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.
Thank you for being here.
Before I begin, I would like to pay tribute to President Michael Sata of Zambia who passed away earlier this week, just days after the 50th anniversary of his nation’s independence.
He was known as a great character, and as someone who devoted his life to serving his country. And so I’m sure I speak for all members, and for the WTO secretariat, when I offer our sincere condolences to the Republic of Zambia, and to our friend Ambassador Sinjela.
Turning to the main business before us today, I said at the TNC on the 16 of October that it was time to face up to the undeniable problems we have in this organization and to have an open and honest discussion about how we can move forward.
Over the weeks since then we have done precisely that. We have had an intensive process of consultations.
Together with Ambassador Fried as General Council chair, I have held a series of meetings in a range of configurations to continue the conversation that we started in the TNC.
I know as well that members have been speaking to each other.
I have been pleased by the very high level of engagement in these consultations, and the willingness of many to face the reality of the situation that we are in.
We have tried to answer the questions I set out two weeks ago.
- What should we do with the decisions on Trade Facilitation and public stockholding?
- What should we do with the other Bali decisions, including the LDC package?
- How should we respond to the ministerial mandate to develop a work program on the post-Bali agenda?
- And how do we see the future of the negotiating pillar of the WTO?
I described these issues at the time as a series of concentric circles — and I want to be clear that in doing so I was not in any way implying any hierarchy among them. I was simply making the point that they are all interconnected — and that without progress in one area, progress in another is likely to be all but impossible.
Most delegations have been part of these conversations over the last two weeks in one form or another.
Now that we are all meeting together, I think it would be useful to share with you what has been coming up in these discussions.
We still do not have a solution to the impasse before us — the impasse that establishes a political link between the Public Stockholding programs and the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
In this context members have been trying to map out what may lie ahead. Three potential scenarios have emerged from these discussions, which we explored during the consultations.
I stress that I am not proposing these scenarios. They are not based on my own imagination or my own initiative. Rather, they are based on what I have been hearing from you.
I outline them simply to try to structure our conversations in a constructive way.
Scenario 1 is that we find a solution for the impasse quickly.
Clearly this is the ideal scenario. It would put all of our other work back on track.
But unfortunately it is not in our hands — and I have no concrete indications that it is about to happen.
Even if we found a solution to the impasse tomorrow we would still have a problem as regards the post-Bali work program. The detailed and precise modalities-like work program that we had been discussing previously would be virtually impossible to achieve by the agreed December deadline.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t conclude the work program — that’s not what I’m saying at all. We can conclude the work program, but we may need to look at a different time-frame.
So that’s scenario 1.
Scenario 2 is that we continue our search for a solution to the current impasse.
This is essentially where we’ve been since July.
But we’ve found that while we wait for a solution, continuing our essential work on the other Bali decisions — or anywhere, frankly — is proving very difficult.
You heard the chairs’ reports at the TNC two weeks ago. Members are disengaging.
You might want to make progress in some particular areas — but you can’t negotiate without other people at the table.
So, under this scenario, while we keep looking for a solution to the impasse, progress in other areas seems impossible.
In the consultations many members — both developed and developing members — indicated they did not support a scenario where we keep looking for a solution to the impasse indefinitely — they want to move forward. If we find a solution at some point, that’s great — then we can move with whatever was left behind.
So now let’s turn to Scenario 3.
Under this scenario, in the absence of a solution to the impasse, some members have indicated an openness to look for alternative ways to make progress.
Again, I am not saying this because it’s my view — I am saying it because it is a real possibility which we need to recognise. There are actions that may be taken by some members, over which we have no control.
Clearly some Members are already talking about alternative ways to take the TFA forward.
And, as I understand it, there are basically two alternatives here — which I’ll call 3A and 3B.
Scenario 3A is that members seek implementation of the TFA as a plurilateral agreement outside the WTO.
If this happens then I am afraid that the other Bali decisions and the post-Bali agenda will not have a bright future.
But, overall, I have not heard much sympathy for this approach during my consultations.
Scenario 3B is that members seek implementation inside the WTO - an open-ended approach to implementation where those that want to move forward with implementing the agreement would do so. It would therefore be less than multilateral, at least in the first instance, but would also leave open the possibility of a full multilateral agreement at some point in the future.
There is a whole spectrum of possible ways that this could happen.
It could be taken up as a traditional, stand-alone plurilateral agreement. That’s one end of the spectrum.
This option could leave the other Bali decisions and the post-Bali work program behind. Right now, I do not hear anybody proposing this course of action.
But, as I have said, there are many options between this and the other end of the spectrum.
For example, Members could take an approach where the terms of the TFA are simply put in place by those parties who are willing to do so, on an MFN basis. Section 2 would be an integral part of this, and technical assistance would be available to developing countries who want to participate in this approach.
This approach could also be linked to bringing some or all of the other Bali decisions forward.
In saying this, of course, some pointed out that public stockholding, unlike the rest of the Bali issues, would be more problematic to take forward in the absence of a fully multilateral solution. I think you can imagine why some members have been saying this.
There is clearly a positive disposal towards the LDC issues — and in fact, there was some positive news just yesterday on the Bali decision on preferential rules of origin for LDCs.
Members have now delivered on an aspect of this decision by providing the first annual review of developments in this area through the Committee on Rules of Origin.
