WTO: 2014 NEWS ITEMS

GENERAL COUNCIL

> Summary of the General Council meeting


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MINUTES:

Thank you Mr Chairman.

As the Chairman of the TNC I’d like to welcome again Minister Laporte and the delegation from the Seychelles.

And I would like to offer a warm welcome to the new permanent representatives who are here for the first time, and the representatives of non-resident delegations who are here taking part in Geneva Week.

It is an honour to have each of you with us today, participating in this important meeting of the General Council. 

Less than two weeks ago we held a Special General Council meeting at which we took the decisions which broke the impasse on the implementation of the Bali package, and put our work back on track.

The task before us now is to deliver on the commitments that we made there. 

I won’t repeat what I said at that meeting again today.

Rather, I will simply report on the progress we have already made, and take a brief look at the work that lies ahead.

We have already had some good news, as we have received the first valid instrument of acceptance for the Trade Facilitation Protocol.

It was deposited on Monday by Hong Kong, China.

This is a very positive step — and I congratulate Hong Kong, China for moving so quickly.

I think this shows that members are serious about delivering on the decisions taken in recent days and on regaining the momentum that we had earlier in the year.

I hope that other members will gain inspiration from this and will soon be able to follow Hong Kong, China’s lead.

In addition, we have seen an increase in interest in the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility now that it is operational — including from donors. And we are actively working with donor Members to raise additional funds. 

We are also in the process of developing a new website for the Facility to provide greater transparency, better donor information, and easier access to the support on offer.

The site should be up and running early next year. For now information will be posted on the Trade Facilitation page on the WTO website.

And our partners in this work are continuing to offer support. The World Bank, for example, has had approaches from 30 countries for its funds which are specific to the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

So there has been a lot of activity in this particular area already.

I am just sharing some positive news on issues that relate to my responsibilities here. The General Council chair will discuss the implementation of each of the Bali decisions in detail under the next item on the agenda.

I want to focus now on the work program on the remaining DDA issues.

Our new deadline for developing the work program of July 2015 already looms large.

    

As I announced at the Special General Council, we have restarted consultations through the Negotiating Bodies.

I have met with the Negotiating Chairs twice already since then.

So I will now give you a brief report on their work so far.

The Committee on Agriculture in Special Session met in an open-ended session last week to discuss the organisation of the future work program across all aspects of its mandate. This includes the Decisions taken by the Special General Council on Public Stockholding for Food Security Purposes.

The chair concluded that intensive discussions would be required to advance work on a permanent solution for the public stockholding issue as well as on the work program on all three Doha pillars of agriculture.

He asked Members to reflect carefully over the break on the challenges for next year and to engage with each other and with their capitals on the issues that need to be taken forward. 

A more detailed report will be circulated in document JOB/AG/31 to update more fully on the discussion at last week’s meeting.  And the Chair will be convening further meetings in the New Year.

On Non-Agricultural Markets Access, the Chair has scheduled an open-ended meeting on Monday 15 December.  To facilitate discussions at the meeting, he has also issued a report on the work done in the first half of the year, which was circulated as document JOB/MA/114.  I think that many of the questions raised by the Chair during the first half of 2014, and which are reflected in this report, remain valid today. 

Following the 15 December meeting, the Chair will plan for additional meetings and consultations in the New Year.

In the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, the chair has started consulting with Members in different configurations.

An informal meeting will be held on Wednesday 17 December to take stock of the current situation and exchange views.

Moving on, the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development has held a round of informal consultations with the proponents.

I understand that they are now continuing their work towards finalising a number of Agreement-specific proposals which they would wish to see as the basis of the work program for the Special Session. 

As a first step, the proponents intend to table a submission comprising a list of the provisions where they would like to see work being done. Substantive proposals explaining the rationale, and the problems identified, are expected to be submitted at the second stage.

Given that we have very little time, the chair urges the proponents to submit their list of provisions and the corresponding proposals as soon as possible, so that substantive discussions can start in the CTD.

The Chair of the Special Session is planning to hold an informal open-ended meeting of the CTD SS in the last week of January to take stock of the situation. 

Turning now to the Special Session of the Council for TRIPS, an informal open-ended meeting will be held this Friday, 12 December.

The meeting will discuss how delegations would like to move the GI Register negotiations forward, and how they should be reflected in the work program. 

Turning to Rules, the Chairman has convened an informal, open-ended consultation meeting for next Tuesday, 16 December.

He has asked the Group to consider whether it should resume its work now — and, if so, in what format, and with what objective — keeping in mind that the Group could be expected to contribute to the overall progress on negotiations at any time.   

Turning to the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment, the chair will convene an informal open-ended meeting on Wednesday 17 December to discuss how Members can contribute to an effective and clearly-defined work program.

In addition, on the suggestion of several delegations, the Chair intends to brief members on the organization of an information session regarding the mandate on multilateral environmental agreements.

In convening this meeting, the Chair of the Special Session would like to encourage us to keep in mind that 2015 will be a significant year for the environment as the UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, starting in November. And therefore it would be important for the WTO to send an appropriate signal in this regard.

Lastly, the DSU negotiations.

Work has been continuing here, including in the autumn, as part of a Member-driven process to identify possible flexibilities and clarify the options in each area of the negotiations.

Consultations will continue on how we can translate the progress made this year into concrete outcomes.

So that concludes my review of activity in the negotiating groups.

I think it’s clear that Members are beginning to reengage and put our work back on track.

By the end of December most of the chairs will have convened meetings on the way forward — and further meetings are being planned for January.

We need to keep building on this momentum.

And in my view there are some ingredients which we will need if we want to be successful.

One first ingredient will be to maintain a sense of urgency. If we are to meet our July deadline we really don’t have any time to spare. 

Second, when it comes to the substance, I think we need to take an approach that is reasonable and pragmatic.

I urge you to focus a critical eye on what is truly, truly important for you now — but also to think about what is doable.

I am not trying to suggest what you should do, or what materials you should use, but I am saying that members should try to set reasonable goals.

We can achieve a great deal here, but if we over-reach then we will get bogged-down once again — and I think that is the worst-case scenario for everyone.

Third, we need a very high degree of engagement from all delegations. That includes ensuring that your capitals are tuned in to our discussions. Their engagement and readiness to make important political calls on how we move forward will be crucial.

Fourth, while members’ engagement will need to be deep and detailed, it must also be broad.

Agriculture, Non-Agricultural Market Access and Services are all on the table now — and these continue to be our core issues. But, having said that, we must also make sure that we are fully engaged outside these core areas as well.

So instead of trying to sequence our engagement, I think it is essential that we seek now to meaningfully engage across all of the issues and all of the negotiating groups.

We need to be exploring issues and looking at options for progress in all of our negotiating areas so that we are ready in all of them as July gets closer. 

So, in my view, these are the key ingredients that we need at this stage if we are going to keep building momentum going into the New Year and create the conditions for success.

We need urgent, horizontal and reasonable but full engagement across the board.

And I will do all I can to facilitate this.

To this end, I plan to hold informal TNC meetings in Room W at the Heads of Delegations level — starting on 21 January.  How often and on which issues, we will decide as we go along.

I want these meetings to be focused and business-like, aimed at moving our work forward. 

There will, of course, continue to be our regular TNC meetings and, as I have already outlined, the intensification of work taking place in each of the Negotiating Groups will be vital to our ability to make progress.

2015 is going to be a big year for the WTO. We have important work to do and real deadlines to meet. We will hold our 10th Ministerial Conference. We will celebrate our 20th anniversary.

So let’s make sure that it’s a year to remember.

This concludes my report. Thank you, Mr Chairman.

 

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