“MC8” = 8th WTO Ministerial Conference, Geneva 2011

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THIS NEWS STORY is designed to help the public understand developments in the WTO. While every effort has been made to ensure the contents are accurate, it does not prejudice member governments’ positions.


Stressing that the WTO’s decisions can only be taken by its member governments, Mr Lamy said the panel’s findings would help them reflect on what the WTO should do.

He was speaking in a session in which minister after minister expressed regret that the Doha Round negotiations are deadlocked but said they remain committed to the WTO’s multilateral trading system. Only hours earlier a group of 42 WTO members had struck a deal to improve their Government Procurement Agreement.

“The multilateral trading system is at a crossroads,” he said. “In an interlinked world economy in constant transformation, it cannot stay put. Either it advances in the spirit of shared values and enhanced co-operation, or we will face a retreat from multilateralism, at our own peril. Waiting for better times will simply not suffice. A consensus for inaction would simply mean a consensus for more pain for all.”

Mr Lamy said the panel will look at the real drivers of trade, the obstacles it faces, trade patterns, and how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.

“In sum, we must equip the WTO with 21st century software,” he said.


Chairperson opens meeting

Nigeria’s Trade and Industry Minister Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, who chairs the ministerial conference, set the tone as he opened the meeting.

The conference is taking place in a climate of economic difficulties, he said. “These are hard times and there is no end in sight”.

The WTO has helped countries avoid a protectionist spiral, an important message for the world. Therefore, he said, trade ministers must send a clear message that trade openness is particularly important in these challenging times.

He urged members not to give up on the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. Trade is the engine of growth, job creation and development, he reminded them.

The four new members about to join the WTO will make the organization more universal and inclusive, he said.

The WTO is not only alive and kicking, but it is also capable of delivering results that matter to people everywhere, he concluded

The ministers who spoke raised issues of concern to their countries, for example some stressed the need for a “standstill” in trade barriers and subsidies (in other words, not to raise them from current levels), while some others argued that their countries need “policy space” to deal with current economic problems.

But broadly they regretted members’ failure to reach agreement in the Doha Round negotiations and said they are committed to multilateralism, the term used to describe the WTO’s system of agreements and commitments among its 153 members.

Speakers on the first day included: the chairperson, Mr Lamy, Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah of Nigeria (chair of the General Council), Mrs Patricia Francis (Executive Director of the International Trade Centre), and ministers or heads of delegations from Singapore, Switzerland, United States, Qatar, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, Chile, European Union, China, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Japan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of , Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Norway, Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic and Turkey.

All the statements are here.


Chairperson’s opening address:
Nigeria’s Trade and Investment Minister Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga

Distinguished Ministers, Director-General Pascal Lamy, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am deeply honoured to address this eighth session of the WTO’s Ministerial Conference. Allow me at the outset to thank you all for inviting Nigeria to chair this Ministerial Conference.

With about 167 million people, Nigeria has the largest population in Africa. It has about 80 million hectares of arable land, 33 solid minerals in commercial quantity. It is the 7th largest producer of crude oil and has about the 8th largest gas reserves in the world. It has recorded an average growth of about 7% in the last ten years and is also Africa’s second biggest economy. This means that trade is vitally important to our people and, indeed the continent. Nigeria is a firm believer in a strong, fair, transparent, credible, rules-based multilateral trading system embodied in the WTO and the benefits it provides. Under Nigeria’s official development plan — Vision 2020 — Nigeria aims to become one of the World’s top 20 economies. It will therefore continue to rely on the predictability and security that the multilateral trading system guarantees to meet its economic and developmental objectives and reforms.

Our Ministerial meeting once again takes place against the backdrop of a challenging global economic climate, which has worsened in recent months. Colleagues, these are tough times for the world economy and there is no early end in sight. Debt levels and the volatility of financial markets are rising and low growth levels persist. There is a slowdown in trade and a drop in foreign direct investment flows, volatility in food and fuel prices and high unemployment levels also persist. The economic crisis is further aggravated by perceptions that the political responses of governments have so far been insufficient to convince markets about credible exit strategies. In short, we must recognise that the world has changed. The socio-economic and political environment in 2001 when Doha was launched is very different from what we have today in 2011.

