WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

TRADE NEGOTIATIONS COMMITTEE: INFORMAL MEETING


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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.

“INFORMAL MEETING” means there are no minutes.

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> Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference

Good morning everybody.

As this is our first meeting of 2014, I would like to wish you all a happy and successful New Year — I very much hope it is a productive one.

I want to thank you all for the role you played, individually and jointly, in delivering that historic success in Bali.

After an 18 year drought, Bali proved that the WTO can deliver negotiated outcomes.

It delivered significant gains for the global economy and particularly for our developing and least-developed members. And it moved the spotlight back onto us here in Geneva.

But Bali has not finished the job.

We have two very significant tasks before us.

First and foremost, we need to implement the decisions and agreements reached in Bali.

Second, the Bali Declaration instructs us to prepare a clearly defined work program on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues by the end of 2014.

And we should remember that the Bali Declaration instructs that those areas where decisions were non-binding in nature must be a priority in our post-Bali work. We must keep a relentless focus on these issues.

So the real work starts now.

These two tasks will form the bulk of our work over the course of this year — and so this is what I want to talk about today.

 

IMPLEMENTING THE BALI PACKAGE

First, let’s focus on implementation.

The true significance of the Bali results, and the tangible realization of their benefits, will only be achieved as a result of the actions that you, the members, take over the coming months.

This is an important test for the system — and one which we must pass if we want to move forward and see the benefits of Bali made real.

We must work together to keep up the momentum and the pressure that allowed us to reach a successful outcome in the first place.

The Bali Package consists of ten ministerial decisions, each of which requires different steps to take forward.

A lot of the implementation efforts will fall outside the TNC — but for clarity I think it would be helpful to take a few moments to set out some of the actions needed to implement each of those decisions.

Let’s start with Trade Facilitation, where the work has already started, and where there are important milestones for implementation over the coming months.

The first meeting of the Preparatory Committee was convened by the General Council Chairman on 31 January.    

And we already have a chair, as you elected Ambassador Esteban Conejos by acclamation. Let me congratulate Ambassador Conejos, and wish him all the best in his new role.

The Preparatory Committee will swiftly commence the execution of the tasks Ministers gave it in Bali — specifically, to ensure the entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement and prepare for its efficient operation. 

The Bali decision on Trade Facilitation also calls on the Committee to carry out three immediate tasks:

  • undertaking a legal review of the Agreement;
  • drafting a protocol of amendment to include the Trade Facilitation Agreement in Annex IA of the WTO Agreement;
  • and receiving notifications of Category A commitments.

Our ability to move the whole of the WTO agenda forward hinges on our ability to fulfil the promises to provide timely and effective technical assistance and capacity building wherever it is demanded by developing and least-developed countries.

To help those countries make full use of the flexibilities set out in Section II, and to facilitate preparations for the Agreement’s entry into force, the Secretariat will continue its needs assessment program. But in addition there is an imperative on developing members to identify what support they need as early as possible. 

Donor members and various donor organizations are also getting ready to provide comprehensive support on Trade Facilitation.

I met with them yesterday for an initial conversation about the importance of coordination and transparency in the provision of support to developing countries.

Many donors were present at the meeting — over 25 countries and organisations were there.

In due course, the conversation needs to be broadened out to include beneficiary countries once there is greater clarity on their needs.

The WTO will of course help to facilitate the interaction between the donors and the beneficiaries.

So there is important — and urgent — work ahead.

I must also take this opportunity to thank Ambassador Sperisen-Yurt for his leadership and chairmanship of the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation. 

Let’s turn now to Agriculture, where there were three decisions in Bali.

For each of these three decisions, Ministerial guidance specifically indicates that the Committee on Agriculture will undertake follow-up activities in terms of monitoring and review.

The Committee on Agriculture met on 29 January and discussed follow-up on these issues.

So let me briefly take each one in turn…

First, export competition. This decision calls for dedicated discussions based on notifications and a questionnaire to be circulated by the Secretariat.

The annex of the Declaration includes elements for enhanced transparency on export competition which will form the basis of the Secretariat’s questionnaire.

