Azevêdo urges members to move to “solution-finding mode” in developing work programme to conclude Round

> Summary of the General Council meeting



Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee

Thank you Mr Chairman.

My last report to the General Council was in December — just days after we had adopted the three decisions which put our work back on track.

One of those decisions set the deadline of July 2015 for elaborating a clearly defined work programme on the remaining issues of the DDA.

In the light of this new time-frame we have intensified our work on developing the work programme.

As you know, we have done this by engaging in discussions through a number of parallel, but complementary tracks.

One track is the work conducted by the Chairs of negotiating bodies. This is where the more detailed work has been taking place over the past weeks.

Another track is my own consultations as TNC Chair. These consultations at Ambassadorial level have complemented the Chairs' process.

The aim of my consultations has been to have a deeper political discussion in a more interactive format. So far the focus has been on the three core areas of agriculture, NAMA and Services.

They have been an opportunity to try to understand where members are today on these key issues — and to identify where the gaps and commonalities may lie. The Chairs of the three core areas have been invited to these consultations, along with members in a variety of compositions, which have changed as necessary.

I have then provided reports to the full membership, through the Room W meetings and, now, through the General Council.

These so-called “Room W” meetings are the remaining track that I wanted to mention.

I launched this process last month. The meetings are at the Heads of Delegation level, and we have met twice so far — on 21 and 29 January. 

These meetings allow for a more strategic focus to our work, with the aim of identifying the kind of outcomes that members could collectively pursue in the more detailed discussions in the negotiating groups.

They also allow for specific issues that have been discussed in the negotiating groups and elsewhere to be communicated to the whole membership. This is of course essential for maintaining the transparent and inclusive approach which was so important in the lead up to Bali.

These complementary tracks have formed the spine of our efforts.

The approach has allowed for a level of informality that brings with it the necessary flexibility to ensure more honest and direct conversations, while maintaining transparency and inclusiveness.

Yesterday, I convened a meeting of the Chairs of the negotiating groups to review the progress made to date.

Some Chairs have already circulated more detailed written reports on their activities, the progress made so far and their next steps. So I encourage you all to look at these reports.

I will now provide a quick overview of progress in each of the negotiating groups before providing my own assessment. This is based mostly on what the Chairs have reported to me.

Let's start with Agriculture. The Chair of the Special Session has been carrying out consultations in a variety of configurations including an informal meeting of the Special Session on 28 January. He has also consulted on public stockholding for food security purposes. A report on these consultations is contained in document JOB/AG/35. 

Concerning the work programme, the focus in the consultations so far has been mostly on the domestic support and market access pillars. However this does not mean that they are more important than other issues.

As the Chair has emphasised, it is clear that all elements within the agriculture framework are inter-related and there seems to be a general acceptance that they will need to be dealt with as an overall package.

There has been a good level of attendance and engagement at these consultations which has highlighted the growing realisation among members that the key issues need to be tackled in a detailed and concrete way. Delegations are beginning to get down to the substance, and this needs to continue and intensify. With this in mind the Chair will be continuing his consultations and will convene an informal meeting of the Special Session in the near future.

Moving on to the Negotiating Group on Market Access, the Chair has held intensive bilateral meetings with members. The details of those consultations have been circulated to members in a report by the Chair in JOB/MA/115.

The main focus of the Chair's consultations has been on tariffs. The consultations have shown that work should mainly focus on the so-called “formula-applying members”, in a first stage. Certain ideas have been orally presented in terms of an alternative approach to the Swiss Formula in Rev.3. As the Chair has noted in his report, at this stage these are only ideas which would need, at some point in time, to be translated into more concrete proposals. 

An open-ended meeting of the Negotiating Group has been convened for 2 March to discuss the observations from these consultations and for information sharing on activities amongst members in respect of NTBs.

Moving on to the Services Special Session, over the past few weeks the Chair has consulted over 40 delegations, in a variety of configurations, on the next step toward the services component of the work programme.

The Chair has circulated an update on these consultations, for discussion at an informal meeting of the Special Session to be held next Tuesday, 24 February. This is document RD/SERV/123. It is hoped that this discussion will lead to significantly greater clarity on the next step to be taken toward the work programme.

Turning now to the Committee on Trade and Development Special Session, I understand that the proponents have tabled two lists of S&D provisions that they would like to be taken up as part of the work programme. Although the Special Session awaits concrete textual proposals by the proponents soon, this is indeed a forward step in this important area of our work. 

