WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

Wednesday 23 January 2002

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Council of Europe — 2002 Ordinary Session, Strasbourg

President of the Assembly, Council and Committee members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today. I am pleased to have this opportunity to provide to you an update on the WTO's most recent activities and also to present to you some ideas I have for taking forward the Doha Development Agenda.

Let me begin by thanking you, the parliamentarians of the Council of Europe, for the interest you have shown in the work of the WTO. This is a good thing and I congratulate you. Parliamentarians in Europe and the world over have a vital role to play in bringing international organizations and people closer together.

In these troubled times, it is important that we demonstrate that multilateralism is alive and well, that discourse is the civilised way to resolve differences and that the rule of law is paramount for our collective security. These are values firmly embodied in the Council of Europe. They also guide the WTO. They served as the basis for work by WTO delegations preparing the 4th Ministerial Conference and were reaffirmed in Doha when we adopted the Declaration. This was mentioned by the Committee's rapporteur Mr. Mikko Elo in his report "The Role of the World Trade Organization in the World Economy". I congratulate him. As Mr. Elo pointed out, governments in Doha showed a new spirit of economic cooperation. Indeed, Ministers remained flexible and their actions showed they understood the constraints of their fellow trading partners, especially those from developing countries. Whether this meant finding added flexibility for some to implement key WTO Agreements or ensuring that all WTO members have access to essential medicines for their citizens, the mood was positive, constructive and compassionate. The result is that the WTO - after the setback in Seattle - is back on track. We can continue our work with renewed vigour and confidence.

In Doha, USTR Bob Zoellick said, we 'removed the stain of Seattle'. He was right. We agreed to undertake a far-reaching set of negotiations to be completed within a three-year timeframe — thus, the Seattle syndrome has been replaced with the hope and expectation of the Doha Development Agenda. Development issues and the interests of our poorer Members are now at the heart of our work.

The Doha success was built on a two-year preparatory process that was transparent and inclusive. We will carry these principles into our future work. We will ensure all our Members, especially the poorest, are given every assistance and opportunity to participate in the negotiations.

One important step towards realizing this goal of fuller participation was taken last month when the General Council approved a Secretariat budget for 2002 that closely reflects the priorities identified by Ministers in Doha, including in key areas such as technical cooperation and capacity-building, coherence, advancing accessions and doing a better job of explaining ourselves to those who pay our bills, the outside world. Highlights of the budget include:

  • a total budget of around CHF 143 million (around Euro 90 million), representing an increase over 2001 of 6.75%,

  • establishment of the Doha Development Agenda Global Trust Fund with a proposed core budget of CHF 15 million (around Euro 10 million) to provide secure and predictable resources to build capacity,

  • additional funding to allow us to double the number of trainees from developing countries who can attend the recently established WTO Training Institute,

  • additional funds for translation services,

  • funding for the Geneva Week programme, an initiative I launched to help government officials without offices in Geneva participate more fully in the work of the organization.

There is much to do to ensure the negotiations are concluded within the three-year timeframe agreed by Ministers. My duty is clear: to ensure the Secretariat's activities assist Members to undertake and conclude the negotiations.

We are preparing a programme of activities that will give heightened attention to particular regions. For example, we are planning major initiatives in coordination with other institutions in the Balkans and Central Asia. Countries in these regions have regrettably not been given adequate attention in the past.

We will focus more closely on issues of coherence so we can produce models of cooperation and synergies with other institutions. I have already met with representatives of international agencies in Geneva and elsewhere and will continue to do so at key meetings this year. The objective is to help developing and least-developed countries build their trade capacity. Of course, coherence is an issue that needs to be pursued by all stakeholders. Those seeking assistance need to be more specific about their needs. Donors need to better coordinate their own efforts both in capitals and amongst each other. The same is true of international agencies. Ministers at Doha asked us to look closely at our relations with other international organizations as well as with the public with whom we have been asked to do better and to be more creative.

I have already restructured the Secretariat to reflect the priorities of the Doha Development Agenda. Efficiency gains and cost savings have been introduced. I am committed to review again our operations to see if we can further refine our objectives and activities.

Earlier this month, I convened a meeting of my Advisory Group. We discussed the coherence issue and questions about how the WTO can operate more effectively. The 12 experts come from different backgrounds and see the world from different perspectives. While the debates were very active, there was a common desire which all shared: to see a vibrant and representative WTO serving all its member governments and their people effectively. The work of the Advisory Group will fold into a major seminar we have planned for April in which development issues, the functioning and the financing of our Organization will be discussed. There will be a parliamentary dimension to this important seminar. There will be annual seminars of this nature. That in itself is a revolution for the WTO.

Let me say a little more about this symposium. The symposium will focus on key issues linked to the Doha Development Agenda such as trade and debt, trade and finance and the impact of technology and the digital divide. It will also look at issues of participation and problems faced by capacity-constrained missions. It will consider other aspects such as the functioning and financing of the WTO; external relations; issues of social justice and the social, economic, environmental and political impacts of globalisation.

