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.
Good evening everyone. Thank you for being here at short notice.
I convened this meeting as a Heads of Delegation — but given developments I think it’s appropriate that I convert it into an informal TNC meeting before delivering this statement.
So right now we are in an informal TNC.
These are the last few working hours before the deadline to adopt the protocol on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, so I wanted to take this opportunity to brief you on everything that has happened since the General Council adjourned on Friday evening.
Ambassador Fried, as Chairman of General Council, is here at my side. We have discussed the situation and confirmed that what he announced on Friday still stands. So unless something happens before midnight tonight, item 2 on the agenda will be closed without any action other than to take note, as usual, of the statements made. And the meeting of the General Council will therefore be formally closed without the adoption of the protocol.
Of course it is true that everything remains in play until midnight — but at present there is no workable solution on the table, and I have no indication that one will be forthcoming.
We will not be opening the floor for statements. This will just be a report from me to you, for the sake of transparency, so that I can brief you all on the situation.
If anyone has an idea which has not already been proposed or tested then please inform the General Council chair that this may still be doable. But, as I say, I have no indication that this is the case.
So let me update you on the events of the last few days.
Since Friday I have been reaching out to different delegations, and I have been in contact with some capitals.
I convened a meeting of the group coordinators on Tuesday — and again earlier today — to inform them of my activities, and I asked them to report back to all of you.
In these discussions ideas have been tested which could move us forward.
I have been exploring whether there are any possible ways that we might find convergence.
However, I am very sorry to report that despite these efforts I do not have the necessary elements that would lead to me to conclude that a breakthrough is possible. We got closer — significantly closer — but not quite there.
At this late hour, with the deadline just a matter of moments away, I don’t have anything in my hands that makes me believe that we can successfully reach consensus on item 2 of the agenda of the General Council.
My understanding is that the remaining gaps are unbridgeable with the time that we have.
On the one side we have the firm conviction, shared by many, that the decisions that ministers reached in Bali cannot be changed or amended in any way — and that those decisions have to be fully respected.
And on the other side of the debate we have some who believe that those decisions leave unresolved concerns that need to be addressed in ways that, in the view of others, change the balance of what was agreed in Bali.
These are the two sides.
We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge that gap.
We tried everything we could. But it has not proved possible.
The fact we do not have a conclusion means that we are entering a new phase in our work — a phase which strikes me as being full of uncertainties.
Since Bali I have reported to you on the encouraging engagement that I had seen in the negotiations. There has been a constructive, positive mood. Members have been flexible, open-minded and ready to engage on the substantive issues in a way that we haven’t seen for many years.
Together we have been working to make progress in all areas of our work — in implementing the Bali decisions and in moving forward with the post-Bali agenda. Convergence would be challenging of course, but we were working hard achieve it.
But, while I was reporting this news to you, at the same time I said that if we missed the 31 July deadline for the adoption of the protocol on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, it would be likely to have an impact on all areas of our work.
I said on several occasions that I did not think this would be just another minor procedural landmark.
My sense, in the light of the things I hear from you, is that this is not just another delay which can simply be ignored or accommodated into a new timetable — this will have consequences. And it seems to me, from what I hear in my conversations with you, that the consequences are likely to be significant.
But of course it is not me who will decide what the consequences will be.
That will be up to you. What this means for the WTO will be in the hands of the Members.
We have a natural hiatus in our calendar as people leave for the summer break in the coming days.
So I invite you all to use this time to think carefully about what the next steps might be. I urge you to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback.
I will be doing the same.
During August I will be travelling and talking to members to see where we are, to hear your views, and to talk about how we should proceed.
And when everyone is back in Geneva, I will be asking the chairs of the negotiating groups and the regular bodies to consult with Members on what can be done in these changed circumstances.
As I have indicated, I will be doing the same under my own authority — I will be talking to Members and to the chairs — and I will report back to you all in due course.
As we look forward to these discussions I want to stress the importance of each of the three pillars of the WTO: disputes, monitoring and negotiations — not to mention our work on technical assistance and aid-for-trade.
We saw the importance of our work during the financial crisis when, unlike with previous crises, there was no surge in protectionism. Having the rules in place and adherence closely monitored — with the dispute settlement mechanism there to back them up — helped to keep protectionism in check during a dangerous period for the global economy.
The value of those pillars was plain to see — and they performed very well.
But, when I took office last September, I was clear that I had real concerns for the future of the negotiating pillar.
Bali was a very important moment in reviving and revitalising the negotiating function.
But, just seven months later, once again I am very, very concerned.
My view has always been that the multilateral trading system is essential not just to support economic growth and development, but also to deal with other systemic, global issues of governance — such as: guarding against protectionism; responding to new challenges at the global level; and working to resolve not just specific disputes but larger, more fundamental imbalances.
In this way, since its creation in 1948, the multilateral system has been a powerful force for openness, cooperation — and peace.
But it is clear to me that all three pillars are needed for the system to function properly. And if the system fails to function properly then the smallest nations will be the biggest losers.
The major economies will have other options open to them. But the smaller, more vulnerable economies may not. They’re the ones with fewer options, who are at risk of being left behind. They’re the ones that may no longer have a seat at the table.
My fear is that the smaller and more vulnerable an economy is, the more it will suffer.
I said this at the opening ceremony of the 9th Ministerial Conference — and it remains my view today.
It would be a tragic outcome for those economies — and therefore a tragic outcome for us all.
So I hope you will all reflect on this very seriously and very carefully — to consider what the next steps might be.
As I have said, you will be the ones that determine the consequences of today’s events.
I imagine that you all have some questions and doubts about what this will mean — and I expect you will all want to take some time to talk to your capitals.
I would recommend that you do so at the highest possible level. I urge you to stress the importance of the situation we find ourselves in, and how significant the position you take in September will be.
So please, take this time to reflect — and let’s be ready to discuss the way forward on these issues when you return.
The future of the multilateral trading system is in your hands.
At midnight the General Council will formally close.
It is regrettable that we have just a few more hours. But I remind you that 31 July is not my deadline — it is a Bali deadline decided by ministers — and a deadline that many delegations have made clear we must observe.
So, thank you for listening.
Like I said at the outset, I will not be opening the floor.
I am sure that you all have a lot to say. But I hope you will understand that this meeting may not be the right moment to say it.
Instead I think we should take the time to reflect and come back in September.
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