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General Council, 13 February 2002

Scheduling of WTO meetings in 2002

Statement by Mr. Miguel Rodríguez Mendoza, Deputy Director-General, WTO.

I have been requested by the Director-General to examine the issue of the scheduling of meetings, an issue to which Members attach great importance. Developing-country Members, in particular, have stressed the need for a rational approach that avoids too many meetings being held at the same time, in particular given that the Doha negotiations and work programme are now getting under way.

I have looked into this issue with the help of the Secretariat and would like to report to you some findings on the current situation, and to make some suggestions on how to address the concerns expressed.

Findings on the current situation

It is quite apparent that if we continue our current practices we are heading for trouble. Let me illustrate this by giving you some numbers on past experience:
a. There are at present a total of 67 WTO bodies, of which 34 are standing bodies open to all Members. The remainder are comprised of 28 accession working parties and five plurilateral bodies. In addition to these 67 standing bodies, we must add the TNC and the two new negotiating groups – on market access and on rules – which Members agreed to establish at the TNC's first meeting on 28 January and 1 February. The TNC further agreed that 6 already existing standing bodies would meet in special session in order to carry out the work mandated by Ministers at Doha.

b. According to WTO Conference Office statistics, which calculates meetings on the basis of half-day units (that is, a meeting lasting one full day is calculated as two meetings), last year, there were nearly 400 formal meetings of WTO bodies.

c. On top of that, we had more than 500 informal meetings, as well as some 90 other meetings such as symposia, workshops and seminars organized under the auspices of WTO bodies. All of these competed for delegations' time.

d. Worse yet, sometimes as many as four to five formal meetings had to be convened at the same time.

e. In sum, the guidelines for the scheduling of meetings adopted in 1995 were not observed very closely in this respect.

Suggestions for improvement

Clearly, there is need for improvement if effective participation of the full WTO membership is to be made possible in the upcoming negotiations and work programme. Having considered this matter carefully, I do not feel that the existing guidelines on the scheduling of meetings need any major revision at this stage. However, in order to address the concerns which have been raised, I would propose the following:

First, the 1995 guidelines for the scheduling of meetings need to be adhered to more strictly. This will necessitate the close involvement and cooperation of chairpersons of WTO bodies, together with the WTO Secretariat. These guidelines are very simple and imply the following:
a. No more than two formal meetings should be held simultaneously. Also, in line with the Principles and Practices agreed by the TNC on 28 January and 1 February, as an overall guideline, as far as possible only one negotiating body should meet at the same time.

b. Meetings should be spread out as evenly as possible, both throughout the calendar year and throughout the week (including on hitherto under-utilized Fridays).

c. Meeting dates should not be altered, except for overriding political or technical reasons. Second, negotiating sessions should be held back-to-back with regular meetings of the relevant WTO bodies in order to facilitate participation. Also, meetings on similar subject areas could be grouped together.

Third, an annual calendar of meetings should be fixed at the beginning of each year. To this end, I would suggest that the Secretariat, in close cooperation with the chairpersons of WTO bodies, draw up and circulate a schedule of meetings as soon as possible, preferably within the next two weeks.

And fourth, the Chairman of the General Council and the Chairman of the TNC could consider reporting regularly, preferably at every regular meeting of these bodies, on the implementation of the above guidelines. The Secretariat, for its part, would continue to monitor the situation regularly.