Wednesday, 14 May 2003

Dr. Supachai consults on implementation issues

Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, in his capacity as chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee, held informal consultations with heads of delegations on 14 May 2003 to suggest a way of moving forward on the issue of the extension of additional protection for geographical indications to products other than wines and spirits.

I would like to welcome you to this consultation, which I have called to take up possible next steps on implementation-related issues and concerns covered by paragraph 12(b) of the Doha Ministerial Declaration. As you know, the various decisions taken by Ministers at Doha left a number of outstanding issues, for which no specific negotiating mandate was provided, to be addressed under paragraph 12(b). These issues went to the various subsidiary bodies for examination, and they came back to the TNC in December last year. Of course, the TNC's mandate in this respect, as set out in paragraph 12(b), concerns “appropriate action”.

Following agreement on one issue in the area of SPS at the December TNC meeting, 23 outstanding issues have remained before the TNC since then. These issues are in the areas of BOP, Customs Valuation, Market Access, Safeguards, TBT, TRIMs and TRIPS.

At its December meeting, the TNC received reports from the various bodies which had been addressing these issues in the course of the year. However, the reports showed little agreement on appropriate solutions to these issues, and it was not possible to reach consensus in the TNC on appropriate action.

At the February TNC, I said I would continue the course of action I had been following since December, namely consulting on possible next steps with assistance of the relevant Chairs and the DDGs, using the 5 categories I outlined at our December meeting to try to identify ways forward on the different issues. These categories were:
  • resolving the issue;
  • agreeing that no further action is needed on the issue;
  • referring the issue to a negotiating body;
  • continuing work in the relevant subsidiary body under enhanced supervision by the TNC and with a clear deadline, perhaps June 2003; and,
  • undertaking further work at the level of the TNC.

At the March meeting of the TNC, I made a number of proposals for further work on five specific outstanding issues under the headings of TBT, Customs Valuation, Safeguards, and BOP/CTD, but unfortunately the TNC was not able to reach agreement on my proposals. Since then, I have continued my consultations on the paragraph 12(b) implementation issues, and I have also raised this matter in my recent conversations with Ministers.

I think we all realize the importance of generating forward movement on all these issues, in particular now that Cancún is so close. As I said at the TNC meeting last Friday, we must aim to reduce the burden of unresolved issues to manageable proportions by reaching understandings on as many of them as possible before the Ministerial Conference. It is in this spirit that I have convened today's consultation, and, since we have to start somewhere, I suggest that we first turn our attention to one issue which would seem to be important in unlocking the debate.

We are all aware of the existence of some polarized positions on the issue of the Extension of Additional Protection for Geographical Indications to products other than wines and spirits. In the light of what was said at Friday's TNC meeting, I would now like to make a suggestion on how to handle this divisive issue in a pragmatic and even-handed way. My suggestion, very simply, is that I would take up the issue of Extension of Geographical Indications in further consultations with Members. I underline that I would do so in my capacity of Director-General.

I must stress that this way of opening consultations would be without prejudice to anyone's position as to the status of this issue or to the results of my consultations. It would also be without prejudice to any delegation's position on the status of, and possible approaches to, any other issue. It is certainly not my intention to relegate other outstanding issues. They all have the same status vis-à-vis the TNC, and I am fully aware of the importance that various delegations place on particular issues. I am simply proposing a practical working method to enable us to overcome a blockage which has impeded progress on all of the 12(b) issues.

If you can agree — as I hope you will –— to move ahead to discuss the GI Extension question in the way I have suggested, we should subsequently go on to consider how to deal with the other issues. As I mentioned earlier, I made some proposals at the March TNC intended to allow technical work to go on in those areas where it seemed useful. These proposals are still on the table, though of course the timeframe envisaged by them is now rather tight.

You might also wish to consider whether the approach I have proposed for GIs, that is consultations by myself as Director-General, might be applied to other outstanding issues. In this case, I would need to call on the assistance of my Deputies in carrying out the consultations.

I would be grateful for your views on all this, beginning with my suggestion concerning GIs.