24 April 2006

Lamy calls for continuous negotiations as chairs report modalities deadline will be missed

Director-General Pascal Lamy told journalists on 24 April 2006 that “we may have missed the deadline but we are not in deadlock”. Earlier, in a statement at an informal meeting of heads of delegations, he said that “genuine and important progress has been made, but not fast enough to allow us to reach agreement on modalities by the end of the month”. He said that “from now on, the process to reach modalities will be continuous, Geneva-based, and focused on texts — and we should aim at finishing this work in a matter of weeks rather than months”.

Statement by Pascal Lamy

Welcome to this Informal Heads of Delegation Meeting. The purpose of this informal meeting is to review progress in the negotiations so far and consider the next steps.

Let me begin with the first element, reviewing progress. You will recall that at the last TNC, on 28 March, I said that in my view the establishment of modalities in agriculture and NAMA as foreseen in Hong Kong would require some sort of Ministerial involvement in the last week of April or the beginning of May. However, I also said that this depended upon an intensification of work in the period leading up to the agriculture and NAMA meetings last week.

We need to face the facts squarely, but not sensationally. By now, most if not all of you know that I am a frank, direct person. It is clear to me — and it is no surprise to any of you — that we will not be in a position to establish modalities in agriculture and NAMA by the end of April, effectively end of this week. Despite all the work that has been put in by the Chairs of the negotiating groups — to whom I will give the floor shortly — and by all participants here and in capitals, the progress made is insufficient for Ministers to be able to negotiate modalities with a reasonable chance of success. In the other area which has an April 30 deadline, RTA Transparency a draft text is on the table, and I understand that it could be close to agreement. I would like to thank Ambassador Valles, the Chairman of the Rules Negotiating Group, for his hard work and I urge all delegations to make the effort to overcome the final obstacles.

Genuine and important progress has been made, but not fast enough to allow us to reach agreement on modalities by the end of the month. In my view, more time is needed, even if the time available is now very limited. These are the basic facts of the present situation, and I suggest that we take them on board and deal with them coolly and constructively.

Let me also stress something which I believe is essential now: this is not a time for blame or recrimination, which I am sure you will all wish to avoid, but for determination, refocusing our efforts and working together more productively.

I would like to thank the three chairs (Agriculture, NAMA and Rules — RTAs) for their assessment of the situation. As we have seen from their reports, the necessary conditions have not yet been fully met, and consequently the modalities are not yet at the takeoff point. This in turn means that, as many Members have pointed out to me in the last few days, the moment is not ripe for the Ministerial involvement of which I spoke. In order to make productive use of the direct involvement of Ministers in the negotiations, we need to put well-developed texts before them for decision, and these texts are not yet there.

Therefore, I am not encouraging Ministers to come to Geneva this week or next, and I am not planning to organize any specific gatherings at Ministerial level. I have convened a TNC next week, on Monday 1st of May, and as always it is up to delegations to choose the level of their representation, but I emphasize that this will be an ordinary TNC meeting.

Our attention must now move rapidly to the work ahead. It is absolutely imperative to organize this in an intensive, continuous and effective way if we are to make up for lost time and fulfil our ultimate deadline of concluding the Round this year.

We are all aware of the further target Ministers have given us at the end of July, but I firmly believe that if we are to meet this date, we need to increase the pressure of the negotiating process without delay. It is simply not possible to backload the modalities on agriculture and NAMA to July; that would guarantee failure.

Instead, we need to share a clear sense of the steps ahead, bearing in mind the very urgent need to move to a real text-based negotiation from the reference papers which have already been tabled on some elements of the agriculture negotiations. The production of these texts must be the immediate objective, and the sooner it can be done the greater will be our chances of success.

Such texts do not come out of thin air. They must arise out of the work in the negotiating groups, and the Chairs of these groups — Agriculture and NAMA in the first instance — are the best people to bring all the elements together in the right way. You have to give them all the trust and co-operation necessary to carry out this difficult task, knowing that they — and I — remain totally committed to an inclusive, bottom-up, transparent and participatory process.

The process leading up to the production of negotiating texts must be intensive and uninterrupted. We have a lot of work still to do in a very short time. This is why I am asking the Chairs of the Agriculture and NAMA groups to operate on a continuous basis, and I ask all of you also to make the necessary officials continuously available over the next few weeks. This means that, from now on, negotiators should be on call on a permanent basis.

I am not proposing today a precise date for the circulation of negotiating texts, but I urge you all to think in weeks rather than months, and a small number of weeks. I will be working in very close contact with the negotiating group Chairs as well as the General Council Chair and with delegations to make sure we do not waste a minute. In order to maintain transparency and inclusiveness, I also intend to make more frequent use of this open-ended informal format.

There should be no doubt that the game is here in Geneva, in the multilateral arena, not anywhere else. This is a guarantee for all the membership that they are all players. It is true that the game is at a crucial stage but it is also true that we are really not far from a win in which everyone can share.

Let me try to sum up the situation and the way forward. Using aviation language: we have missed our “approach to modalities”. The plane was flying at too low a speed while the head wind was too strong and the plane was heavily loaded. What we need now is to review our flight plan: maintain course, increase speed and start the final approach to modalities. From now on, the process to reach modalities will be continuous, Geneva-based, and focused on texts — and we should aim at finishing this work in a matter of weeks rather than months. I am confident that, given the urgent need to make progress in the negotiations, you will all agree with me that this is the most sensible course of action.

Highlights from the press conference following the 24 April TNC meeting

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