13 January 2005

Supachai urges members to mull trade policies to help tsunami sufferers

Swiftly concluding the current Doha Agenda negotiations and perhaps other actions, such as better market access, and restraint in using trade remedies, are needed to help countries trying to recover from the Asian tsunami, WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told members on 13 January 2005. In a letter to all members, he urged them to consider whether they can introduce any trade policies now to help the worst affected economies to recover.

This is what he wrote:

“ Dear Permanent Representative,

I know how deeply we all feel about the terrible toll taken by the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean and South East Asia. As someone from the affected region, I naturally feel a particular sense of tragedy. I also want to express my, and the Organization’s, deep appreciation for the generosity of the response from so many governments and from millions of ordinary people both within the region and around the world.

As an important actor in international economic cooperation, the WTO shares part of the responsibility to assist recovery from this disaster. The question we must address is how best the Organization can contribute given its mandate and sphere of competence.

Although we are not involved in humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, clearly we can make a major contribution to the economies of the affected countries (and others) by pressing on with and concluding the Doha Development Agenda as soon as possible. This would seem to be particularly relevant in the field of market access, including trade in some services sectors and certain modes of supply. Additionally, a successful Round will help to generate resources that can be used to reduce poverty, which will in turn improve the capacities of countries to prevent disasters (whether tsunamis or other natural phenomena), to cope with their effects, and to recover as quickly as possible.

With the best will in the world, the benefits of successful completion of the DDA will only be felt in the medium term. That does not undermine the case for concluding it as soon as humanly possible. Quite the opposite. But it also leads me to ask whether there is any action which can be taken more immediately. I accordingly wish to urge all Members individually to reflect deeply and expeditiously on whether there is anything they can do at this moment in time in terms of their trade policy to help the worst affected economies to recover. Since this is a matter for individual governments, I do not wish to make specific suggestions. Obvious possible areas which occur to me and no doubt others will be market access and some restraint in use of trade remedies. However I do not wish to imply that these are the only ways in which help could be offered. If you feel that some form of enabling action at the multilateral level could be useful, please raise this possibility as appropriate with colleagues, the Chairman of the General Council, other relevant chairpersons and/or myself.

I hope and trust that you will relay these sentiments to your authorities.

Yours sincerely,

Supachai Panitchpakdi ”