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.
“INFORMAL MEETING” means there are no minutes.
Director-General Roberto Azevêdo’s statement
Informal Trade Negotiations Committee meeting,
12 November 2013
Good morning everyone, and thank you for keeping our date.
At the informal Heads of Delegations meeting on 1 November I promised that I would report back to you today with my assessment of whether a Bali package is achievable. It has been a busy few days since I made that announcement. I have been pleased with the response. We have all worked very hard. We have all lost sleep. pf
So let me get straight to the business and set out where I think we are today.
On Trade Facilitation, a very important hurdle was overcome on Sunday when we closed the text on the customs cooperation section. It is not perfect, but the core of an agreement is there. This achievement is all the more notable for the fact that it was achieved so quickly.
On Section I of the trade facilitation text there remain some very hard nuts to crack. Meetings with smaller groups suggest we have solutions on the horizon in most areas. But in the remaining areas where solutions are not yet evident, it is clear that you need to make some tough calls.
To my mind, Section II represents the biggest iceberg in our path. We have convergence on concepts, but we are struggling to convert those concepts into text. As I see it, an over-reliance on the part of both sides on particular words or formulations is preventing us from finding creative solutions.
Moving on to the Development pillar, let me begin by saying that the LDC issues are progressing well. We have come to an agreement on preferential rules of origin and the operationalization of the services waiver.
Work is still not finalized work on cotton and duty free quota free. But my consultations have left me feeling positive. On DFQF I think we are in a position to find a way forward. We are not there yet — but we are almost there. On cotton, work is advancing. I sense that there is a degree of flexibility on both sides that should allow us to come to an understanding.
On the monitoring mechanism too, reports from the Chair tell me we are making progress. Many of the gaps have been closed. There are one or two outstanding paragraphs, but I am sure that differences in these areas can be bridged.
Finally, agriculture. Let’s start with the G33 proposal. I have a positive feeling here. We still have one or two areas which are more sensitive, particularly on safeguards, and also on the duration of the work programme. But I get a sense that both sides are working in good faith with a genuine desire to find a solution.
I know this will not be easy. It is an issue of both political and economic significance. But I am not in a negative mood. Every time that we have discussed this issue I have found constructive engagement on both sides. So I am hopeful that we will get there.
Tariff rate quota administration is, unfortunately, a different story. Despite some genuine attempts at convergence, no material progress has been achieved. And this is not just the state of play over the last few days — this has been the situation for quite a while. After several weeks of no movement towards convergence, I am beginning to wonder what we could do even if we had more time to try.
I am also concerned about export competition. It is true that we have made some progress on a number of aspects. But there is still the central issue of whether some kind of down-payment could be required — or, if not, what kind of tangible commitment could be put in place towards making concrete progress in the near future. Again, a big question mark hangs over this issue.
So where does this leave us?
I have been consulting with Members constantly over recent days up until last night. And, as I promised, yesterday I sat down with my team, the General Council Chairman, the Deputy Directors-General and the Chairs of the negotiating groups to make an assessment.
It was my sincere hope that by today I would be in a position to tell you that, although we have some difficulties ahead, we are in pretty good shape. Some more blood would have to be shed, but the fighter would not die in this arena. I was hoping I could say that he — or she — would live to fight another day. But I do not think I can tell you that. I think the risk of failure is still present — particularly in some of the areas that I have outlined.
Another possibility was that I would come to you today and say: “Look, we have tried really hard, but it is clear that in some areas you are not going to converge. There is nothing we can do. We need instead to consider how we can approach Bali in a way which is least prejudicial to the future of the organization.”
But, I am not in a position to tell you that either. Because, despite those big icebergs that we have ahead of us, I think that this ship may well yet make the crossing.
It is very disappointing to be in this position today. But, in my view — informed by my conversations with all of you — that is where we are. If we insist on today’s hard deadline then, at this point, we do not have a package. However — I do not believe that that is what Members want. I sense from Members that they want to keep going; that we are too close to success to accept failure.
Therefore the only option is to make a last ditch attempt — to continue this effort and continue our work for a few more days.
But let me be clear: we cannot work right up until the wire. Our deadline cannot be the start of the Ministerial Conference. One of the clearest messages from my consultations with Members is that Bali must not be a negotiating conference. The duration of the flight would be enough time for positions to become entrenched. It would be the surest way to kill this agreement. We have to close this in Geneva.
Moreover, we need to leave time before Bali to put all the documents together: the Bali deliverables, and the documents and decisions which stem from our regular work under the General Council Chair. We also need to decide what the nature and substance of the documents issued should be. And, significantly, we need to leave time before Bali to consider what happens after Bali. That conversation can happen as soon as we conclude the negotiations on the package — but not before. We can only assess what shape a post-Bali framework should take once we know which scenario we will be living in.
So time remains our biggest problem. We must intensify our work for this final push over the next few days. I repeat: we have to close this in the next few days.
As before, we will need to employ a mix of formats and configurations for our meetings. It is not enough to agree things in small formats as issues still need to be multilateralised. But clearly small groups can help accelerate the work in the larger groups. So with a tight schedule, this is a useful option.
And if you need your capital-based people here, including Senior Officials, then please get them here. And make sure your Minister is by the phone — because I may well need his help. We can no longer wait for delegations to check with capitals overnight. We do not have that luxury any more. From today this needs to change. There can be no delays — we need to start closing issues now.
And while some issues may take more time to walk through — and Trade Facilitation took a long time just to walk through the text — I want to reassure Members again that all issues are of equal importance. Each of the three pillars is critical for some part of the Membership. From talking to Members my belief is that if one fails then the whole edifice will crumble.
But I am confident at this moment that we are united in our desire to conclude this deal. I think our efforts on customs cooperation proved this beyond doubt. In just 4 weeks we went from having no text to having a fully agreed text on a very difficult issue — one of the largest icebergs we had before us. It took time, we lost sleep, but we still managed to close the text.
That shows the degree of commitment we have to delivering in Bali. Because if we did not have that commitment, firstly we would not see this kind of effort; and secondly we would not have been successful. So we must redouble our efforts. You all feel, and I agree with you, that this is in reach.
In the next few days I will push you to limit. I apologise in advance for being tough or forceful. That is the worst part of being the DG. I will, however, do my very best to be fair and sensitive to the interests and difficulties of each one of you. I will do my best to help you find the landing zones and come up with creative solutions. And I will do my best to help you chart a safe path that will steer clear of the icebergs — those we see and those we do not yet see.
But it is all or nothing now. We must tie the package up once and for all in the next few days.
Before I conclude let me take a moment to express our condolences to the people of the Philippines. I am sure I speak for all Members when I express our sentiments of sadness and compassion, and I ask Ambassador Conejos to transmit our sentiments to his government and to his people.
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