WTO: 2008 NEWS ITEMS

  
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Opening Remarks

Thank you all for coming to this meeting, which I have convened in the interests of transparency and inclusiveness as we enter a decisive phase in the DDA negotiations.

As you are all aware, intensive work has been taking place over the last few weeks in the negotiating groups on Agriculture and NAMA, building on the revised draft modality papers in these two areas circulated by the respective Chairs in early February. I believe we have made solid progress and that we are now much closer to the finish line, although we are obviously not there yet.

The aim of the work that has been going on over the past few weeks is to produce new revised texts, on the basis of the discussions in the negotiating groups, that can provide a platform for the establishment of modalities. If we are to conclude the Round this year, as your governments wish, we need to move rapidly forward.

This means that the time is coming soon to take our work to a higher level and to begin drawing together the threads both within and across the two modalities issues as mandated in Hong Kong. It also means giving sufficient reassurance that all the other negotiating issues are advancing as they should. This is what is being called a “horizontal process”.

I believe we need to demystify this term: “horizontal process”. It is not an innovation — we are just bringing together the key elements, as required to reach convergence on modalities

Similar processes have taken place in the recent past, notably in 2004, and before Hong Kong. The aim is to follow the pattern that has worked in the past — concentric circles of consultations with constant communication among them. The substantive objective is to prepare the formal establishment of modalities in Agriculture and NAMA and to provide sufficient reassurance that other issues are also advancing within the Single Undertaking.

The basic principles to which we are all committed will continue to apply:

  • Modalities can only be established by the full membership;

  • Transparency and inclusiveness are fundamental;

  • Informal consultations in various smaller configurations are essential to narrow differences but they must feed into multilateral arena in a continuous loop.

To give effect to these principles I will hold informal TNC meetings such as this one, throughout the duration of the horizontal process. They will serve both to guarantee transparency and to help build consensus. I will supplement them with continuing dialogue with the regional and other groups as well as with green rooms meetings. The composition of these green rooms will, as usual, ensure that the full spectrum of Members' views and interests are represented. Some variable geometry may at times be needed depending on the issues being discussed. I am also well aware of the need to allocate time for capitals to consider draft texts and for groups to co-ordinate.

This horizontal process will start at Senior Official level, in order to prepare properly for the Ministerial involvement which is likely to be needed at a later stage. Within our tight overall timeframe, it nonetheless will be important to allow Senior Officials sufficient time to narrow down the range of issues for Ministers. This is essential if Ministerial involvement is to be productive.

The starting point for the process will be the Agriculture and NAMA Chairs' revised texts which are expected for later this month; the end product should be sufficient convergence on key points in Agriculture and NAMA to enable final draft modalities texts to go forward to the TNC for establishment of those modalities.

Besides establishing modalities in Agriculture and NAMA, the question of which other issues will need our attention at the same time was one which was raised at both the General Council meeting in December and our last informal meeting in January. As I foreshadowed at that time, I have been undertaking many consultations on this question of scope, and today's meeting forms part of this consultative process.

From what I have heard so far, it remains clear that the primary focus of the next weeks has to be on modalities in Agriculture and NAMA. On the other hand, it is also clear that issues such as Trade and Environment, the S&D Work Programme, and Trade Facilitation are advancing and need not be taken up in detail at the time of the modalities. Therefore on these issues the respective Chairs will make reports to the TNC on progress and set out roadmaps for further work in their respective areas.

This leaves a middle group of three issues where it has become apparent that we need more clarity, namely Services, Rules and the TRIPS-related issues. These issues have been the principal focus of the consultations I have held most recently.

On Services, at our informal meeting in January, several Members expressed concern about how the services market access negotiations are proceeding. They requested that I consult on how best to organize the way forward, particularly as we approach agreement on Agriculture and NAMA modalities. They indicated that, at the time of establishing those modalities, they would need a certain level of comfort regarding the market access negotiations on services.

In the absence of revised final offers — which are the ideal barometer of progress but which everyone agrees is for a later stage — an alternative means for providing such comfort which has been suggested could be through exchanging signals among participants in the plurilateral market access negotiations, hence the idea of a signalling conference. This would be a parallel track to the multilateral text, on which the Services Chair is currently holding consultations. The signalling conference would focus on market access issues. While Ministers will, of course, discuss any issue they wish, the question of LDC modalities which was also raised in my consultations should continue to be taken up in the multilateral negotiating group process. We need to see progress in the area of LDC modalities over the coming weeks.

The political objective of such a signalling conference would be to give a credible signal that the services negotiations are moving forward, but it would not define the final outcome of the services negotiations. I would recall that any outcome on market access among participants in the plurilateral process will be automatically extended on an MFN basis to all Members. The conference should be a two-way street and those involved must avoid it turning into a finger-pointing exercise, but I think the spirit in which they are preparing it is positive.

