WTO: 2012 NEWS ITEMS

TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE: FORMAL MEETING

> Reports of negotiating chairs


NOTE:
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.

The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.

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MINUTES:

Introduction

I would like to say a few words of introduction and then invite the Negotiating Group Chairs to take the floor.  After this, I will make my statement as Chair, following which I will open the floor to participants. 

The last informal TNC took place over one year ago in October 2011, and more than two years have passed since our last formal session in March 2010.  Over this period of time, I have continued to provide the membership with updates at each regular session of the General Council and we have had comprehensive discussions on the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) both at that level and, indeed, at the Ministerial Conference last year.

Nevertheless, I believe that a formal TNC was long overdue — in terms of transparency and inclusiveness for all Members, but equally in view of the important work that lies ahead in 2013.  I hope that today’s meeting will be able to take stock of progress in the negotiating front over the past 12 months with a view to prepare the year ahead of us. 

Today’s meeting is also timely because it is the half-way mark of the period between MC8 and MC9. The guidance provided by Ministers at last year’s conference remains the road-map which will guide us to Bali and we have a collective responsibility to ensure that we all work towards clearly identifying where Members’ interests lie, and recognizing which areas can be realistically considered short-term deliverables and which areas require further work to ensure a successful and balanced outcome.

Let me update you on my recent contacts and meetings. At the Annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Tokyo, I cautioned that the global economic picture remained marked by turbulence, with sluggish growth rates, high global unemployment and downwards predictions for world trade growth.  The WTO has recently revised its forecasts for 2012, putting trade growth in volume at 2.5 per cent — a substantially lower rate than the earlier forecast of 3.7 per cent.  This gloomy economic backdrop makes it even more urgent that we strive to identify solid deliverables for 2013. 

At the World Export Development Forum in Indonesia we discussed the importance of trade capacity building.  I also met with the authorities in Jakarta to discuss preparations for MC9.  I have also participated in the ASEAN Global Dialogue on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia, where I had the opportunity to exchange views and consult with ASEAN+6.  Finally, I recently returned from a visit to our most recent LDC Members, Samoa and Vanuatu, where I met with government officials and business leaders.  In Samoa, I also met with the Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding that strengthens the long-standing cooperation between the WTO and the PIFS and ensures joint efforts to provide trade-related technical assistance to Pacific island countries. 

The message I took away from all of these high-level meetings was a continuing strong support for the multilateral trading system and an overwhelming recognition of the importance of strengthening multilateral trade rules to limit protectionism and restore sustained levels of global trade growth.  If I had to summarise in one sentence what I heard I would say that Members remain committed to re-energising the WTO talks in a pragmatic and practical manner and to ensuring that 2013 is a productive year for the Organization. 

The Chairman then gave the floor to the Chairs of the bodies established by the TNC, as follows:

  • Amb. John Adank (New Zealand), Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture
    News item
    Audio
  • Amb. Eduardo Ernesto Sperisen-Yurt (Guatemala), Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation
    Audio
  • Amb. Kwok Fook Seng (Singapore), Special Session of the Committee on Trade & Development
    Audio
  • Amb. Remigi Winzap (Switzerland), Negotiating Group on Market Access
    Audio
  • Amb. Fernando de Mateo (Mexico), Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services
    Audio
  • Amb. Wayne McCook (Jamaica), Negotiating Group on Rules
    Audio
  • Amb. Yonov Frederick Agah (Nigeria), Special Session of the Council for TRIPS
    News item
    Audio
  • Amb. Selim Kuneralp (Turkey), Special Session of the Committee on Trade & Environment
    Audio
  • Amb. Ronald Saborío Soto (Costa Rica), Special Session of the DSB
    Audio
  •  

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s statement
Formal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting,
7 December 2012

Director-General Pascal Lamy’s statement
Audio

I would like to thank the Chairs for their comprehensive reports as well as for their efforts to keep the multilateral process running, whether at the formal level or through consultations in various formats.

As you have just heard, we still have a long road ahead of us.  But before looking ahead, I would like to quickly look back and give you my own across the board overview of our progress since the beginning of the year. 

Our work since January has been guided by the course of action set out at MC8, where Ministers acknowledged that the DDA could not be delivered as expected in the near future and that we needed to more fully explore different negotiating approaches and advance negotiations where progress could be achieved. 

MC8 left us with a long to-do list.  Our work in 2012 has been devoted to preparing the ground for the follow-up to the Ministerial guidance.  Early on, you have engaged — both formally and informally — in trying to advance areas of interest to your delegations.  Despite a slow start, negotiating activities picked up in the second half of the year.  At the General Council meeting on 3 October, we noted encouraging signs of re-engagement with the emergence of a basket of issues on which consensus could be achieved in the short-term, and agreed that it was time to seriously engage in bridging the gaps on these. 

