29 April 2004

Heads of Delegation Informal Meeting

Report on consultations on trade facilitation modalities
Deputy Director General Rufus Yerxa

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

As you mentioned, I have been conducting some informal consultations under your auspices to consider the technical issues related to negotiating modalities for trade facilitation. I have chaired one discussion among a group of about 38 interested delegations, a group that included many of the proponents of negotiations on trade facilitation, as well as many members of key groups – such as the “Core Group” of developing countries, the LDC group, the African Group and the ACP Group. We will have another discussion among this group tomorrow afternoon. I am also in the process of meeting separately with key groups. I spoke to representatives of the “Colorado Group” last week and I am meeting with the Core Group early next week. If others are interested in discussing their views with me I am at their disposal.

In these meetings I have repeatedly emphasized that our only mandate from the General Council is to consider the technical issues, and that our meetings cannot be a forum for considering the larger questions related to the Singapore issues – namely the overall shape of a Singapore issues outcome or the or the linkages between progress on Singapore issues and progress in other areas. The ultimate decision on whether to proceed with such negotiations would obviously be a matter for the General Council to consider. In light of this very limited role for our consultations, I have asked delegations to work together on a “what if” basis, to try to move towards consensus on modalities on the assumption that there will be no agreement on launching negotiations until all members are comfortable with taking that decision as part of a broader package.

Based upon discussions thus far, I would merely make the following observations:

  • First, I have noticed some evolution in the positions of members since the December and February General Council meetings which offers us the strong possibility — although not the certainty — that we can resolve our differences over trade facilitation.

  • Second, several countries, both developing and developed, actively support such negotiations, and have expressed support for the modalities set forth in Annex E of the Derbez text.

  • Third — and this is critical — a substantial number of members still have significant concerns and questions that they feel must be clarified and addressed in order to enable them to agree to the launching of negotiations. Many of these concerns are set forth in the paper submitted by the Core Group of developing countries at Cancun in September – [WT/MIN(03) /W/4 ]. These delegations still need a somewhat clearer picture of what these negotiations aim to achieve and how the burdens of assuming new obligations will be addressed. However, many delegations have pointed out that this cannot entail a pre-negotiation of all issues, as much has to be left to the negotiating process itself in determining the details of an agreement.

  • Fourth, while the delegations which have met thus far have had a constructive and very cooperative discussion of these issues, we will need to have a more systematic discussion — with full transparency and contribution from all members — if we want to achieve explicit consensus.

    On the basis of these conclusions, Mr. Chairman, it would be my recommendation that we aim for some open-ended meetings towards the third week of May – perhaps right after the General Council – in order to provide an opportunity to answer the full set of concerns being expressed by members and to work on a modalities text. I choose that timing because over the next few weeks key delegates will be absent from Geneva attending ministerials — and in these ministerials the Singapore issues will be a topic of discussion. So I do not think it is practicable to meet before that time. In the interim, I would suggest that delegations work on developing responses to the concerns raised by other members and prepare themselves for a more systematic technical discussion of key issues which have been identified.