Participation in the signalling exercise would be, more or less, among Members participating in the plurilateral request/offer negotiations plus representatives of regional groupings — all in all, similar to the format of the Ministerial Green Room.

With regard to its preparation: my sense is that to adequately prepare this the next step should be a round of bilaterals involving Senior Officials. Given the timeline of our current process involving Senior Officials and eventually Ministers, it seems to me that the week of 5 May might be the most appropriate time for those bilaterals in Geneva.

In my consultations, there has also been discussion of the report of the signalling conference. In the interest of full transparency, the outcome of the signalling exercise would be in the form of an oral report by myself, which would be placed on record in the minutes of the TNC. I believe we have reached a common understanding on the main elements of such a report, which would include a description of the sectors and modes of delivery discussed and the signals exchanged regarding new/improved commitments which participants would be ready to undertake, short of mentioning the commitments themselves and those who have signalled that they are ready to move in that direction.

Now, I would like to move on to the second topic of my consultations, Rules. Let me start by underlining that there is wide agreement that this is not an issue for ministerial negotiations at the time of modalities in Agriculture and NAMA, though of course it is not excluded that some discussion may take place.

This question has been linked to the question of the text. Many participants have made it clear that they expect to see a new document from the Negotiating Group Chair before the opening of the horizontal process. For some, this should be a fully-fledged revised text, for others perhaps something else, but there is a widely-shared view that in any case it should be more than just a report and not just a compilation either. The need that has been identified is to have a document which would give reassurance to domestic stakeholders. The Negotiating Group Chair is reflecting on how best to respond to these needs.

Let me now move on to the third topic, the TRIPS issues. For the mandated negotiations on a GI register, the TRIPS Special Session Chairman will be making a report to the TNC on the work in his area. In addition, I have a mandate from Ministers in Hong Kong to conduct consultations as Director-General on the issues of GI extension and the TRIPS/CBD relationship. In my consultations, wide gaps remain between Members. Some have stated that it is time for a negotiation and that there can be no modalities without this topic also being part of the horizontal process. On the other hand, a number of Members do not agree to a negotiation, but do not exclude further discussion. For these two issues, we will also have reports indicating the state of play in my consultations, which are being carried out with the assistance of DDG Rufus Yerxa. However, these reports will not solve the fundamental divide which exists over these issues, so I have called for, and I reiterate my call today, continued consultations between the groups of Members concerned to resolve this, so as to try to avoid a big clash during the modalities exercise.

In sum, we are looking at the establishment of modalities in a TNC, which will also have before it reports and roadmaps from other negotiating groups, and a report from the Services signalling conference, so that Members can situate the modalities agreement in the context of the Single Undertaking, which remains the fundamental underlying principle of this negotiation, and we know that principles sometimes need to be incarnated.

That concludes my report to you on my recent consultations. Let me conclude by putting all of this into the wider context. In my recent contacts at every level, both here in Geneva but also in my travels to Addis Ababa for the African Union Trade And Finance Ministers Meeting, London and Washington for the IMF/World Bank Spring Meeting, everyone I have met has underlined with more vigour than ever the need to conclude the Round successfully this year. This is no surprise — we have all seen the recent growth projections by the IMF. And we have all witnessed the financial turbulence we are in and the hikes in energy and food prices that are affecting severely many of your countries.

At a time when the world economy is in rough waters, concluding the Doha Round can provide a strong anchor. One more reason to redouble our efforts. We are all working hard, chairs and members alike, I believe it is starting to bear fruit. Let's keep all our forces engaged.


Closing Remarks

Let me answer the point made by three of you who, if I understand well, have expressed interrogations on the decision-making process in this organization.

As I think I made clear in my introduction, steps like establishment of modalities can only come from the full membership. This is, I think, very clear. Now, how we prepare this is what is at stake. We know that, in this organization, preparing this sort of deliberation — some of these deliberations being of a process nature, others being of a substance nature, some having legal consequences, others having only process as consequences — all of this is prepared through consultations. These consultations take place in a wide variety of formats. We are in an informal Heads of Delegation which is one of these formats. We have Negotiating Groups, we have Room E's, we have Confessionals, we have Green Rooms, we have interaction and consultations between the Chairs and various Geneva-based, or non Geneva-based interlocutors. I have frequent meetings with Regional Groups. So there is a whole variety of these consultations and the Green Room is one of these. This is inevitably complex, given that we have to take decisions by consensus on an agenda which is multi-dimensional, and the essential is that, given this complexity, enough transparency is provided so that everybody knows where things are. I think on this we are all making efforts, and even the three Delegations who have some interrogations on process have recognized this and I thank them for that.

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