16 June 2003

Supachai: Doha talks key to reviving the world economy

Opening Session — Comments for the Director-General

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is a very great pleasure for me to welcome you here today. I am absolutely overwhelmed at the large number of participants who have come to Geneva to attend this year's public symposium on the “Challenges Ahead on the Road to Cancún”. We received more than 750 requests to attend the symposium and by the look of this room, many of you succeeded in coming to Geneva. I thank you for being here. It shows me that these symposia are indeed worthwhile and yes, very necessary. They provide an opportunity for participants from non-governmental organizations, research institutes, Governments and parliaments, academia, business associations and the media to openly discuss, debate and reflect on some key issues concerning WTO and the present state of play in the negotiations.

Let me reiterate the importance I attach to such efforts and take this opportunity to inform you about some related initiatives I have taken as Director-General. I am setting up two informal processes, one for NGOs and the other for business, to facilitate my dialogue with them. By taking this personal initiative, I hope to add to further transparency and understanding on the complexities of the WTO. Both Bodies held very constructive preliminary meetings yesterday.
I am also very keen to strengthen the WTO as an institution to respond effectively to future challenges. We could benefit from fresh ideas and I have therefore asked a small group of eminent persons to serve as my Consultative Board and prepare a report on how to strengthen and equip the WTO. I am meeting them today and tomorrow as some of them are participating in the symposium.

Before I make my welcoming remarks and introduce this morning's guest speakers, allow me to say a few words about this symposium. In the course of the next three days, you will have the chance to attend a series of work sessions on a wide variety of topics. These range from agriculture, services trade and development questions to trade and gender issues, GMOs and bio-safety, eco-labelling and questions linked to trade and competition and trade and investment. There are 22 such work sessions scheduled, a number which makes this symposium the most ambitious ever organized by the WTO Secretariat. The formula initiated last year – that of having civil society representatives organize sessions on topics of their choice – proved so successful that it is being followed again this year. Of the 22 work sessions, five are organized by the WTO Secretariat and 15 are being organized by non-governmental organizations or international organizations. There are two sessions which are being organized by governments.
This is a welcome development and reflects the strong interest many governments now have in engaging with the public to discuss what is really at stake with these negotiations. The WTO Secretariat has also tried to assist where possible with the travel and accommodation costs for civil society and government representatives coming from least-developed countries.

Before giving you a brief overview as to what I think are the biggest challenges facing us before and in Cancun, allow me please to thank the Government of Norway. It is thanks to the funding support of the Norwegian government that allowed the WTO to plan such an ambitious symposium and to ensure that many people are here today who otherwise could not have afforded to pay their own way. For that, Madame Secretary of State Thorhild Widvey, I and my staff are truly grateful as are I am sure all of us here today.


Economic and Political Background

As many of the participants in the Symposium will come to Cancún in less than three months for our Ministerial Conference, I would now like to refer to the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. I believe that if we are to achieve a more prosperous, equitable, just and stable world, we must have a successful and timely outcome of the Doha negotiations. I further believe this outcome is possible if governments are prepared politically to commit to the overall endeavour and can find the courage and resolve necessary to negotiate earnestly and with flexibility. I welcome the recent encouraging signs of high-level political commitment to the Round and to finishing it on time from OECD Trade Ministers, G8 leaders, APEC Trade Ministers and Ministers from all other parts of the globe. I am also grateful to UN leaders for their recent expressions of support for the Doha Agenda. We must urgently turn these words into action.

Economic Environment: All regions of the world are now experiencing economic uncertainty and slow economic growth. After an average rate of trade growth in the 1990s of 6.7%, global trade experienced a 1% decline in 2001 and grew by just 2.5% in 2002. Early indications suggest growth in trade volume for 2003 will be little or no better than 2002. It has become increasingly evident to political and business leaders the world over that the weak global economy urgently needs the stimulus that significant further liberalization of world trade can bring. A successful conclusion of the Round is thus key to reviving the world economy. Failure is not an alternative. It will send a very damaging signal around the world about prospects for economic recovery.

Development Environment: Trade's role in the development process has never been more widely recognised. Research shows clearly that no other area of international economic cooperation or development assistance – whether debt relief or foreign aid – can offer developing countries the gains that ambitious trade liberalization can generate. According to IMF/World Bank estimates, elimination of barriers to merchandise trade in both industrialised and developing countries could result in welfare gains ranging from US$250 billion to US$620 billion annually, of which a third to a half would accrue to developing countries. Contrast these figures with the US$50 billion provided to poor countries each year in aid or the estimated US$50 billion that is required (additionally) each year to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Poor countries need to grow their way out of poverty. Trade is a powerful engine for growth.

Multilateral Environment: We are in a period of growing global uncertainty and profound challenges to multilateralism. The Doha negotiations offer governments an opportunity to demonstrate renewed commitment to multilateral cooperation and to shared responsibility for addressing problems such as poverty and unemployment, which are so closely bound up with issues of international security and stability.


Overall State of Play

It is 19 months since the Doha Development Agenda negotiations were launched; they are due for completion in a further 18 months. In the meantime, we have just 53 working days until Ministers gather in Cancún, Mexico.

Where do we stand? I warned some time ago the Round would face imminent gridlock unless focused political energy was applied to avert it. So far, we have avoided the worst and I am grateful for the responsible way governments have engaged in the negotiating process. Although key deadlines have not been met, Members are continuing their constructive discussions and are making determined efforts to find solutions.

I am encouraged as well by the commitment of Members to maintain a high level of ambition and to finish the Round successfully and on time. It is vital that we prepare for Cancun with these goals firmly in place, no matter how complex and difficult their realization may be. Lowering our expectations for the Round's outcome would not make an outcome any easier to reach; it could even make it harder.

Other encouraging signs include full engagement in the negotiations from almost all Members, developed and developing alike; tabling of ambitious proposals in many areas of the negotiations (for example, proposals for zero tariffs in industrials); clear evidence that Members are starting to make positive linkages in the negotiations; increasing engagement from senior officials and capitals along with growing support for initiatives to draw them even more fully into the process; and growing activism and involvement of Trade Ministers.

However, fundamental concerns remain. We cannot gloss over the missed deadlines on TRIPS and Health, special and differential treatment, implementation-related issues and more recently in areas of agriculture and market access for non-agricultural products. Nor can we pretend the setbacks have been cost-free. Failure to meet the deadlines on issues that were to be addressed before Cancun has simply postponed our
work towards the Ministerial Conference. If greater flexibility is not found and understandings not reached on at least some of these issues, Ministers may be faced with an unmanageable task at Cancun.

I do not intend to dwell on these issues which will be discussed during the three days of the symposium. I suggest that we move to our guest speakers. Thank you.