The Committee on Agriculture agreed to hold the annual discussion on export competition during its meeting in June this year. This timing could also be appropriate in 2015 as it would provide adequate time between that discussion and the review foreseen at MC10. That’s for you, the members, to follow through in the Committee on Agriculture.

The Secretariat will circulate the questionnaire soon with a view to circulating a summary of the questionnaire results in advance of the June meeting.

Second, with respect to the decision on TRQ administration, the Committee on Agriculture is expected to review and monitor the implementation of the Understanding.

The monitoring to be conducted in the context of the TRQ underfill mechanism will depend on the members’ submissions.

Some members have indicated that they planned to take advantage of this mechanism. Others noted that the Committee on Agriculture could begin applying the monitoring procedures laid out in the Annex of this Decision as soon as submissions were received by the Committee.

That leaves the decision on public stockholding for food security purposes. Here the monitoring activity of the Committee will again depend on how members decide to push this monitoring agenda.

As you will recall, Ministers agreed to establish a work program to be undertaken in the Committee on Agriculture with the aim of making recommendations for a permanent solution on this issue — that’s what the decision says. This work program will take into account members’ existing and future submissions.

Indeed, the conversation on the work program has already started with a discussion at last week’s meeting of the Committee on Agriculture.

I’d like now to turn to the decisions on Development and LDC issues.

The adoption of an LDC package was a key achievement of the Bali Ministerial — representing a very significant step forward towards the better integration of LDCs into the multilateral trading system.

But, here too, Bali represents a beginning, not an end.

A significant amount of effort is needed to convert these decisions into concrete gains for the LDCs. 

On the operationalization of the services waiver the LDCs will need to table their collective request as soon as possible. This will kick-start the process, leading towards the high level meeting at which members will indicate if, and in what areas, they are prepared to give preferential access to LDCs. 

In parallel, the Council for Trade in Services is convening an informal meeting to discuss the operationalization of the waiver. I encourage all members to actively participate in this process, so that we can bring fruition to this important instrument.

Next, the decision on Duty-Free Quota-Free market access.

Similarly here, members will need to notify their DFQF schemes and any other relevant changes that they may have adopted. In my view the LDCs should be pursuing this issue in the Committee on Trade and Development. Of course all members have a responsibility here, and the Secretariat will be on hand to support the process, but the demandeurs must keep up the pressure.

The same goes for the last decision in the LDC package — which is on preferential rules of origin.

Members have concrete guidelines before them to make further improvements to their LDC preference schemes. I encourage members, whenever possible, to draw on these multilateral guidelines and make a further contribution to help ease market access for LDC products. There will be an opportunity to annually review developments through the Committee on Rules of Origin.

The other important development decision taken at Bali — though not specific to LDCs — was to establish a Monitoring Mechanism on Special and Differential Treatment. Members will take this forward through a Dedicated Session of the Committee on Trade and Development.

I should also mention here those items which were held over from Bali — for example the Cancun 28 proposals and the 6 Agreement-specific proposals. These items are under active consideration in the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development and this work will need to be picked up as soon as possible.

The tenth decision of the Bali package relates to Cotton, which of course is sensitive for many members, particularly the Cotton-4.

I understand that informal consultations are underway to call a meeting of the Director-General’s Consultative Mechanism. That meeting would likely be held back-to-back with a dedicated discussion on cotton in a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture in order that we can move this issue forward.

You all worked incredibly hard last year to conclude the negotiations and deliver the Bali package.

So now let’s make it count, by delivering the benefits of the package. 

 

DDA WORK PROGRAMME

But, as I say, implementation is only the first task.

The second is to get talks going again and prepare a clearly defined work program on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues by the end of 2014.

I have begun some very early and very preliminary consultations on these issues — for example:

  • At the World Economic Forum in Davos I attended the informal ministerial gathering convened by the Swiss Confederation — about which Ambassador Winzap will say a few words when I have concluded my remarks.
  • Last week I visited India and Oman where I talked to the business sector and government officials.
  • In recent days I have addressed members of the LDC and ACP Groups.
  • I have also seized every opportunity to exchange views with individual delegations.

I’ve been listening to members very carefully.

I think that in order to look forward, we must also look back. We must learn from the mistakes of the past — and also, now, from the success in Bali.

