> Summary of the General Council meeting



Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee

The starting point of my report today will be the to-do list which results from MC8.  The follow-up task before us now is to implement decisions and to operationalize elements for political guidance in a pragmatic and realistic manner as we seek to find convergence to move forward our negotiations.

Before turning to the specifics of how I envision us following up on MC8 outcomes and taking forward our work, let me provide you with a sense of the messages I have heard during my activities since the beginning of the year.

As you know, the Swiss Federal Counsellor responsible for Trade hosted the traditional informal ministerial meeting in Davos at the end of January.  From the discussions among Ministers present and from my meetings with individual Ministers and business representatives a number of important messages emerged, that are in line with what we heard at MC8.

First, there was a collective sense to use 2012 to move in small steps on issues where consensus exists and keep expectations manageable – that is, a strong sense of pragmatism, avoiding dogmatism.

Second, a shared sense against prescriptiveness.  The collective view I believe is that Members should be realistic and not set unattainable targets or packages which would lead to hostage taking.

Third, there seemed to be emerging consensus that certain issues such as those pertaining to LDCs and Trade Facilitation could be part of deliverables relatively soon.

Four, during my meeting with business representatives, I heard clear concerns that the proliferation of bilateral and regional trade arrangements risked scattering the global multilateral playing field.  Attention should be paid to fostering convergence among both, instead of potential for divergence, in particular on their regulatory content.

I also attended the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa and have held a number of bilateral meetings with Ministers and business groups.  These meetings have confirmed the sense that Capitals and Business Circles remain committed to advancing the DDA negotiations in a pragmatic manner. 

Here in Geneva, I have continued my coordination meetings with Chairs of Negotiating Bodies and last week, together with you, Mr Chairman, we met with the Chairs of subsidiary bodies.  The purpose of these meetings was to provide a first opportunity for Chairs to begin reviewing the work which will be necessary following MC8.  I also used the occasion to highlight progress on savings and more efficient resource use in servicing and scheduling of meetings, following your decision at the General Council last November.  I will update you on this under the item "Other Business".

Turning to work here in Geneva, I am aware that some of you have already started informal contacts amongst yourselves aimed at trying to advance areas of importance to your delegations.  This is encouraging.  And I hope this will be useful input from you to the negotiating groups. 

Still on the subject of our work here, three negotiating groups have so far met.  The Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation had a good start.  Members agreed on a detailed program for the first half of the year with a series of facilitator sessions as a complement to regular work in the Group.

The work in the DSU negotiations also resumed as planned, with consultations held in the week of 30 January on Member-control and flexibility, strictly confidential information, panel composition and third party rights.  The discussions were constructive, with, in particular, substantial progress towards draft language on participation of third parties in consultations.  The next set of meetings is expected to take place in early March, at dates to be confirmed soon. 

The Negotiating Group on Market Access met on 24 January to discuss the organization of future work which the Chair intends to pursue with bilateral consultations.

The Negotiating Group on Rules is also scheduled to have a meeting at the end of the month with the purpose of formally appointing Ambassador McCook as Chair.  The Chair-elect has also decided to re-activate the Technical Group which will be meeting immediately following the confirmation of the Chair at the end of this month. 

Let me now offer you my own views about how I see us moving forward.  The current political environment dictates that the most realistic and practical way forward is to move in small steps, gradually moving forward the parts of the Doha Round which are mature, and re-thinking those where greater differences remain.  I believe that non-prescriptiveness is the right thing to do in the present cool temperature.  Of course we can raise the temperature degree by degree as we progress, but for now, let us begin low which is where we are. 

In practical terms, I have encouraged all Chairs to informally consult at this stage to determine what each of their groups can do, step by step, in an informal manner.  This of course, with the exception of Trade Facilitation and Dispute Settlement where Members have agreed on detailed work plans that they are already implementing.  I have also encouraged all Chairs to have a programme of consultations and themes to ensure that their consultations do not end up flat.

I would also strongly caution against any dogmatic debates over concepts or principles, that would only risk poisoning this cautiously optimistic atmosphere currently prevailing and as a consequence, our discussions and not lead us anywhere.  So in summary, calm, cool and pragmatic are the ways to move our pieces forward at this moment.  These are the ways I see to deliver on the to-do list adopted at MC8.

Changing now my hat and speaking as Director-General and not as Chair of the TNC, you will recall that at MC8 I indicated my intention to convene a "Panel of Multi-stakeholders of the WTO" to look at the real drivers of today's and tomorrow's world trade, at today and tomorrow's obstacles to trade, at today and tomorrow's trade patterns, and, at how to keep transforming trade into development, growth, jobs and poverty alleviation.  I see these as the terms of reference for the panel, convened under my responsibility and comprising business leaders, trade politicians, civil society and academics with deep knowledge of the multilateral trading system.  I see the output of the panel as a pragmatic contribution to offer to you, the Members of the WTO, on what will be the driving forces of trade in the years to come.  I will keep Members informed about developments on this front. 

To conclude, 2012 cannot and should not be a wasted year.  As we all know, the world economic outlook remains rather grim and domestic crisis-   related issues are absorbing leaders' political energy, with not much left for international cooperation.  In these circumstances, we should not expect any major breakthrough any time soon, whether on trade, on climate change or on macroeconomic coordination.  But it is I believe our responsibility to avoid further rocking the boat and to ensure that existing multilateral systems are not damaged.  And the best way to do that is to keep improving them, be it marginally, during this difficult period.  We all have a collective responsibility to maintain and sustain the multilateral trading system for the future.  That is my own sense of how we should move forward at this stage.

This concludes my report today, Mr Chairman.  Thank you.


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