WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

17 April 2002

Chairman reports on consultations about acceding countries' participation, observers

As part of the preparations for the 24 April 2002 formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, the chairman — WTO Director-General Mike Moore — called an informal meeting on 17 April 2002 to consult negotiators about agenda items.
This is what he said:

Welcome to this informal consultation which, as you will have seen in the convening fax, is part of the informal consultations I am holding on the issues of participation and observership in negotiating bodies in preparation for the second meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee, to be held on 24 April. This is the focus of today's meeting, but I also wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to inform you on a couple of other points.

Let me first briefly outline my thoughts on the structure of our 24 April meeting. As you will have seen from the airgram convening the meeting, two items are proposed for our agenda. The first, reports by the Chairpersons of bodies established by the TNC, will allow delegations to raise any points they may have with regard to these reports or to make any comments of a more general nature. All the reports will have been circulated as official documents by the time of our meeting, and I would not envisage inviting the Chairs to introduce them orally, unless they have any further comments to add, of course. At this early stage of our work, I do not think it would be productive to engage in a subject-by-subject debate, so I intend to invite delegations to make all their comments in one intervention.

Under our second agenda item, participation and observership in negotiating bodies, I intend to report on progress in the work I have undertaken so far on these issues, including — obviously — today’s consultation.

In closing the meeting on 24 April, I will touch on our plans for future meetings. As you will have seen in the programme of meetings, we have scheduled the next TNC meeting for 18-19 July. After the summer break, more TNC meetings will be necessary in the fall and most importantly in December, when the reports on outstanding implementation issues from the relevant WTO bodies will be submitted to the TNC for appropriate action, in line with paragraph 12(b) of the Doha Declaration. I will be talking to my successor, Dr. Supachai, about the meeting schedule for the latter half of this year and also to keep him up to date on the progress made so far. The transition will be professional and seamless, and I think it would be very good if Dr. Supachai attended our July meeting, if he is available.

Now let me turn to the main point of today’s consultation, the issues of participation and observership which have been raised in a number of the bodies established at our first meeting. In the course of my regular meetings with the Chairs of those bodies, they asked me to consult on these issues with a view to finding a generally acceptable way of proceeding. I have thus undertaken consultations with Member delegations, with the assistance of Deputy-Director General Miguel Rodríguez.

Since the end of March, I have met with a wide range of delegations, both individually and also in groups. Miguel Rodríguez has also met, on my behalf, with a number of delegations and groups. These discussions gave us a good sense of possible avenues towards resolving these issues, and allowed us to progressively develop a series of elements.

On 8 April, I circulated to you all a letter accompanied by a paper setting out some elements for possible inclusion in my statement on these questions at our 24 April meeting. Since then I have received some further comments, and of course today’s consultation is intended to give any delegation who wishes to express a view the chance to do so.

What I have set out in my paper is in no way a new or radical approach. It is rather intended to be a sensible and practical one. The aim is to simply roll over into the negotiating bodies the existing practices in the equivalent regular bodies, using the current, agreed guidelines as a basis. This is exactly the way the negotiations on agriculture and services have worked since they started two years ago, and it appears to be an arrangement which has worked well.

The approach we suggest should assist both the transparency and the efficiency of the work of the negotiating bodies and help build the capacity of participants — especially developing countries — to play a full part in the negotiations.

Three issues are covered in my paper — participation, observer status for Intergovernmental Organizations, and the status of Observer governments for whom an accession working party has not been established.

Let me first report on the first and the third of these issues — namely, participation of acceding governments and the status of Observer governments status for whom an accession working party has not been established. Here, I am pleased to report that I have found wide support for the elements set out in both areas in my 8 April paper. Delegations I have spoken to so far see the approaches I propose as being practical ways to move forward in both areas, in line with previous practice and existing rules. I hope that today we can come to an informal understanding on these two points.

I would just like to add that, as a matter of courtesy, the representatives of the three Observer governments for whom an accession working party has not been established were invited to be present in the meeting room from the start of the first meeting of the TNC, pending a decision on their observer status. I hope you would give me the green light to repeat this courtesy for our formal meeting.

Let me turn now to the second of the issues under this agenda item — observer status for IGOs. At all times in my consultations, I have emphasized that this issue should be approached in a practical way, to find a provisional solution for the life of the negotiations which would clearly be without prejudice to the issue of observership in the General Council and other regular WTO bodies.

In my consultations, the importance of observer status in the negotiating bodies for certain IGOs has been stressed by a number of delegations. This is because of the significance of some of these Organizations in delivering Technical Cooperation and Capacity Building. This is an important part of our mandate, as we all know, and we are instructed by Ministers to work in coordination with other relevant agencies to provide well targeted programmes. Among the Organizations which have been mentioned in this connection are UNCTAD, ITC, World Bank, and IMF. Their attendance is a question of efficiency, transparency and coherence — being present at the meetings and having access to the documentation can only facilitate their technical assistance efforts.

Here I should note that a letter concerning Observer status in the TNC and the bodies established under it has been received from the IMF, as well as a request from the ACP Group, and a further request from UNEP for such status in the CTE Special Sessions.

The reactions so far to my possible elements concerning IGO observership have been constructive and helpful. Many delegations have expressed the view that these elements would be a sensible basis on which to resolve the issue.

However, other delegations hold the view that this issue must be addressed within the wider context of observership in other WTO bodies. I urge colleagues to continue to discuss this matter among themselves.

This, broadly speaking, is the position at this stage in my consultations.

The Chairman invited any delegation who wished to comment further to take the floor, however no delegation indicated their wish to do so. The Chairman then made the following concluding remarks:

I have heard no disagreement with my suggestions with regard to the issues of participation of acceding governments and the status of Observer governments for whom an accession working party has not been established. I would therefore suggest I proceed with my statement as set out in the relevant sections of my 8 April paper at our formal meeting.

However, on the issue of observer status for IGOs, while the approach I have suggested seems widely supported, some delegations clearly cannot go along with it at this stage. I have taken careful note of the views expressed over the last few weeks of consultations and I suggest we all now reflect carefully on our next steps. I hope that the approach I have suggested might still help us reach a pragmatic solution in the interest of all participants in the negotiations.