Director-General Roberto Azevêdo’s statement
Formal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting,
7 April 2014
In my remarks to the General Council on 14 March, I said that we had made a strong start in our discussions towards developing a work programme for the conclusion of the Doha round.
Since then the level of activity has increased again. And we have been making good progress.
All of the negotiating groups have held an open-ended meeting — with the exception of the Rules Group which will be doing so shortly.
Everyone has had the chance to make their views known.
I have also been meeting with the Chairs during this period — both individually and collectively — to hear their reports on what has been discussed and what progress has been made.
My impression is that there has been a positive atmosphere in the consultations. Many members have expressed their willingness to be open-minded, creative, and to work together to find a way forward.
While positive, the consultations have not yet produced anything very new in terms of members’ stated positions. Well known arguments around the “status of the modalities texts” or “the question of balance” or “sequencing” or the need for “new data” have been rehearsed.
I have also been carrying on my own consultations with delegations in Geneva individually and in groups, such as the special meeting of the Africa Group held a couple of weeks ago.
I have also been taking the opportunity in my travel outside Geneva to consult with Members — with ministers, senior officials and leaders.
In all these conversations I have sensed that people want to find a way forward — they know what is at stake for the multilateral trading system. People want to finish the job.
Our task now is to match our desire for progress with an acceptance of the practical steps we need to take to achieve it.
In my view we have reached the end of the first phase of this process.
It’s time to shift things up a gear.
We must now move into a second phase, focused on resolving the problems that we have been outlining — testing what went wrong and putting forward potential solutions.
Everything I’ve heard in recent days and weeks suggests that we now need to be deepening our discussions, and engaging in a more direct, purposeful manner in order to identify the best way forward.
Rather than restating old positions and aiming for our perfect outcomes, we have to accept that there are no perfect outcomes. Instead we have to focus on the art of the possible.
For example, some have been saying that we need to conclude our negotiations using the 2008 texts as they are. Of course these texts are an important — indeed fundamental — part of how to assess the situation.
They are the result of a genuine attempt by the respective Chairs to strike a balance and to move towards a zone of convergence acceptable to all Members.
However, despite their obvious contribution to the negotiations, Members could not agree on those texts when they were issued in 2008.
Members could not agree on them at that time, Members cannot agree on them now.
If any of you insists that those texts are cast in stone and unalterable, then you have made a choice; a choice that irreparably condemns our efforts to failure.
We therefore must resume our task of finding the balance and the convergence that would enable progress towards the conclusion of the Round.
Let me stress however, that while it is true that the 2008 texts are not agreed, I firmly believe that they can offer very useful parameters to frame our efforts in shaping a work program to conclude the DDA. We must build on the insights and recommendations contained in those texts. We cannot disregard all the work that was put into them.
So let’s use these texts as an important input to our work, but we have to look for solutions that can lead to convergence today.
Again, it is my view that we need to be creative in this exercise — rather than repeating well-known positions.
I don’t think that kind of discussion is conducive to where we need to go.
Instead, we need to test what options we have to find new solutions.
In carrying out our work in this phase, it may be helpful to recall the parameters from the TNC meeting in February, which many members have adopted:
- Balancing realism and ambition by focusing on what is doable
- Being creative and open-minded
- Recognising that the issues are interconnected so must be tackled together
- Being inclusive and transparent
- Maintaining our sense of urgency
- And keeping development at the heart of the efforts
As members begin to put forward concrete ideas and proposals, these parameters will be even more crucial. In my view they are the sine qua non of everything we are trying to do here.
And as we move into this new phase, I have asked the Chairs to further broaden their contacts with you and conduct increasingly focused conversations — aimed at identifying what we can do. Let’s concentrate on what is possible; on what is doable.
Unfortunately, every time I talk to a delegation about “doability”, I get the very same reaction from each and everyone of you. You all fear that “doability” is about taking the pressure off somebody else and keeping or increasing the pressure on you.
Let me assure you that, as far as I am concerned, “doability” is about finding a balance that works for everyone. So I suggest we put aside the conspiracy theories for the moment. I invite you to move into the second phase of our discussions with an open mind and in good faith.
We will only succeed if we are all equally unhappy with the final outcomes.
So please be prepared. I urge you all to remain fully engaged.
And don’t wait for the Chairs. Talk to each other — test out your ideas.
Let me assure you all that I do not have a magic solution.
But on the basis of my own consultations and what I have been hearing from Chairs, I am increasingly of the view that whichever approach we take, we will need to tackle the really tough areas of agriculture, NAMA and services.
I am increasingly of the view that we must look at these issues in a more integrated way than we have before. Of course agriculture is a central focus, as was made clear in the Bali Declaration itself, but we cannot hide from the reality that once we start talking about one of these issues, the other two inevitably come into play.
I am not for a moment suggesting that the round should be based only on these issues — but I think it is clear that if we do not make progress in the toughest areas first, then progress on other issues would be limited, if any.
This is why I am planning to intensify my own work in these areas, working closely with these three Chairs — and of course with the others as well.
I will certainly begin to consider what kind of approaches on these three core issues might be possible. I think we need to do this in a way that respects the levels of ambition inherent in the draft texts under discussion in 2008, but equally we need to do it in a way that respects the flexibility that was sought by many of you and which is also somewhat reflected in those texts.
Perhaps with some creative thinking — and openness to testing new possible solutions — we may be able to square this circle.
We have set ourselves a big challenge.
We are trying to get an automobile that has been stuck in the mud, at the bottom of a very deep lake for 6 years, up and running and back on the road.
We can’t just jump in and drive it away. It will take a lot of work — a lot of cleaning, a lot of oiling — but we can do it.
This phase of work will be tougher — so I urge you be ready to increase your engagement, and maintain the positive, constructive tone that we have seen so far.
As I have said — this is the moment to shift up a gear.
Time is passing quickly. We are already in the second quarter of the year. Our December deadline is not so far away.
But as long as we have engagement, I am sure that the task is achievable.