Bali offered us a number of good lessons in how to be successful multilaterally.

But I believe it will be very difficult to replicate the approach where we avoided the core issues — agriculture, industrial goods, services — and found harvests elsewhere. 

Most likely, any future multilateral engagement will require outcomes in agriculture. This was a central pillar of the DDA and many delegations have been stressing that, if agriculture comes into play, then so do the other two legs of the tripod: industrial goods and services.

We may even conclude that we’re not yet ready to properly tackle these three areas, but we can’t avoid the conversation.

Even though we can’t replicate Bali precisely, there are lessons learned that we must keep in mind. Our dialogue about the future is just beginning, but I believe that some parameters seem to be already framing this conversation.

I will talk through these parameters now, as I perceive them personally — though I stress that this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it arranged in order of priority or importance. It is intended merely to provide some inspiration in our discussions.

  • First, development has to be preserved as the central pillar of our efforts. Above all, we must have tangible results for the poorest members. This remains a development round.
  • Second is that we must be realistic and focus on those things which are doable. Instead of abstract goals, let’s look at what we can do and set goals that are reachable. Members have to be honest with each other and with their domestic constituencies about what can realistically be expected from the negotiations. We must find a balance between ambition and realism.
  • The third parameter is that the big issues in the DDA are interconnected, and therefore they must be tackled together. So, again, as it was in Bali, balance is key. We must find an approach in which all members contribute and all members benefit. And, again, where no one is faced with impossible demands. Bali worked because all members wanted it. Everyone has to see themselves in the issues on the table.
  • Fourth, in order to make headway in these areas, we must be ready to be creative and keep an open mind to new ideas that may allow members to overcome the most critical and fundamental stumbling blocks. This creativity, however, has to be coherent with the DDA mandate, which is flexible enough to accommodate new paths. Let me be very clear about this: I am not proposing changing the DDA mandate — quite the opposite really.
  • Fifth, the process must continue to be inclusive and transparent, engaging all members at all stages of the negotiations. This was a very important factor in Bali.
  • Sixth, our efforts must have a sense of urgency. This was also an essential element of the success in Bali. We must be careful, however, not to rush recklessly into another cycle of failures due to bad planning. We cannot afford to wait another 18 years for a result.

Finally, I think that, as well as being open-minded to new ideas, we should also be open-minded about how far-reaching our next steps will be.

Of course what we want to do is to find a path towards the conclusion of the Round. It may be that it can be done in one step — or we may need more than one step. Again, that is something that we have to discuss.

But whatever we do we will always be moving in one direction — and that is towards the conclusion of the Doha Round.

I think that we should keep these parameters in mind over the coming weeks and months. In summary:

  • development as a central pillar
  • doability — balancing realism and ambition, with no-one being asked to do the impossible
  • recognising that the issues are interconnected so must be tackled together
  • staying creative and open minded
  • always being inclusive and transparent 
  • maintaining a sense of urgency

As time is of the essence, I have asked the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups to start a dialogue with members on issues that we may be able to take forward — using the parameters that I just mentioned as a guide for discussions.

The exact format of these meetings will be up to the Chairs — they will have full discretion on how they conduct these discussions — but I have asked them to ensure that the format is as open as possible.

I think we need to start by asking simple questions: What went wrong? What should we do now? What level of ambition should — or could — we have?

While we may start with a range of different opinions I trust that in time commonalities will emerge and, in due course, that we will be able to find convergence.

And I can assure you that there is no hidden or pre-cooked agenda here. I am approaching this process — along with the Chairs — with a completely open mind. We want to hear your views.

I don’t intend to impose any strict time-frame on this initial process — but I have asked the negotiating chairs to feed back with some initial thoughts and findings from their consultations, if possible at the General Council on 14 March.

 

CONCLUSION

Bali represents not just a huge achievement for all of us — but also a huge opportunity.

There is real political momentum and we must build on it.

The work has only just begun.

2014 should be the year that we implement our first negotiated outcomes — and the year that the Doha Round is put back on track.

It will not be easy, but it is achievable.

We all have a role to play. Every voice will be heard. And I hope that together we can capitalise on the success in Bali, and seize the opportunity that it has provided.

Thank you for listening.

 

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