All of the new initiatives and actions I have discussed, and which are based on the Doha Development Agenda, do not detract from the core business of this Organization. It reinforces this critical work.

Because of the commitment of Ministers and Ambassadors, I think we can now claim with confidence that we have truly given birth to the WTO. It is now no longer the old GATT with a few symbolic gestures to the new global realities. The WTO now better reflects the new needs of our wider membership. It has adapted and is better equipped to face today's challenges, especially those linked to the new trade round of negotiations.

It is perhaps timely to remind ourselves what we are pursuing in the negotiations. The economic, development and environmental arguments for a new round are compelling. Cutting by a third barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services would boost the world economy by $613 billion, according to one study from Michigan University. That is equivalent to adding an economy the size of Canada to the world economy. Doing away with all trade barriers would boost the world economy by nearly $1.9 trillion, or the equivalent of 2 Chinas. The World Bank in its report on Global Economic Prospects estimates that abolishing all trade barriers could boost global income by $2,800 billion and lift 320 million people out of poverty by 2015.

Of course, these are only estimates and we can quibble about the figures. But the basic message from study after study is clear: a new round brings huge benefits. And to realize these benefits, coordinated actions are needed to promote trade and reforms in both developed and developing countries. Rich countries need to do more to reduce trade distorting subsidies and dismantle their existing barriers on competitive exports from developing countries.

Poor countries need to grow their way out of poverty. Trade can serve as a key engine of growth but currently products of developing countries face many obstacles in entering the markets of rich countries. For example, the 49 least-developed countries represent 10.5 per cent of the world's population but account for less than 1 per cent of world exports.

OECD agricultural subsidies in dollar terms are two-thirds of Africa's total GDP. Abolishing of these subsidies would return three times all the Official Development Assistance put together to developing countries. Kofi Annan wants $10 billion to fight Aids; that is just 12 days of subsidies in dollar terms.

For me the development argument for undertaking and completing new negotiations is clear. Notwithstanding the advances over the last 50 years, 1.2 billion people are still living on less than $1 a day. Another 1.6 billion are living on less than $2 a day. It is a tragedy that while our planet is blessed with sufficient resources to feed its 6 billion people, many are going hungry and living in misery. Poverty in all its forms is the greatest threat to peace, democracy, the environment and human rights. The poor fear marginalization more than globalization. These injustices, this poverty, is a time-bomb against the heart of liberty. In some places, failure to advance economically is a threat to their democratic process. The first responsibility lies with governments in these poor countries. Development requires peace, good governance and sound economic policies. But there is also a role that regional and international institutions must acknowledge and fulfill.

Progress has already been made on granting more market access to the least-developed countries because of EU leadership, the US-Africa bill, and other initiatives. Twenty-nine countries so far have granted better conditions for these countries' exports. More can still be done and efforts must be made to get the best outcome for the poorest countries in a wider negotiation.

The WTO's mission is to make trade freer and based on the rule of law. But our overriding goal is to make peace possible through greater prosperity for all. This is also the objective of the Council of Europe. That's why I am pleased to share my thoughts with you today. Your support and commitment to the multilateral trading system is needed more than ever. This is important for the work of the WTO and the upcoming negotiations. But we also have to ensure that our work is not overburdened and does not unravel or lose momentum because of trade disputes between major WTO trading partners. As you all know, the dispute settlement mechanism of the WTO is a huge success as all WTO Members rely on the rule of law. Dispute settlement exists for a reason but is not a substitute for dialogue, consultations and eventually negotiations.

Another important aspect of continuing work concerns WTO accessions. China and Chinese Taipei are now Members, but we have another 27 countries seeking to join. Both Russia and Ukraine are on the list and efforts are being stepped up to ensure that the accession processes for them and the 25 others are concluded as quickly as possible.

Many people have scrutinized the work of the WTO in the past. However, the decision to launch new negotiations has put the WTO back in the spotlight. Representatives of civil society, especially you, parliamentarians who are elected, will no doubt follow the negotiations closely and pay careful attention to progress being made on such issues as environment, development and institutional issues.

As members of the Council of Europe and of your national parliaments, you can certainly make a contribution in helping to clarify what is at stake with the Doha Development Agenda. You have an oversight role to play during and after the negotiations. The transboundary nature of poverty, environment, health and security issues and the interdependency of economies often require international and regional responses. Your work at the national level must clearly be complemented at the international level. The trend of the “globalization of public policy issues” will continue and cannot be ignored. Public apprehension needs to be calmed by elected officials and I believe you have a critical role to play. Parliamentarians need to engage in the critical issues and be perceived by the public to be doing so. If you do not, then I fear others who do not have the same legitimacy will try to seize the agenda!

We should do this in a more structured and formal way. This will evolve. It was the WTO that approached the IPU to organize a meeting of parliamentarians, This was healthy and useful. It should happen again.

Thank you.