It is usually in a challenging economic environment like this that there is greater political pressure to halt or even reverse the process of economic reform and trade liberalization. We all know that some protectionist signs have been apparent in many parts of the world. To bow to such pressure would be the worst response to the present challenge.

As it did over the last two years, the WTO System with its rules and commitments continues to help us avoid a protectionist spiral similar to the one experienced as a result of the crisis in the 1930s. This is an important message to send to the world. But what is even more important is that you, Ministers responsible for Trade, send out a message that trade openness is particularly important during such challenging economic times. We must remain aware of the fact that in a globalized economy, all of us are impacted more rapidly by events elsewhere, and that our shared interests must prevail over economic nationalism.

This Ministerial meeting is an occasion for us to review the entire breadth of WTO work. It is also a chance for you, Ministers, to provide political guidance on the future work of the organization in all its pillars. We all know that significant progress has been made in the Doha negotiations but the negotiations are currently at an impasse. It is however my firm belief that we should not give up on the objectives we set for ourselves ten years ago in Doha. We believed then, and I hope we still believe today, that trade is the engine of growth, job creation, and it must work for development. I hope that during the plenary sessions and especially in the working session on the DDA we will provide the necessary guidance that ensures that real progress on the Round can be achieved very soon.

But we also know that the WTO is more than the Doha Round. This Ministerial is therefore also an opportunity for us Ministers to review all aspects of the regular functioning of this Organization and to exchange ideas to help us keep our Organization and its rules up to date so that it remains the centre of the international trading system.

Today the WTO has 153 Members and I am delighted to say that one of the positive outcomes from this Conference will be the expansion of our membership when we welcome four new Members — Vanuatu, Samoa, the Russian Federation and Montenegro. This will make our Organization more universal and inclusive and confirm that accessions are an important contribution to strengthening the multilateral trading system. The more global the membership of the WTO, the stronger and more credible our Organization becomes. It is therefore important that we continue to pay greater attention to the accession procedures and I am glad to note that there is a draft decision on LDC accessions to the WTO which is before us at this Conference. We congratulate and welcome our new Members.

Finally, the General Council has forwarded elements for political guidance covering three broad themes — the importance of the multilateral trading system and the WTO; trade and development; and the DDA. Ministers will also have the opportunity to elaborate their own views on these themes during our working sessions. In addition, a number of decisions have been forwarded for our adoption and reports from all WTO regular bodies are before us for review. We are therefore set for busy days ahead and here, I would like to thank Director-General Pascal Lamy and Ambassador Agah, Chairman of the General Council for their stewardship and hard work in the preparatory process for this Ministerial Conference. My hope is that by the end of this conference, we will have demonstrated to the world not only that the WTO is alive but that it is also fully capable of delivering results that matter to people everywhere. Results that create economic growth and deliver development, and results that create wealth and jobs for our people.

On this note, I declare the Eighth Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference open.


WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy’s opening statement

Chairman Aganga
Ms Francis
Ladies and Gentlemen

The year 2011 will be remembered for its turbulence and instability. When we thought we had turned the corner from the 2009 economic crisis, the outlook for the world economy seriously worsened. High volatility in financial markets and sovereign debt concerns have damaged business and consumer confidence. Global growth is stuttering across nations and, as a result, trade is slowing down. Unemployment remains at unacceptably high levels. The development gains made in recent years are disappearing. In the midst of this tempest citizens from across the globe have taken to the streets to demand stability, fairness, accountability. They are demanding solutions to address the challenges of our interconnected world.

As trade has contracted, the multilateral trading system has provided an anchor for national trade policies. It has helped moor them to our values of openness, non-discrimination, transparency and rule of law. But the strong storm waves are loosening the anchor and now risk dislodging it. This would be very bad news. The cost to the world economy of high intensity protectionism would be in the order of $ 800 billion, the estimated value of space or “water” in WTO commitments today.

