Director-General's remarks at the informal TNC, 16 November 2006

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Informal TNC meeting at the level of Head of Delegation

I would like to start by thanking you all for coming to this meeting at short notice.

Since I reported to the General Council last month, I have continued my contacts with participants at every level in order to try to facilitate the restart of the negotiations. I was pleased to be able to report then that the desire to come back to the negotiating table was widespread and genuine. This continues to be the case, and perhaps now even more so, which is why I have called this meeting today.

As I reported to the General Council, at the meetings I have attended since the summer — meetings of the G20, the Cairns Group and World Bank-IMF, among others — I have repeatedly stressed the costs to the global economy and the multilateral trading system if we fail to resolve the current impasse. I am continuing to make these points at every suitable opportunity.

I have recently had further contacts with a number of Ministers and Senior Officials, and I have visited among others Brussels and Washington. This morning, I have just returned from the APEC Ministerial Meeting in Hanoi, where political and business leaders underlined that failure to conclude the DDA would send a very negative signal for both the regional and world economies. In my contacts with the 20 Ministers present in Hanoi I have detected a general feeling of urgency.

Everyone continues to be very much aware of what is already on the table in this Round, of what remains to be done, and of the potential benefits for every Member and for the global economy if we are able to successfully conclude it. But we must not forget that our window of opportunity is limited. There must be significant progress by the early spring if we are to have a chance of finishing the Round next year.

Here in Geneva, I have been carrying out a series of contacts, including with various delegations, coordinators of regional and other groups and, of course, the Negotiating Group Chairs.

As we all know, informal contacts among Members, both in Geneva and beyond, have been going on since the summer. The number and frequency of these contacts have now increased, which I think is another sign of this growing and widely-shared desire to make the most of every opportunity to lay the foundations for further progress.

Today there seems to be widespread support for multilateralizing these contacts and bringing them back to the Negotiating Groups. There is also a view that this should be done across the spectrum of the different areas on the agenda.

In practice, this means increasing the number of contacts in the various negotiating areas and broadening them in the interests of transparency and inclusiveness — a point many delegations I have consulted with have insisted on. It means increasing the opportunities for participants to start again to test each other's positions and to explore possible options to take the negotiations ahead. The Negotiating Group Chairs are ready to play a key role in this.

I am therefore encouraging the Chairs to carry out contacts and consultations as they judge most appropriate, bearing in mind the different circumstances of the various Negotiating Groups. A number of the Chairs have started doing just that — for example, Crawford Falconer organized a transparency forum last week, which I understand was well appreciated.

I would suggest that such work should now take place across all areas of the negotiations. However, I would also underline that it is the respective Chairs, in consultation with delegations of course, who are best placed to determine the way ahead in each area and the speed with which the work should take place.

Today we are somewhere between the quiet diplomacy of the last months and the fully-fledged negotiations which will only come when Members are ready to put numbers to the flexibilities they have already expressed in general terms on key issues, in particular on agriculture market access and domestic support. While I believe we are ready to start technical work at the level of experts, it would be, in my view, premature to move on to ministerial negotiations. What I am suggesting to you we do is prepare the ground for fully-fledged negotiations to take place when the conditions are right.

While we intensify the work in the Negotiating Groups in Geneva I believe it is crucial that bilateral contacts among Members continue to test numbers and explore flexibilities. It is an essential component to prepare the ground for a deal.

All the ships in our convoy have been in dry dock for repairs over the last few weeks. We are obviously not going to push them back into the water without preparing them adequately beforehand. This also requires the ship-owners to give the right sort of orders to their crews. You can rely on me to keep on pressing them to do so.

Closing Remarks

I thank you all for your contributions and your encouragements. I would like to encourage you in turn — we all need to be encouraged.

I note a consensus on the working method I suggested earlier. The Negotiating Group Chairs have thus the green light to take up again the normal process, with the habitual transparency. It is their responsibility to determine the rhythm of their work, in consultation with delegations.

This is the end of our discussion today. “Au boulot”(1), as we say in French.


1.- “On with the work.” back to text


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