of exporting efforts; and in strengthening the export capacity of enterprises to respond to market opportunities. Ministers encourage the ITC to support and assist developing countries to address business environment and market access issues affecting the private sector.

Doha Development Agenda

1. Ministers deeply regret that, despite full engagement and intensified efforts to conclude the Doha Development Agenda single undertaking since the last Ministerial Conference, the negotiations are at an impasse.

2. Ministers acknowledge that there are significantly different perspectives on the possible results that Members can achieve in certain areas of the single undertaking. In this context, it is unlikely that all elements of the Doha Development Round could be concluded simultaneously in the near future.

3. Despite this situation, Ministers remain committed to work actively, in a transparent and inclusive manner, towards a successful multilateral conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda in accordance with its mandate.

4. In order to achieve this end and to facilitate swifter progress, Ministers recognize that Members need to more fully explore different negotiating approaches while respecting the principles of transparency and inclusiveness.

5. In this context, Ministers commit to advance negotiations, where progress can be achieved, including focusing on the elements of the Doha Declaration that allow Members to reach provisional or definitive agreements based on consensus earlier than the full conclusion of the single undertaking.

6. Ministers also stress that they will intensify their efforts to look into ways that may allow Members to overcome the most critical and fundamental stalemates in the areas where multilateral convergence has proven to be especially challenging.

7. Ministers maintain that, in their negotiations, they will continue their work based on the progress already made. Ministers affirm that any agreements reached, at any time, have to respect fully the development component of the mandate.

 

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s closing statement

Chairman Aganga
Ministers
Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a Russian proverb that says “Don’t chop off the branch you are sitting on”. This is an appropriate saying for times of crisis, when governments take drastic and often short-sighted measures to address difficult social and economic problems.

In my opening statement, I spoke of turbulence and instability, of rising unemployment and disappearing development gains. There are serious, worrying signs of economic retraction and isolationism, signs that to some people recall the times that preceded the 1930’s depression.

The multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO is, at least in part, accountable for the fact that history is not being repeated.

What we heard during the Ministerial is that the WTO is part of the solution to the crisis, if you are all collectively determined to keep protectionist pressures at bay, according to WTO rules.

During the last two and a half days, you have taken significant decisions and you have discussed relevant issues. We now have four new Members in our family — Montenegro, Russia, Samoa and Vanuatu — and some of you have decided to cut a deal on GPA. You have also taken decisions of specific importance to LDCs, which comprise a large part of our Membership. Let me highlight here the one relating to the streamlining of accession processes for LDCs, which we now have to operationalize. Bilateral discussions between the Cotton-4 and some Members have helped move the cotton issue forward even if a lot remains to be done to fulfil the DDA mandate on this issue.

In the three working sessions held in parallel with the plenary, you have discussed some of the most pressing issues of the multilateral trade agenda and it is clear that this organization has plenty to work on in the two years to come. 

We also had an in-depth debate about the DDA, which exemplifies the legislative function of the WTO. The DDA — declared dead so many times, lambasted as a negotiation of the past, decried as a failure — is all the more important today, with an ever deeper crisis looming, than it was in the past. You have taken a first step in this Conference, in recognizing that there is an impasse, and a need to more fully explore different negotiating approaches, compatible with the principles of inclusiveness, transparency, bottom up of our work. Now there is a need to do exactly that: start exploring those approaches, Go back to business. In doing this, you will show that you care about the multilateral trading system, that you care about the WTO, that you are willing to help finding solutions to the economic crisis.

Mr Chairman,
This is the last regular Ministerial in which I participate as Director-General. My only stake in this Organization has been and remains pure, genuine interest in seeing it reinforced, thriving, more efficient, more inclusive, more relevant. I am therefore in a good position to speak my mind clearly and without reservations — something I have always done, as those who know me are aware.

I am deeply convinced of the need to keep the WTO strong and meaningful. To fulfil its mandated objectives of raising the standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand. To contribute to sustainable development, as foreseen in the Marrakesh Agreement.

I am, more than ever, convinced that political courage and goodwill can make a difference in helping us weather the storm. I am more than ever convinced that a “wait-and-see” attitude will not be helpful. The lack of convergence that exists today on some issues will not solve itself with time. I call on all Ministers, on all delegations, to start working immediately in a creative, constructive manner, as you know you are able to do, when there is political will. Above all, keep in mind that you should not, in any way, chop off the branch you are sitting on!

Mr Chairman,
Allow me, as we come to the concluding moments of this Conference, to express my most sincere gratitude to you, for chairing this Ministerial gathering with a firm yet gentle hand. Your professional skills as a shrewd negotiator and politician have been key to the success of this Conference. The WTO community owes you — and your Vice-Chairs, Ministers Johann Schneider-Ammann of Switzerland; Minister Mustapa Mohamed of Malaysia, and Minister Stephen Cadiz of Trinidad and Tobago — a debt of gratitude.

My thanks go also to Ambassador Fred Agah, Chairman of the General Council, who steered the preparations for this conference in a most competent, balanced and professional manner. My gratitude goes also to the Swiss authorities, who have, in their usual discreet and competent manner, helped us with security and other logistical aspects of this Conference. Finally, Mr Chairman, allow me to thank the WTO Secretariat staff for their skill and dedication in organizing this Conference. There are many people in the Secretariat, at all levels, who have worked intensively for weeks, if not months, to make this conference run smoothly. Their role may not be a very visible, but it is an essential one, and they deserve your gratitude and mine.

A final message, Mr Chairman, regarding the technical problems encountered at the opening session of this Conference. Following that hiccup, we have negotiated a rebate in the rental price of this conference centre. This rebate will be offered as a contribution to UNICEF — a present from you all to children in need around the world.

Mr Chairman,
I take this opportunity to express my personal wishes of happiness and success in the New Year to all present. May it be a busy year for us all.

Thank you for your attention.

 

 Jargon buster 

• accession

• binding

• bracketed

• square brackets

• DDA

• distortion

• DSU

• food security

• formal/informal

• free trade area

• RTA

• GPA

• Green Room

• HoDs

• inclusive

• LDCs

• notification

• NTBs

• plurilateral

• S&D

• trade facilitation

• Uruguay Round

• working party (accession)

• working party report (accession)

> More jargon: glossary

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