While many areas of work have stopped, this is a pleasing indication that members seem to want LDC work to continue — though of course this must be as part of the inter-linkages among those concentric circles that I outlined at the TNC.
But, turning back to the matter in hand - these, broadly, are the scenarios which members have explored in the conversations of the last two weeks.
How this will play out is not for me to say. It depends on many factors which are, ultimately, in your hands.
But I can give you a sense now of the views that I have heard.
All delegations agreed that scenario 1 — whereby we find a solution — is the preferable option.
Some are still hopeful that a solution will materialise, but many understand that this is not on the cards. Certainly, there have been no perceptible developments in the last two weeks.
Moving on, scenario 2, under which we would keep looking for a solution, was not greeted with any enthusiasm by many delegations. They pointed out that developments since 31 July are not encouraging and that we need to face reality. Anyway, this scenario would only exist until such a time as some members table proposals to move ahead. Then we would enter scenario 3.
And on scenario 3, there were different views.
3A — an undertaking outside the WTO — seems to find no supporters anymore. At this stage no-one wants to consider implementing the TFA outside the WTO.
In contrast, as I have indicated, many were more ready to explore the options that may be possible around 3B.
There is clearly already an active discussion taking place between members on what the options here in 3B might be — I have heard this from many of you.
I sense that these members want to find a way of implementing the TFA inside the WTO, but only they can tell how long it would be before they act.
In their view, the WTO needs to deliver on the negotiating pillar or the Organisation will suffer probably irreparable damage.
Others are more reluctant. They are concerned about taking a non-multilateral approach — even if it could potentially be multilateralised in due course.
Nonetheless, there was a widespread feeling that with any approach on Trade Facilitation, section 2 must be delivered and the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility must become operational for those who decide to implement the TFA. Similarly, there was a clear desire that the other Bali decisions — particularly those concerning the LDCs — must also be delivered.
But in the conversation, a large number of questions were raised. I’ll mention a few of them:
- How exactly would this happen — how would scenario 3B be developed?
- How can we be sure that section 2 is delivered?
- How can we ensure that any such approach is only transitory measure leading to multilateral solution in the longer term?
- What happens to the other Bali decisions — how would they be taken forward — and what assurances can be given on this?
- Is it possible to leave the door open to get the full implementation of the Bali package at a later stage?
- Does this set a precedent for future negotiations?
- And how do we ensure that such an undertaking would enable the resumption of work on the post-Bali work program?
There were many other questions — especially of a procedural nature — and I think members need to seek answers to all of these questions.
Of course the full implementation of the Bali Package, as it was agreed in Bali, remains the best option - but this course of action is blocked, for now. I will continue to work in seeking solutions and will continue to facilitate a conversation among you about the next steps.
Therefore we may need to make the best of a bad situation and ensure that whatever happens, we are in the best possible position in terms of preserving the credibility of this Organisation.
Today, I am just reporting the realities of the situation, based on what I hear from you, in the most honest and open way that I can.
But I think you can see from the nature of what I have picked up in my consultations over the last few weeks — that we are truly at a watershed moment for this organization, whether we like it or not.
So this is where we are today. The question we must address now is how we should proceed.
And the answer must come from you.
We have just a few more weeks until the December General Council. And the world will be watching.
We could confirm people’s worst thoughts about the negotiating arm of this organization — or, like we did in Bali, we could confound expectations and make some real progress.
At that General Council meeting we have to be clear about how we see the future of the organization.
At a minimum we have to decide on how to proceed with the post-Bali work program mandated by ministers in Bali.
There is real pressure on us over the next few weeks. And if you’re not feeling it right now — you should be.
It is going to be a busy period. And there is a series of major international meetings between now and then. I plan to attend:
- the Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries.
- the APEC trade ministers meeting
- the G-20 leaders summit
- the East African Community leaders summit
- and the African Union trade ministers meeting
It is my intention to seize these opportunities to discuss the situation here at the WTO.
The process will continue here in Geneva as well — I urge you to continue talking to each other — and thinking about the scenarios that I have outlined and any other scenario you can think of.
Together with the General Council chair, I will continue my consultations with members — with a focus on the two or three weeks directly before the General Council meeting.
At the TNC I think I made my thoughts very clear. In my view, we are in a crisis situation.
Two weeks later, that hasn’t changed — nor did we expect it to.
However, I am seeing an increasing determination to move things forward somehow.
It is obvious in all my conversations that everyone wants to make progress and move beyond the current impasse. So I urge you — if it is in your power to find a solution — if you can help to solve this impasse — please, do it now.
My only agenda here is to preserve this organization — and to do whatever is needed to keep it functional and operational.
We have to think about the essence of the organization, about what it is that we value here — and what it may take to keep those elements alive.
So, now, I will open the floor.
If you want to raise the points you raised in the smaller meetings that’s fine. But I would encourage you to be even more focused, concise and forward-looking.
I know that we are in uncharted waters here, and that some of you don’t yet have your instructions. If that is the case then I urge you to engage your capitals. Indeed I know some of you have been advocating for capitals to get more involved — of course I support and encourage such calls.
We need to have these conversations now so that when the General Council meeting comes around in just a few weeks’ time, we will be ready.
Thank you for listening.
The floor is open.
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