> Summary of the General Council meeting



Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee

Let me start by saying how pleased I am to see the Russian Federation and Vanuatu taking their seats as WTO members at this General Council

Let me also take this opportunity to express my condolences to the delegation of Vanuatu for the recent loss of Vanuatu’s chief WTO negotiator Timothy Sisi. He will be sorely missed by his friends and he had many in this room.

We are meeting at a time when the global economy is facing increasingly strong headwinds. Slowing global output growth has led us to downgrade our 2012 forecast for world trade expansion to 2.5% from 3.7% in April and to scale back estimates for 2013 to 4.5% from 5.6%. The trade slowdown in the first half of 2012 was driven by an even stronger deceleration in imports of developed countries and by a corresponding weakness in the exports of developing economies. Past experience has shown that in an increasingly interdependent world, economic shocks in one region quickly spread to others — no one is immune. In other words, and I think we all agree this is becoming increasingly obvious, the only way to effectively face up to this crisis is through global collective action.

Although welcome measures aimed at containing the slowdown in economic growth have been announced by some members, more still needs to be done. We need a strong and renewed commitment to revitalize the multilateral trading system, to increase demand and to restore economic certainty at a time when it is badly needed. We must not indulge in trade-restrictive practices. 

Against this sombre backdrop, it is encouraging that since the July Council, work in the Doha Development Agenda has seen signs of momentum.  At our meeting in July, several delegations signalled their collective desire to be more active on the negotiating front from the autumn, in recognition of the absence of progress and of results from the first half of the year.

From the beginning of September, the responses I have heard in my contacts with Ministers, with officials and the private sector in capitals, with delegations in Geneva, including at last week’s Public Forum, and with Chairs of negotiating groups with whom I met in September have confirmed this collective desire to re-engage.  I am also aware that during the summer break a number of delegations have been exploring ideas amongst themselves. And at the regional level, agreement amongst APEC countries on a list of environmental goods and services was attained.  These are encouraging signs on which we now must build. The challenge is to accelerate our work in the coming weeks and months before the year’s end, exploring if there is more room for progress in some areas.

But let me be clear. As I said in July, I am neither under any illusion that the factors that have shaped the impasse which we face have changed substantively, nor do I harbour any dream about achieving grand designs or comprehensive deals. 

At this juncture, I believe we can and must explore those spaces, areas or topics on which we can make progress. We need to explore any and all options, small as they may be, for incremental progress on the negotiating agenda. Taking small steps now will be crucial for the credibility of the rule-making capacity of the WTO tomorrow. And as we take these small steps, we must also look at the wider picture, at the areas where progress has been more elusive, and start exploring and testing new approaches, including on so-called more intractable issues, to deliver results.

Over the past months, we have heard several of you highlight issues that you are prepared or not prepared to advance in the absence of certain guarantees. Trade facilitation, including resolving section II on technical assistance and capacity building, has been at the heart of this discussion. A number of ideas have also started to informally emerge on what could constitute others elements to be delivered if there were to be a trade facilitation outcome.  Ideas for possible elements emerging so far have ranged from TRQ [tariff rate quota] administration in agriculture to a number of other development-related issues, such as special and differential treatment and the monitoring mechanism, and non-DDA [Doha Development Agenda] issues like the ITA [Information Technology Agreement] expansion. We need to test and explore these ideas in our work ahead.

This leads me to the next part of my report — updating you on the work that has been on-going in some negotiating groups and the sequence of work envisaged by Chairs, which will involve you all — Ambassadors as well as technical experts. Let me start with areas where the path ahead has been mapped out.

Negotiations in the area of trade facilitation continue on several tracks. Members are looking at several issues, for example S&D [special and differential treatment], customs co-operation, expedited shipments and cross-cutting issues within the facilitator process. The results of these negotiations will be brought back to the Negotiating Group for incorporation into the Draft Consolidated Negotiating Text. At the session next week (8-12 October), delegations will decide on the issues for the subsequent phase of the facilitator process in the lead-up to the December meeting of the NGTF [Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation].

Negotiations also continue in other member-led settings (bilaterals, plurilaterals), with the results of this work being fed back to the broad Negotiating Group framework.

Work is equally undertaken in the area of technical assistance. The WTO Secretariat is finalizing its preparations for a trade facilitation symposium for African countries in November in Nairobi in cooperation with the African Development Bank and it is launching a comprehensive programme that will assist developing and least-developed countries with identifying their TF needs and priorities.

On special and differential treatment, the Chair is continuing with his work on the three clusters, i.e. the six Agreement-specific proposals, the Monitoring Mechanism and the 28 Agreement-specific proposals agreed, in principle, at Cancún. The Chair has mapped out a detailed work plan for the Special Session for the second half of the year. The pace of this work plan has been adjusted to allow members more time for internal consultations and for preparation so as to ensure their meaningful participation in the consultations. 

Two meetings of the Special Session will be convened each month, with each meeting devoted to exclusive focus on one of the three clusters, respectively. The first such meeting was held on 28 September wherein members engaged in a text-based discussion on the Monitoring Mechanism.  It was characterized by constructive and meaningful engagement and saw progress on some of the key issues. On the Agreement-specific proposals, we are working closely with the concerned technical people of the relevant WTO bodies. The Chair has also been complementing his open-ended consultative process with bilateral and plurilateral discussions with the different stakeholders.

In the DSU [Dispute Settlement Understanding] negotiations, work continues towards completing a discussion of all 12 issues under consideration.  Meetings are taking place this week. A further set of meetings is likely to take place next month to discuss, in particular, the revised text on developing country interests. This text is expected to be presented by the end of this month.  As this phase of the work concludes, members will be able to take stock of the progress made and consider the way forward, including the possible issuance of a revised Chairman’s document.

Turning to the other areas,

On agriculture, an informal meeting of the Agriculture Special Session was held on 28 September.  Members revealed a willingness to re-engage. There was an openness to renewed dialogue, starting with consideration of two papers introduced in the meeting. The Secretariat will provide the information needed to allow members to engage in a discussion based on shared facts.

In the services area, no meetings of the Special Session have been held.  A group of members has reported, however, that they continue to discuss alternative methods of negotiation aimed at the further opening of trade in services. On rule-making, the Chairs of the working parties on GATS [General Agreement on Trade in Services] Rules and Domestic Regulation are each consulting on ways to move forward the negotiations in their areas, and their working parties are meeting during the services cluster being held this week.

On the rest of the issues under the Doha agenda, the Chairs are consulting on the best means to advance work in each respective area.

In sum, I see the beginning of much-needed work to deliver on a basket of issues on which work is advancing. I believe what we now need is to seriously engage in bridging gaps on these issues. This has to be done in a pragmatic and constructive manner, without setting a priori red lines and without pushing for unattainable levels of ambition. The key word must be to work on “deliverables”.

Before concluding, I would like to add a few words on the “WTO Panel on Defining the Future of Trade”.  Members will recall that in April I convened the panel, under my own responsibility, to undertake an assessment of the realities of the multilateral trading system in the 21st century.  The panel met for the first time in May. Last week, on the side-lines of the Public Forum, a number of members from the panel met with delegations to listen to your views on what you, the WTO members, consider to be the key factors driving world trade today. On that occasion, we had a very insightful and constructive discussion and lots of ideas were put on the table. And I want to thank delegations who actively participated in this brainstorming. The panel has duly taken note of all the comments and observations that you raised and they will feed them into their deliberations. The panel members remain available to further engage with you.

This concludes my report, Madam Chair.


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