15 December 2003

Ministers want to resume talks using Cancún text — Director-General

“I am deeply encouraged by the strong sense of continuing personal involvement which ministers evidently feel and the growing political support for putting the Round firmly back on track,” Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told the General Council on 15 December. He and General Council Chairperson Carlos Pérez del Castillo also called for the negotiating groups to be reactivitated. In this agenda item, the meeting was under instruction from ministers at the end of the Cancún Ministerial Conference in September to “take the action necessary … to move towards a successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations”.

> See also chairperson’s opening statement
> See also chairperson’s closing statement
> The ministers’ instructions from Cancún

Statement by Director-General

I should like first of all to pay tribute to you, Mr. Chairman, for the Herculean task that you have performed not just in the last couple of months but throughout your Chairmanship of the General Council this year. We could not have asked more from a Chairman and no one could have done more. The report you have just given, Mr. Chairman, represents our joint view and so there is not much I need to add.

Let me recall, first of all, as an interesting footnote, that 15 December 2003 is the tenth anniversary of the TNC meeting which effectively concluded the Uruguay Round. Our collective aim for today, as instructed by Ministers at Cancún, was to arrive at a point where the negotiations can resume full momentum. We are not yet at this point but we should not be disheartened. Overall, I would still say that in the relatively short period of two years since the Round was launched in November 2001, much good work has been accomplished. Of course, differences remain on key points of substance, but considerable progress has been made in all areas and we have come a long way since Doha. We do not, however, need to look all the way back to Doha to see progress. Even if we take Cancún as our more recent point of departure, thanks to the large amount of work that has been done, I believe we now have a much clearer grasp of the remaining differences and of the solutions needed to bridge them.

Since the last Heads of Delegation meeting on 9 December, I have continued with my intensive programme of contacts with Ministers in capitals and elsewhere. As you mentioned, Mr. Chairman, my efforts in this respect has been designed to complement your own efforts in Geneva.

I come away from these contacts with the deep impression that there continues to be a strong willingness and determination to move the Doha Development Agenda forward.

In the last couple of months I have met with Ministers in Asia, Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. I have also seen many other Ministers as they pass through Geneva and I have also spoken to quite a number by telephone. As I have reported previously, every Minister I have spoken to wants to see progress. They have also expressed a recognition of the need for flexibility in order to achieve this progress. The message that I have received from Ministers has been clear, consistent and encouraging. They are all committed to the multilateral trading system. They do not want the DDA to be sidelined or neglected and are willing to resume the negotiations at the earliest opportunity on the basis of the Derbez text.

If we are to inject renewed vitality into our negotiations here in Geneva, I believe it is vitally important that we keep the genuine willingness and desire of Ministers to move the DDA forward firmly in mind. Let me briefly recall, in this regard, some elements of what they have said.

In Bangkok, APEC Ministers called on all WTO Members to quickly re-energise the negotiations by building on Chairman Derbez's text of 13 September, recognizing that flexibility and political will from all are urgently needed. In Cairo, a gathering of Ministers of a dozen African countries expressed their determination and desire that our negotiations regain momentum at the earliest possible time. I was particularly impressed in Cairo that Ministers were prepared to show flexibility by setting aside specific problems with the Derbez text and to use it as a general starting point for our ongoing work.

In Honduras, Trade Ministers from Central America and Mexico expressed a strong and unanimous desire for an early resumption of the negotiations on the basis of the Derbez text. Directly following the meeting in Honduras, Caribbean Trade Ministers met in Guyana and showed their commitment to reviving the negotiations and their willingness to show flexibility. In their deliberations, these Ministers also agreed that the Derbez text could be the basis for restarting the negotiations. They expressed as well their willingness to consider different options in areas where they have difficulties.

I have just come back from the meeting between the G-20 and the EU in Brasilia. Others would have their comments to make but I have to say that my personal impressions are that the meeting was very positive. I came away with a clear impression of genuine engagement on key issues. There was frank and constructive discussions, in particular, in the area of agriculture. I am deeply encouraged that Ministers are in negotiating mode, going into detailed discussion of the various aspects of the agriculture package. In order to achieve real and substantive progress, it is important that we, here in Geneva, complement their efforts.

Let me also report that I have just received a letter from the Commonwealth Secretary-General conveying the Aso Rock Statement on Multilateral Trade issued by the recent Summit of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth in Abuja, Nigeria. In its statement, Commonwealth Heads of Government called for an immediate re-engagement by all concerned and urged all to show flexibility and the political courage necessary to deliver a balanced Round. I find it particularly encouraging that such a diverse group of countries at all levels of development and of various sizes were able to agree on such a clear and strong statement of support.

To conclude, our engagement over the last couple of months has shown full support and commitment to the multilateral process and a shared will to get back on track. This should not be underestimated. As I have said on previous occasions, I am deeply encouraged by the strong sense of continuing personal involvement which Ministers evidently feel and the growing political support for putting the Round firmly back on track.

I fully share the assessment of the Chairman that the time has come to reactivate the work in the negotiating groups and other bodies. We will also no doubt need to give further consideration to objectives and possible benchmarks for the work in 2004. However, in order to move ahead and to seize the window of opportunity that lies in front of us we will need delegations to translate the political will and support of Ministers into practical flexibilities. Reactivating the negotiating groups and other bodies will not automatically translate into further progress, unless delegations engage constructively and show a genuine willingness to negotiate. Our collective task is indeed to find that elusive link between political will and concrete progress. I believe we are up to the challenge and I assure you of my full commitment, as Director-General and also in my capacity as TNC Chair, to do all that is necessary to work with you to find the needed compromises.