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Thursday 20 September 2001

Informal General Council meeting on the preparatory process for the fourth session of the Ministerial Conference

Chairman's speaking points

Welcome delegations.

Let me begin by expressing my deep sense of shock, sadness and outrage at the appalling attacks in the United States on 11 September, and the senseless loss of so many innocent lives. As someone has said, all mankind was diminished by these tragic events, and I am sure I speak for all of us in the General Council in extending our warmest sympathies to the US delegation.

I have convened this meeting today so that delegations may be fully briefed at this stage both as to the process that I have been following over the past two weeks, and the overall status of the discussions. I had indicated to you at our meeting at the end of July that the process in this final phase must be conducted on several broad fronts in order that we may register the progress that necessary in all of our interests. At the same time, I had suggested that all work must be conducted with full respect for transparency and non-discrimination. That essentially is the process that has been undertaken over the past few weeks, both by myself and the Director-General and his Deputies acting at my request.

As I announced to you in July, I have been consulting with a large number of delegations, both individually and in small groups, to try to make progress in bridging differences in position in key areas. I have been pleased that delegations have engaged frankly with me in an effort to find common ground on the main elements of the package we want to send to Ministers. I think very useful progress has been made towards a clearer understanding of what we can realistically hope to recommend to Ministers, and what the remaining problem areas are.

The major conclusion that I have drawn from my consultations is that there are small but very encouraging signs of flexibility among delegations, and an understanding of the limits of each other's positions. While I will continue to meet with delegations to seek their guidance over the coming days, I would also request any delegations who have not met with me yet, and who wish to do so, to call me or the Secretariat to arrange a meeting.

In addition to these meetings that I have been holding, I have also requested the Director-General and his colleagues in the Secretariat to assist in the process by consulting on two specific areas, namely agriculture and implementation. The aim of all of these meetings is essentially to distil the product of our discussions over the past several months into concrete proposals for recommendation to Ministers. On the basis of these discussions, I intend to circulate a draft text of a Ministerial Declaration for your consideration by the end of next week.

That text will be the starting-point for further, more focused discussion on the basis of which it can be finalized into a balanced package that is broadly acceptable to all. I hope we will be able to make a start towards that goal in earnest at the beginning of next month, and be able to complete that process here in Geneva by the end of October. In doing so, the urgency of our task will have to be uppermost in our minds, as well as the recognition that all that we collectively pursue in this organization is key to the further stability and security and prosperity of all of our nations.

Let me now turn briefly to the question of implementation. This is an area on which, despite its obvious and widely-recognized importance, there has been little agreement so far on how to handle the various issues that have been raised. However, I must note that here too there appear to be promising signs of possible agreement in key areas of interest to developing countries. I have requested Deputy Director-General, Mr. Rodriguez, to pursue consultations on my behalf with the aim of reaching concrete and positive understandings for the consideration of Members at the General Council's Special Session on Implementation, which has been scheduled for 3 October. In pursuing his consultations, Mr. Rodriguez will be taking into account the work that is under way in subsidiary bodies on the implementation issues referred to them or to their Chairpersons. Reports from all of these bodies or their chairs will be in circulation by the end of next week.

I should like to add that we will endeavour to circulate a possible text on Implementation at around the same time as the draft Ministerial text. In any event, I will not begin consultations based on the draft Ministerial text until the possible results on implementation have become clearer.

In this connection, I note that under the rules of procedure for meetings of the General Council, documents or proposed decisions for action relating to items on the agenda at a formal meeting have to be circulated at least 10 days prior to that meeting. However, given that informal discussions on implementation are likely to be pursued intensively between now and the Special Session on 3 October, and the overarching importance of this issue, I should like to seek your indulgence in waiving the 10-day rule for this meeting. Of course, every effort will be made to keep delegations informed about developments before proposing that any action be taken at the formal meeting.

With these brief remarks, I should like to offer the floor now to the Director-General to say a few words relating to the recent tragic events.