WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


7 December 1999

"It is vital to maintain and consolidate what has already been achieved."

"We all left Seattle last Friday disappointed but not dismayed that it was not possible to finish the job we went there to do. A great deal was achieved in the short time Ministers had for serious negotiation. Gaps were narrowed considerably in a number of important areas. Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, Chairperson of the Ministerial Conference, stated that the meeting has been suspended and that we shall continue and complete our work.

"The suspension of talks is not unprecedented in the history of the multilateral trading system1. But what is vital is that we maintain and consolidate what has already been achieved. The progress made must not be lost.

"I feel particular disappointment because the postponement of our deliberations means the benefits that would have accrued to developing and least-developed countries will now be delayed, while the problems facing these countries will not be allayed. A package of results is within reach.

"The Chairperson of the Seattle Ministerial Conference has directed me to ‘consult with delegations and discuss creative ways in which we might bridge the remaining areas in which consensus does not yet exist, develop an improved process which is both efficient and fully inclusive, and prepare the way for successful conclusion.’ That is what I shall do.

"I am determined to fulfil my duties expeditiously to ensure the greatest possible participation by all Members in the forthcoming process, and to be in a position as soon as possible to advise Ministers that we are ready to reconvene the Ministerial Conference and to conclude it successfully.

"Several developing countries have congratulated us on our efforts to ensure the maximum participation by Members in the preparatory phase and in Seattle. Before the Ministerial, we organized special seminars for nations not represented in Geneva. Our technical assistance programmes ensured that developing countries were better prepared than ever. Learning from previous Ministerial Meetings, we established working groups2 open to all Members on specific issues. In more restricted meetings, which proved necessary to move the negotiations along, we ensured that all interests were adequately represented. However, we knew this would not be good enough. That is why, in the structure established for the Ministerial, we set up a special working group to discuss the organizational challenges the WTO faces in carrying out its work.

"Despite the temporary setback in Seattle, our objectives remain unchanged:

  • To continue to negotiate the progressive liberalization of international trade.
  • To put trade to work more effectively for economic development and poverty alleviation.
  • To confirm the central r˘le that the rules-based trading system plays for our Member governments in managing their economic affairs cooperatively.
  • To organize the WTO on lines that more truly represent the needs of all Members.

"There is no less of a sense of urgency about these objectives now than there was ten days ago. Far too much is at stake. It is not only the benefits of new trade negotiations that lie in the balance. Within the next few months we have difficult and sensitive issues to confront in the WTO. The longer we delay launching the negotiations, the more the poorest amongst us lose."



1  Previous examples of ministerial talks which were suspended:

The Uruguay Round Mid-Term Review, Montreal, December 1988: The formal closing session on 9 December decided that the Trade Negotiations Committee should meet again in the first week of April 1989 at the senior officials level. The results achieved in Montreal — the agenda for the second half of the round — should be put "on hold" until then. Breakthrough was indeed achieved in Geneva in April 1989.

The Brussels Ministerial Meeting, December 1990: This was intended to end the negotiations, but on 7 December the meeting’s chairman said the Uruguay Round would have to be prolonged. Substantial progress had been made, but participants needed "more time to reconsider and reconcile their positions in some key areas of the negotiations". The GATT Director-General was asked to conduct consultations on how to narrow the gaps in the negotiating progamme. The Uruguay Round was eventually signed in April 1994.

2   In Seattle the negotiations came under a "Committee of the Whole", with specific subjects handled by Working Groups on: agriculture; implementation and rules; market access; Singapore agenda and other issues; and systemic issues.