29 April 2004

GC Chairman urges “tangible outcome” in July

General Council Chairman Amb. Shotaro Oshima, during an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation on 29 April 2004, urged members to deliver concrete results by July to “ensure the continued progress in the negotiations”.


As I mentioned in the convening Fax, the purpose of this meeting is to prepare for the forthcoming May General Council meeting and to enable me to update Members on consultations since the February Council.

I would also like to touch on where we are under the DDA work programme, and to have a first exchange of views on the shape of the product we might aim for by the end of July.


DDA Work Programme: Where we are

Overall picture

Let me begin first with where we are, and how we arrived here.

At Cancún, as you know, Ministers instructed that we continue work on outstanding issues, and that this work be coordinated by the General Council Chairman, in close cooperation with the Director-General, with the aim of taking the action necessary by December last year to enable us to move towards a successful and timely conclusion of the negotiations. Ministers also undertook to maintain the high level of convergence on texts in those areas where this had been reached.

Accordingly, in October 2003, Members agreed that initial work would focus on four key outstanding issues, without in any way lessening the importance of the other issues within the DDA. Many delegations had at the time emphasized the importance of a number of other specific development-related issues in the DDA, and the Chairman had noted that full attention would need to be given to these issues in 2004, in line with the Doha mandates.

At the December General Council, the Chair proposed that all of the DDA bodies should resume work early in 2004, to build on the elements that had emerged in our work both at and since Cancún. This proposal has been implemented, and the bodies have resumed their work.

At the recent TNC meeting, there were encouraging signs of commitment to progress as well as some warning signals. There was also a widely-based informal understanding that the aim is to reach agreements at a framework level by the summer, and the DG and I both sense a clear willingness to work hard to reach this aim. The DG's own comments at the TNC provided a clear sense of the magnitude as well as the urgency of the task that faces us if we are to grasp the window of opportunity that still exists to move the negotiations forward significantly this year, and of the Ministerial-level determination to meet the challenge, as well as the risks of not achieving positive and early results.

Before I turn to the possible shape of the July product, I would like to give you a brief update on consultations that both DDG Mr. Yerxa and I have had recently on the Singapore issues.

Singapore Issues

As you know, we agreed in December last year that we would build on the general acceptance of the unbundling of the Singapore issues, and explore possibilities of agreements on a multilateral approach on trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, and that this work would take place at the level of the General Council with assistance from DDG Mr. Yerxa.

At my request, Mr. Yerxa is holding various technical consultations in order to consider how to proceed with the issue of Trade Facilitation, and the parameters for possible negotiations in this area.

I wish to ask Mr. Yerxa to give a brief report on his consultations after this.

On the broader issue of how to proceed with these issues that I have myself been conducting, let me share with you some of my observations.

While there have been considerable flexibility and pragmatism demonstrated by all sides, there is still a range of positions on the table and there is not yet a convergence on any of the possible scenarios. To be more specific, major questions of which of the issues, if any, should be within the single undertaking, and of what should be done with those issues to be put outside the single understanding are yet to be resolved.

I have therefore been urging delegations to talk among themselves, and in particular with those having differing views, with the aim of coming to some convergence soon.

I will continue my own consultations in the coming weeks, as appropriate, taking a cautious approach being mindful of the sensitivities on all sides.

July product

With regard to the shape of the July product, since the TNC meeting, the DG and I have each been exploring this matter further in contacts with Chairs of WTO bodies and with delegations. In our conversations so far, we have heard a range of views. However, there equally appears to be a shared commitment to use our limited time to the best advantage. This means that we have to reconcile the need to produce a balanced and acceptable set of results with a realistic appreciation of what can be achieved in the time we have before us, counted in weeks, rather than months.

One recurring theme I have heard is that we could aim for an outcome that focuses on 4-5 key issues and which addresses other issues as necessary in a more generic manner, providing a sense of political commitment and direction. Under this scenario, there also appears to be a fairly broad recognition that, in addition to the 4 issues identified in October last year, others with a particular developmental interest, such as S&D and Implementation, need to be addressed appropriately.