By improving the credibility of the WTO, by ensuring it keeps moving forward, you have a contribution to make towards restoring global stability and predictability. A freer, fairer and more development friendly trading system is part of the solution. Exiting the crisis will be easier if it is done in the spirit of global co-operation. Going-it-alone will make it more painful and longer.

As I outlined in my recent letter to you, your work and achievements in the last two years has advanced the WTO agenda.

Just this morning the 42 parties to the Government Procurement Agreement reached consensus on a package of measures opening and modernising their procurement policies.

This week we will mark the arrival of four new Members of the WTO family, taking us to 157: Russia, Montenegro and two LDC Pacific Islands — Vanuatu and Samoa. It shows that adherence to multilateralism and its values remains high. These accessions also bring the WTO closer to universality.

Your work on Aid for Trade has firmly embedded trade capacity building as a necessary complement to global trade opening. As a result of the Third Global review last July, we now have an agenda for future work towards sustaining financing and showing concrete results.

You have also agreed improvements to the WTO monitoring functions which will be helped by the Integrated Trade Intelligence Portal which we are launching today.

A large number of highly complex disputes are being resolved peacefully, without resorting to uncontrolled retaliation, reminding us of the uniqueness and value of the WTO Dispute Settlement System.

But, so far, you have failed in your endeavours to amend the WTO rule-book to make global trade fairer and more open. The Doha Development Round is at an impasse. At the same time the number of bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements keeps rising, demonstrating that the benefits of trade opening are not in question. How do we explain this paradox?

Some say that bilateral deals provide a faster route to trade opening as they allow participants to omit the most politically difficult issues such as agriculture and fisheries subsidies, anti- dumping rules or tariff peaks. Some argue it is easier to conclude deals when you can pick and choose your partners. For others, this proliferation is more driven by geopolitics than by economics.

Be that as it may, it is time Members of the WTO face up to the reality of this growing contradiction. We can no longer bury our head in the sand. We need to understand the root causes of our inability to advance multilateral trade opening and a regulatory agenda, and to build a collective response. Blaming others will not help.

You will need to address the essential question behind the current impasse: different views as to what constitutes a fair balance of rights and obligations within the trading system, among Members with different levels of development. What is the right share in the contributions and aspirations of advanced economies and emerging markets. What is the right combination of reciprocity among trade partners with similar levels of development and flexibility, which would provide weaker Members with space to adjust to greater competition. It is clear that progress in multilateral trade negotiations, as in climate change negotiations, will require a political response to this political question.

All of you believe that this should be done step-by-step, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain. But to be credible, this needs to be translated, sooner rather than later, into an operational work plan.

But in my view this is not enough. We also need to look at the real drivers of today’s and tomorrow’s world trade, at today’s and tomorrow’s obstacles to trade, at today’s and tomorrow’s trade patterns, at how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation. In sum, we must equip the WTO with XXI century software.

In order to facilitate this discussion, in 2012 I will be convening a “panel of multi-stakeholders of the WTO” to analyse all these elements and report to the entire Membership by the end of next year. I believe this can provide a useful contribution to your own reflections in what is, and should remain, a Member-driven Organization.

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

The multilateral trading system is at a crossroads. In an interlinked world economy in constant transformation, it cannot stay put. Either it advances in the spirit of shared values and enhanced co-operation, or we will face a retreat from multilateralism, at our own peril. Waiting for better times will simply not suffice. A consensus for inaction would simply mean a consensus for more pain for all.

My call today is for all of us to stand up for the values of multilateralism. For major players to exercise leadership and to muster political courage to act together for greater trade opening and reform. To place the interests and needs of developing countries and, in particular, those of the poorest, at its heart. And to start thinking seriously about the dire consequences of not doing so in the midst of a worsening crisis. To act now in favour of a stronger multilateral trading system tomorrow.

Thank you for your attention.

Jargon buster 

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