9 May 2003

‘Avoiding the worst is no substitute for real progress,’ Supachai tells negotiators

A clear priority for about a dozen issues requiring action in or before the Cancún Ministerial Conference in September, is to reduce the load to “manageable proportions” by reaching understanding on as many of these issues as possible, Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told the Trade Negotiations Committee, which he chairs, on 9 May 2003.
As you know, I warned some time ago that the Round was facing imminent gridlock unless focused political energy was applied to avert it. I would say that so far we have avoided the worst, and I very much appreciate the responsible way in which participants handled the setback in agriculture at the end of March. At the last TNC, I said I was pleased to hear many delegations reaffirming their commitment to concluding the Round successfully and on time, and their determination to keep on working hard to make progress in preparation for Cancún.

However my fundamental concerns are still there, and my warning still stands. Avoiding the worst is no substitute for real progress in our work. Furthermore, we cannot pretend that the setbacks so far have been cost-free. The problem of negative linkages is still very much with us, and we must take care that we are not simply postponing the gridlock to Cancún. The consequences of doing so would be very serious for the Round as a whole.

We all know that we have other important deadlines coming up at the end of this month in the Dispute Settlement and Non-agricultural Market Access negotiations. I hope that all participants will approach these deadlines with the same sense of commitment that was evident at the end of March.

In all, there are around a dozen issues requiring action before or at Cancún following the mandates agreed at Doha, some of which are outside the negotiations themselves. But all of these issues have something in common — our aim overall must be to focus our work on what needs to be done in Cancún to maximize the chances of success thereafter. A clear priority for our work on all of them in the immediate future must be to reduce this burden to manageable proportions by reaching understanding on as many of these issues as possible before the Ministerial Conference. Those issues which remain outstanding will need to be presented in a clear and operational manner.

I would like to stress my commitment to facilitate progress across all areas of the TNC's work. In the first instance, I will, of course, be continuing my consultations on implementation issues, which I have also raised in my recent conversations with Ministers.

The importance of the benefits this Round can offer to all participants is such that we cannot allow any issue to become a roadblock to progress elsewhere. I urge all of you to bear this in mind in the coming weeks.