We have just heard about the work that is on-going in each group.  It obviously shows a diverse picture. Some areas show little activity, but there is progress on trade facilitation, on some agriculture items, on Special and Differential Treatment, including LDC matters, as well as on Dispute Settlement. We also know there is work on services opening, although the shape of an agreement remains, as I understand it, open, which is why this was not part of Ambassador de Mateo’s report. I am firmly convinced that such engagement, along with some creativity, is the key to further progress early next year.

In moving forward, we have to make sure that, during the first quarter of 2013, this momentum and renewed sense of engagement is translated into concrete proposals.  Our credibility — your credibility — in the next phase will depend on our ability — your ability — to make tangible progress on specific issues as they mature.

Let me now offer you my own views about the immediate next steps that we can take to develop a collective vision for the 2013 deliverables.

The activities of 2012 have contributed to build some momentum. You have put on your negotiating caps again. And we cannot afford to lose this momentum.  We must build on it. This requires us to step up our engagement and act in a timely and responsible manner to ensure that all proposals are given the right level of attention.  For this to take place, together we need to make sure that proposals are put on the table in good time, to allow for discussions and for the regular process to take place.  In other words, we must avoid introducing last-minute proposals that have not been discussed in the appropriate bodies first.  We need to go back to our well know principle of “no surprises”. Any kind of Christmas-tree syndrome as we get closer to MC9 would have destabilizing effects on the entire process, probably jeopardize the Ministerial Conference itself and, hence, dent the credibility of the WTO. I want to make clear that the Negotiating Bodies are the starting point for any proposal to be considered by the membership.

To ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible and to avoid any surprises, we need to stick to a few simple guidelines. 

First, we need to work towards what is reasonably doable.  Members should be realistic in their demands, take into account other Members’ red lines and stay clear of what are known to be unattainable objectives. 

Second, when advancing a proposal, it is the proponents’ responsibility to build consensus around it.  Make sure that you are working towards convincing the other Members, not yourselves.

Third, avoid being confrontational.  Any proposal should not be framed as a kind of take-it-or-leave-it position.  The negotiating process entails a trade-off between concessions and demands.  Be flexible and work together with other Members and around their sensitivities to achieve a common understanding. 

Certainly, none of these points are new.  They have guided the last couple of MC preparatory processes.  They are mainly dictated by common sense, but they are fundamental if we want to act responsibly and with collective determination in the run-up to Bali.

Without setting new and unworkable deadlines, MC9 provides us with an opportunity to show that WTO Members can advance the negotiating front of the WTO agenda.  Of course, we should be under no illusion about the breadth of what we can achieve in the short timeframe between now and MC9.  Nor should we create unrealistic expectations. The main stumbling blocks of the DDA are still standing and many of the toughest nuts will likely not be cracked by the time Ministers meet in Bali.

But although we must manage expectations and keep ambitions in check for Bali, we cannot fall short of delivering on a credible basket of issues that would signal your confidence that the rest of the Doha agenda can be addressed in due course.

We can also look at positive developments outside the framework of the DDA.  For example, under the ITA, progress has been made on technical discussions to expand the product coverage of the Agreement.  Also, following the adoption of the revised Government Procurement Agreement in March, work was resumed to bring it into effect, while, at the same time, an increasing number of WTO Members have signed up to become observers, showing that there is growing interest in Government Procurement issues. 

In addition, the agreement reached amongst APEC countries last summer on a list of environmental goods may provide momentum for further multilateral market opening in this area of the negotiations, provided the value of bindings commitments is duly recognised.

Before concluding, let me say a few words regarding the two TRIPS implementation issues of GI extension and TRIPS-CBD, to which Ambassador Agah made reference in his report and on which I am required to report in my capacity as Director-General.  Since my last written report contained in document WT/GC/W/633 — TN/C/W/61, dated 21 April 2011, there have not been any consultations.  I will continue to keep you informed of developments on these issues.

In conclusion, there are encouraging signs showing that there is overall interest and willingness to engage on preparing negotiating deliverables for 2013.  The needed impetus to push the talks forward and translate them into action can come from any front.  We should leave no stone unturned. But we should also not wait for the last minute to engage. Recent engagement must be switched to a higher gear. One more housekeeping Ministerial Conference in Bali would not suffice to keep the Doha house alive.

This concludes my statement.

The Trade Negotiations Committee took note of the Chairman’s statement and of the reports by the Chairpersons.

It was so agreed.

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