16 December 2003

Chair wraps up: groups can restart, but still no deal on tough issues

Members are willing to restart work in the negotiating groups, but there is still no major breakthrough, General Council Chairperson Carlos Pérez del Castillo said on 16 December 2003. He was wrapping up the council’s discussion on the follow up from the Cancún Ministerial Conference.

> See also chairperson’s opening statement
> See also Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi’s opening statement
> The ministers’ instructions from Cancún

General Council Meeting 15 and 16 December 2003
Agenda item 1 — Follow-up to the Cancún Ministerial Conference

Closing remarks by the Chairman of the General Council

With that last statement we are coming to the end of this important item of our agenda. I will not try to make a full summary of what has happened over the last one and a half days. We have listened to 52 interventions, many of them in the names of groups of countries, so I believe that the positions of the vast majority of Members of this organization have been expressed. I must recognize that these positions or views were not particularly new from my point of view, but on the other hand I can see the usefulness of this exercise, in the sense that countries have been able to put on record positions and views that they have expressed over the last eight weeks in an informal manner during the consultations. This in my view adds some value to our work.

I would say that although this meeting does not bring a major breakthrough in our work, there is an acknowledgement from all that we have made progress, that the key issues are clearer in our minds, that we know the challenges we will have to face, and that while the Round is not back on track and we may not be there yet, we have made considerable progress in that direction. I do not sense from this meeting any sense of failure or of crisis or disappointment. I rather see a pragmatic approach that more time is needed in order to deal with the unfinished business that our Ministers gave us in Cancún and that we have tried to implement over the last few weeks.

I think the reconfirmation of a sense of engagement, commitment to the DDA and to the multilateral trade system has been highlighted in this meeting by all Members. I have even seen — as a positive feature — a renewed support for efforts directed towards trying to finish this round on time. If I say a positive feature, it is because sometimes during our consultations in the last few weeks, the date of 2004 had been questioned by many of the Members. I see at this meeting that many delegations have committed themselves to do their utmost to try to fulfil that mandate.

I must confess that, as I sensed during the consultations and reflected in my report, I did not see at this meeting the closing of the gap between expressions of flexibility, commitment and engagement and a translation of these into new negotiating positions that would allow us to look for common ground or to accommodate the position of others. This is work that will remain pending for the next few weeks. Certainly if we want to make progress we must recapture the sense of urgency that seems to have evaporated as mentioned by some Members and we have to narrow the gap between expressions of goodwill, commitment and their translation into negotiating positions.

So, political determination and willingness to make compromises is certainly the name of the game for the next few weeks or months ahead. I still feel that we have a small window of opportunity to move forward and we need to use it to the fullest.

Now with regard to the process, I sense that the proposal that I put forward to this General Council has been generally accepted. There is a willingness to restart the work of the negotiating groups as well as other bodies which have to deal with the Doha agenda, on the understanding that restarting this work does not in any way mean losing an overview of the process or a sense of the horizontal integration of issues, which in my view remains an essential ingredient for success. I also feel that by identifying certain issues, my report gives a sense of direction and guidance as to our future work. I sense that everyone wants to build on the progress and valuable work that we have achieved so far and avoid unravelling what has been done.

Some delegations have raised procedural questions or questions which combine procedural and substantive elements concerning difficult issues on which there is so far little convergence among delegations such as the Singapore Issues. I repeat what I have already highlighted in my report with regard to these issues, that is that the work we have already started will continue. That means we will continue to explore the possibilities of agreements on a multilateral approach on trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement and that this work will be taking place at the level of the General Council with assistance from DDG Yerxa. I have not made any proposals with regard to the working groups.

I think you all understand that in such a situation concerning these issues, the Chair cannot further clarify matters on which the membership cannot yet find common ground. The problem is not lack of clarity from the Chair, it is lack of agreement among Members. These are issues on which further reflection and consultation will be necessary and I agree strongly with those who caution against trying to negotiate with Chairs. You can be sure that Chairs don’t want this either. The urgent need is for serious negotiation among Members.

As I say in my report, the Council Chair and the Director-General, who is also the TNC Chair, will continue to ensure the maintenance of a horizontal sense of the work programme and as I noted some issues may require further consultation on how to take them forward. Views expressed today, as well as in previous consultations, will of course form part of the context of any such consultations.

I would suggest therefore that the Council take note of my statement as well as all the other statements that have been made during the consideration of this item. It is so decided.