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Press/166
7 February 2000
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WTO Director-General’s report to General Council on consultations after Seattle

WTO Director-General Mike Moore reported to the organization’s General Council today on consultations he has been holding since the New Year on many of the issues which remain outstanding after the Third WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle late last year.

The topics he covered included: a package of measures for least-developed countries, expanding technical cooperation, proposals to extend transition periods for developing countries to implement various provisions of WTO agreements, other implementation issues, and improving WTO decision-making so members can participate more fully, in a more transparent system that preserves the rule that decisions have to be made by consensus.

This is what he said:

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Since the beginning of this year, I have had a wide range of contacts with WTO Members both in Geneva and in capitals, beginning with New Delhi and including Brussels and Washington. I have also met with the heads of other institutions, such as the Secretary-General of the UN, the President of the World Bank, and the Secretary-General of the ACP Group, who have all been very supportive. In my contacts with Members, which I have undertaken in close co-operation with the Chairman and with the assistance of my deputies, I have been seeking to get a sense of the immediate priorities for our attention beyond the current mandated negotiations.

These consultations have shown considerable convergence on several points which are widely seen as immediate priorities. These of course do not exclude any further action that Members may decide to take in due course on other areas of interest and concern:

In my contacts with a large number of Members of the WTO, nearly all have stressed the importance of ensuring that the proposals discussed as part of the preparation for Seattle with respect to measures in favour of least-developed countries, which encompass both market access and capacity-building, should be taken up as a matter of priority. These proposals were never to be seen as a trade-off or leverage to gain agreement to a new round of negotiations. Supporters of these measures have assured me of their continued support and I will be working closely with the Chairman of the General Council towards bringing about agreement on a set of measures. I would aim to report back progress before the Easter break. I see this as an important confidence-building exercise and a clear signal of the WTO’s resolve to help improve the conditions of our poorest Members.

A second element that, disappointingly, we did not achieve in Seattle — although we came very close in pre-Seattle discussions — was agreement on an increase in the regular budget for technical cooperation. I shall not repeat here the gross imbalance between the core funds currently available for technical cooperation and the needs of Members. There is an ever-growing demand for technical cooperation which is difficult to meet when there is great uncertainty about its funding.

We have a rolling three-year plan of technical cooperation activities which is updated and reviewed every year by the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD). This shows Members where the technical cooperation efforts are going and the types of projects undertaken subject to the availability of funds. Members have the opportunity to comment on this in the CTD, and their remarks are taken into account in planning activities for the future.

The text produced in the course of discussions for Seattle encompassed principles for reinforced technical cooperation, improvement of the Integrated Framework,1 evaluation and regular review of technical cooperation and a provision for additional funding through the regular budget of the amount of Sw F 10 million over a three-year period. I hope that we can reach early agreement in principle on this second confidence-building measure and in close co-operation with the Chairman of the General Council, I shall be consulting extensively on this in the weeks to come.

At our last meeting on 17 December the Chairman of the General Council stated that delegations should exercise restraint in respect of the expiry of transition periods.2 Both prior to the 17 December Council and since that meeting, a number of Members have tendered written requests concerned with transition period extensions.

I have been consulting with Members as to their attitude to these requests and to the transition period issue in general, and I am pleased to report that Members have told me that they are all prepared to adopt a reasonable and constructive attitude to crafting practical solutions to individual Members’ transition problems within the multilateral framework. I am encouraged by this and I have every reason to expect that we will be able to work together to achieve the required consensus decisions in respect of these requests. It is also encouraging that Members have shown sensitivity in their approach to these problems, and I hope this will continue while we work towards a definitive solution. I would see this issue as a priority for further consultations which I would plan to continue in close co-operation with the Chairman of the General Council. The aim would be to report back to the next meeting of the General Council.

We need also to bear in mind that while the transition period issue is the most immediately pressing problem before us, we will need to revert to other implementation-related issues in due course. This is a major continuing concern for a good number of Members, as they have made clear in our consultations. They have recalled, for example, that the proposals for Seattle envisaged the establishment of a special implementation review mechanism under the General Council composed of representatives of all Members. This is an area some have suggested might also be revisited in further consultations.

At Seattle, and since that meeting, many Members and other commentators have expressed the view that the WTO’s consultative procedures among Members need to be reviewed. The general thrust of the comments made seems to be that we need to find ways to improve internal transparency and guarantee effective participation to all of our Members while at the same time operating in an efficient manner. Members have also rightly stressed that the principle of consensus is not negotiable. While I think most would agree that major issues of substance played a greater role than process in preventing agreement in Seattle, getting the process right is important. I am personally committed to working on this problem and since I know a number of Members have already been working in capitals on proposals in this area, I think we should start by inviting contributions from delegations which could then be used as the basis for further consultations that we could begin later this month after those who are going to UNCTAD X return from Bangkok. Clearly, these consultations should themselves be conducted in a transparent and open way, and I will be discussing with the Chairman of the General Council the best ways to ensure this. One possibility that has been suggested is to devote an Informal Heads-of-Delegation meeting, and possibly a Special Session of the General Council, to the issue.

That is my report, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you and delegations for your attention. I should add if you permit that I have already received a number of thoughtful and detailed suggestions from delegations about the questions I have covered and how they should be addressed. I am sure you will understand that it has not been possible to reflect all these suggestions in my report, which is not intended as a text for negotiation in its own right. However, I can assure delegations that as far as I am concerned the suggestions that have already been made on the basis of this report will be valued inputs to the consultations that we will continue together.

> See also PRESS/167 on General Council decision.
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1 Programme set up in October 1997, involving the Secretariats of the WTO, UNCTAD, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Trade Centre. They are combining forces to bringing the least-developed countries in from the sidelines of the multilateral trading system. The Integrated Framework provides a needs-driven, coordinated response to the problems that these countries have faced in taking full advantage of the global trading system. To date, more than 40 least-developed countries have submitted needs assessments and the six agencies have responded with co-ordinated responses for action.

2 A number of WTO agreements include clauses allowing developing countries until 1 January 2000 to implement the agreements or certain provisions. These include provisions on intellectual property, trade-related investment measures, customs valuation and subsidies.