As we begin collectively to consider the shape of the July product, I believe a practical question to keep in mind is: what is the minimum tangible outcome before the summer break that will enable us to keep up the momentum of the DDA work programme and to provide guidance for further work, given that this is not the end of the Round.

It will also be useful to keep in mind that our task is not to prepare a Ministerial Declaration as we were doing for Cancún. Rather, we are aiming to take the action necessary at this stage, at the level of the General Council, in order to ensure the continued progress of the negotiations and the work programme as a whole.

I hope that today's discussion will help us to reach a shared understanding of the format of the package as early as possible so that when we continue negotiating the substantive content, like Agriculture and NAMA, we have a clear picture of its shape towards which we will be working.

A few words now about the process to July.

Process to July

It is imperative that our focus remain firmly on the substantive issues that confront us. The need to resolve these must govern the way the process evolves, and we need to allow ourselves an appropriate degree of flexibility. However, it might be useful if I outline what I see as a few key points along the way.

Working back from our July meetings (and taking into account the 10-day rule for circulation of documents), we will need any text for the General Council to be in a well-developed form in the earlier part of July.

In order to get there, the DG and I believe that we need to start to see a clear picture of the elements of the July substantive package — not necessarily drafting, but a sense of the parameters for drafting — emerging by the end of May. This will allow us a short time in June and early July to produce the necessary text or texts. The precise articulation and sequencing of progress from negotiating bodies through the TNC to the General Council is a point we shall have to keep under review as we go forward, and of course informal processes, like today's meeting, will need to be used more frequently as we approach the July Council.

We also know that, realistically speaking, there may be some points which are not resolved until the end of the process. However, we need to work to keep these to the absolute minimum. They cannot be allowed to block progress elsewhere.

We also know that there will be a cluster of Ministerial gatherings in May (LDCs in Senegal, OECD in Paris, African Union in Rwanda), through which we hope to receive high-level inputs on key issues. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that the Geneva process remains the principal vehicle for making the kind of progress we will need by July. And it is only in Geneva that the July outcome will be finalized.

Also, as we move forward in the coming weeks, we should keep reminding ourselves that it takes time for others to digest and react to changes in positions, and therefore that brinkmanship should be resisted.

May Council meeting

The May General Council meeting will follow on the heels of a number of the Ministerial meetings that I mentioned earlier, and will be an important opportunity to provide a sense that we are back on track and that there is progress on key issues. There will be occasion to address these issues under the DG's regular report to the General Council as TNC Chair, and under an update I will be providing on recent consultations on the Singapore issues.

To keep the General Council meeting brief and allow delegations to get on with other work, I want to maintain a business-like approach where we do not hear repetitive statements, and focus rather on statements of new positions and on building bridges and resolving difficulties. Let us remember that we are not aiming for any key decisions from this May meeting, but rather to come out with a positive sense of progress and that we are going to work hard to deliver concrete results by July.

Let me recall also that, at the May Council meeting, we will be reverting to the request by Iran for accession. At the February General Council, a number of Members spoke in support of early positive action on this long-standing item on the Council's agenda. The Chairman said he would inform his successor on the content of the discussion and was certain that the latter would consult with delegations on this issue before the next General Council meeting. I would like to inform you that I have recently held consultations on this matter with a group of delegations, which included the coordinator of the Informal Group of Developing Countries. At that meeting, it was clear that, politically, this continues to be a difficult matter for at least one delegation, and a satisfactory resolution in the near future seems unlikely at this stage. I will report along these lines to the May Council.

I would also like to inform delegations that the IMF Executive Board has recently approved a Trade Integration Mechanism aimed at mitigating concerns by some that implementation of WTO agreements by others might give rise to temporary balance-of-payments shortfalls. The TIM is aimed at providing access to its resources in order to meet a BOP need associated with trade-related adjustments. In order that WTO delegations may be fully briefed on this initiative, the Acting Managing Director of the IMF, Ms. Anne Krueger, has agreed to make a presentation on the TIM at the Council meeting. This will take place on the morning of 18 May.