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15 October 2002

Supachai urges negotiators to stop waiting for others to move first

Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, as chairperson of the Trade Negotiations Committee, has called on members to move away from defensive positions in order to meet rapidly approaching deadlines. He was reporting to the WTO General Council on 15 October 2002. 

General Council, 15 October 2002
Report by the Chairperson of the Trade Negotiations Committee
I am pleased to report to the General Council that the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) held its fourth meeting on 3-4 October 2002 and that it marked the start of a new phase of the negotiations — the phase of substantive engagement. Indeed, this meeting was the first time that substance itself was discussed in such detail at the level of the TNC. The prime function of the TNC is to build a sense of the negotiations as a whole, which is vital if we are to arrive at a balanced package in line with the Single Undertaking that Ministers agreed on. In this respect, I believe our fourth meeting was a step in the right direction.

I would like to thank the Chairpersons of the bodies established by the TNC for their written reports, but especially for their oral interventions at the meeting. I think we have made a good start at making the TNC a more interactive forum — this is something I intend to encourage at future meetings. The TNC will be more active as the negotiations advance, and as its Chairman, I will be an activist. I believe that is what delegations expect of me.

I will work closely with the Chairpersons to support and help them where I think it may be useful in the interests of advancing progress in the negotiations. I will also be active in consulting with delegations, first of all as we prepare for the important issues that will be on the table in December. I will, of course, also work in close cooperation with the Chairman of the General Council, as set out in the TNC’s Principles and Practices agreed earlier this year.

I should also thank delegations for their many constructive statements and suggestions covering a wide range of views, different priorities and concerns. I listened carefully to everything that was said at our meeting, and as I noted in my concluding remarks, the issues of Agriculture, Special and Differential Treatment, Implementation, and TRIPS and Public Health stand out as the areas at the forefront of everyone’s minds in the period until December. Clearly there are some strongly-held views in these areas and we shall have to work hard to reach consensus.

Shortage of written inputs  The Chairpersons’ reports and the comments by delegations on them confirmed my impression of our current situation. That is, we have got off to a reasonably good start, but much more remains to be done in a very short period of time, and time is running quickly. From the Chairpersons’ reports, it is clear that in some areas there is an urgent need to move forward and a shortage of written inputs. I can only repeat my exhortation to all of you to make the greatest possible efforts to submit your remaining papers rapidly — this is essential if we are to meet the deadlines that are coming up fast.

Prior to the meeting, I circulated a revised Timeline to Cancún to all participants, on my own responsibility and without prejudice to any participant’s position on the issues listed. I did this because I wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of the key dates and deadlines established so far. I hope that participants keep all of them in mind when they consider their tactical and strategic moves as they enter the middle period of the negotiations.

It is important we meet all of the deadlines set out in the Timeline. But a deadline is not an end in itself. Deadlines are important because they allow us to measure how we are advancing. And we all know we must advance the substance of the negotiations progressively across all areas of the negotiating agenda as a whole. We have some important deadlines coming up over the next few months, and if we leave too much for Cancun, I believe we may make our task of achieving a successful outcome to the negotiations almost impossible.

Sense of globality    However, I did find it encouraging at our meeting that there is already a widespread sense of the globality of the negotiations, of the need to make progress across a broad front and to build a balanced overall result. But I would encourage delegations to move rapidly away from defensive positions — we no longer have the time to wait for someone else to make the opening move.

This is not a zero-sum game. It is certainly about national interests, but it is also about our shared interest in a system which delivers for all its members. We have a shared responsibility to move these negotiations on to a timely and positive conclusion. Trade is often mentioned as a means to find a way out of the evolving economic uncertainties that the world faces and is likely to increasingly face in the near future. We can only counter these uncertainties by strengthening predictability, by achieving what we are supposed to achieve within the time that we have been mandated to do so.

Dealing with meetings    I would like to end by mentioning briefly one administrative matter, namely the issue of scheduling of meetings. In my discussions with the Chairpersons and also with other Members, it emerged that we are facing some practical problems in this area. This question has many aspects — how to apply the relevant guidelines in a way which helps not hinders our work, other purely physical limitations, such as the number of meeting rooms and the availability of interpreters, and the limitations faced by small delegations.

In order to address this problem, and in line with the TNC’s Principles and Practices, I have decided to ask Deputy Director-General [Roderick] Abbott to work together with the Chairpersons and with the smaller delegations, in the first instance, to ensure that we will be in a position to meet our deadlines while also taking into account the constraints those delegations are facing. The coming months will be a busy period for us all, and I am sure that with careful management and appropriate mechanisms we can respect our mandate to conduct the negotiations in a transparent manner among participants, in order to facilitate the effective participation of all.