DIRECTOR-GENERAL'S LETTER TO JOURNALISTS Cancún should pave the way for timely DDA conclusion

Dear Friends,

Welcome to Cancún. This Ministerial Conference marks an important stop on the road to completing the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) round of trade negotiations. A productive and successful outcome at this Fifth Ministerial Conference will go a very long way towards ensuring that we deliver an ambitious result in these negotiations by the 1 January 2005 deadline that was mandated by ministers at our 2001 conference in the Qatar capital.

An ambitious outcome for these negotiations would represent an important component in resolving the problems that face us today. The global economy has entered a worrisome slowdown, the challenges of sustainable development are ever more pressing and an uncertain geopolitical situation reinforces the need to enhance global cooperation across the board. While the trading system does not offer a complete solution to these problems, it certainly offers an important contribution.

The question many of you have asked me is: What will constitute a successful outcome in Cancún? The first point I would make is that this meeting, however it concludes, will be different from the meetings in Seattle or Doha in one very important respect - the result will not be a binary outcome. In Seattle and Doha, WTO member governments had to decide whether to launch a round or not. In Cancún, the objective is a bit more subtle and diverse.

In the Doha Ministerial Declaration, ministers set for themselves, three tasks for the Fifth Ministerial Conference “to take stock of progress in the negotiations, to provide any necessary political guidance, and take decisions as necessary.”

All of these elements will be of great importance to our work between now and the end of next year.

My own stocktaking of our progress to date would be somewhat mixed. While we have made good progress in some areas, and overall made much greater progress than we saw over the same period of time in the Uruguay Round, we have had our share of disappointments as well. The good work that has been done in pushing forward the negotiations on modalities in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, cannot disguise the fact that we did not agree on those modalities by the prescribed target dates. We have made good progress in the areas of rules and services, but missed deadlines for resolving the important issues of implementation, special and differential treatment for developing countries, reforming the Dispute Settlement Understanding and of course agreeing on the modalities for agriculture.

(We have missed as well the deadline for resolving the vitally important question of enhancing access to medicines for the poorest countries, which lack the capacity to manufacture generic drugs under license. This issue is of major importance to the WTO, not only because of its humanitarian nature, but because resolution of this will underscore for developing countries the fact that this organization is capable of addressing their most pressing concerns.)

Despite these setbacks, however, negotiators from all 146 of our member governments have continued to work hard to find solutions.

It is difficult to predict ahead of time the exact nature of the political guidance our ministers will give us in Cancún. Such predictions are always tricky when trying to assess the needs and wants of 146 different players. But I’m certain all ministers will prod their negotiators to bring about an ambitious end to these negotiations, on time. This guidance, of course, will have to be translated into action at the negotiating table.

I have been impressed with the involvement of all of the ministers in this round. What is perhaps, even more impressive is the involvement I have seen at the head of state and government level. I have met with more than 60 heads of state and government during my year in office and I would suggest that the commitment of these leaders to the global trading system is unprecedented. At each of these meetings, I have urged the leaders to push their ministers and their negotiators to carry out the commitments taken at the highest level. I can assure all of you that I will continue to press governments on this point for the remainder of this year and throughout 2004.

The decisions that will be taken here cover a wide range of issues. Ministers must decide whether or not to agree on the modalities, or framework, for negotiations in the so-called Singapore issues of investment, competition, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. Ministers are mandated to agree as well on a system for notification and registration of the geographical indications for wines and spirits.

Ministers are also to consider the recommendations that will be put forward by WTO bodies including General Council recommendations for action on issues involving small economies and from the Committee on Trade and Environment on future action on several issues, which could include the desirability of future negotiations in some areas.

Of course, the fact that we have missed some important deadlines means that the decision-making aspect of our work in Cancún will be more burdensome than was envisaged in Doha. Decisions will no doubt be required in the areas of agriculture, non-agricultural market access, implementation and special and differential treatment.

For me, the key issue will be agriculture because it is so important for so many of our members, developed and developing. Although governments have shown great leadership in setting aside their disappointment on the failure to agree modalities in agriculture and have continued to work hard in all aspects of our work, the linkage between agriculture and the other areas of our negotiations is clear to everyone. There can be no doubt that an ambitious result on agriculture modalities would set in train a powerful momentum across the board and significantly improve the chances of our finishing a successful round on schedule.

Given the wide variety of opinion on all issues before the WTO, the term “successful” is a subjective one. But I think we could all agree that any successful result must incorporate two elements. The first element concerns development. The Doha round is the first global negotiation to place the issues of developing countries at its very core.

The second element concerns the level of ambition. Governments set a high level of ambition for themselves in Doha and they did so because of their concerns about the economy and the problems facing developing countries in their efforts to alleviate poverty.

Today, these problems are not only still with us and action by governments is essential. This is why we need to give more opportunities for economic growth and development. One way to address all of these concerns, is through the successful conclusion of the Doha negotiations. A good outcome here in Cancún will make that important objective more attainable.

Supachai Panitchpakdi
WTO Director-General