I am confident that substantive work in the Special Session will begin as soon as textual proposals have been tabled by the proponents. A report by the Chairman of the Special Session is contained in document TN/CTD/29.

The Chair of the TRIPS Council Special Session held consultations on 2 and 3 February with interested delegations to prepare for a session of informal information sharing, that he had suggested at the last informal open-ended meeting in December.

Following the feedback from the delegations that participated in these consultations, the Special Session will hold an informal information session on 23 February, which will provide a factual overview of past work in the TRIPS Special Session, followed by an opportunity for discussion. This meeting is held back-to-back with the Regular Session of the TRIPS Council to permit participation of capital-based delegates.

Moving on to Rules, the Chair has been conducting bilateral consultations with a range of delegations and groupings regarding proposals for a Stocktaking Workshop, and more generally regarding the best way to proceed in the Rules negotiations. The Chair has scheduled open-ended informal consultations next Thursday at which time he will provide a detailed report to the full membership on what he has heard from members regarding the stocktaking proposal.

This will also provide an opportunity for further collective reflection on where things stand in the Group, in the context of the work programme.

Moving on to the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment, the Chair is preparing, together with the Secretariat, an information session on the three items of the environment negotiations. This is to follow-up on what was agreed at the informal open-ended meeting in December. The intention of the Session is to refresh delegations' memory and help the Special Session gain a better understanding of the state-of-play.

The necessary preparatory documentation will be circulated next week and the information session has been tentatively scheduled on 13 March. An invitation will be issued shortly.

Finally, in the DSU negotiations, the Chair presented a formal report in January, in document TN/DS/26, reflecting the completion of the “horizontal process” initiated in 2013. As reflected in the Chair's report, this work has led to the presentation of “conceptual elements” of possible solutions in all 12 issues under discussion. These elements do not, at this stage, reflect full convergence. Nor do all participants perceive these elements, taken together, as necessarily reflecting an adequate overall balance of interests.

In his report, the Chair expressed his view that this horizontal process and the elements presented in this context, combined with previous work, have the potential to greatly facilitate the development of meaningful and achievable improvements and clarifications to the DSU. 

That concludes the round-up of progress in each of the negotiating groups. I will proceed now to my overview.

I believe that we have had a productive start to the intensive process that we launched last month. 

In the past few weeks, members have started to engage more substantively — particularly in the three core areas. Progress is slow, but we are moving forward.  

Substantive positions have not changed a great deal since the last time these issues were discussed, but the tone of the discussions has been more positive. And from my conversations with ministers I am confident that there is now real political will behind our work. This is truly invaluable.

We now have to use the momentum that we have.

It is also encouraging that members seem ready to engage and entertain new thinking in a number of areas. Some ideas that had been informally floated in very vague terms in earlier consultations are now being further discussed. That’s very important.  

We are trying to identify a path towards convergence in a way that is creative but which also builds on the work that we have done up until now.

It is instructive that in some areas, we are still at the stage of either information sessions or stocktaking on the status of work. Effectively we are doing this to refresh our collective memory about what happened previously, as I'm sure that many members don't recall the precise detail of negotiations from 10 years ago. While these sessions are useful, we will need to move past this stage in order to make progress.

If we are to do this then members need to be ready, willing and able to discuss the shape of the deals that they believe to be achievable.

At this point everyone has a different scenario in mind — and if we are going to test them then we need to share them with each other. By doing this we will be able to see whether these scenarios can collectively and progressively move us towards convergence at some point in time.

As I see it, to find solutions you need to move away from general statements of what we hope is desirable, and also away from finger pointing, to a situation where:

  1. we identify more clearly the problems and challenges ahead of us, and
  2. we explore potential solutions for each of those problems and challenges.

I am not suggesting — and I stress this point — that we move away from the existing mandates or guiding principles. I am simply suggesting that we have to explore alternative approaches and alternative paths which fit within these mandates and principles.

This conversation will be deepened over the next two or three weeks under the Chairs' process.

As ever, the key word is 'doability'. This means what is doable for all members — not just for some. All members have redlines and sensitivities, both as demandeurs and as contributors. And we have more clarity on this now than we have had for some time. So we need to continue working in a constructive spirit to try and work around those sensitivities and find creative solutions.

I would also urge you once again to talk directly to each other. Don't just try to communicate through me, or through the chairs. Direct dialogue between members will be crucial.

And while agriculture, NAMA and services remain core issues, I stress again that everything is on the table. Discussions should continue in all of the negotiating groups, because once we see movement in one area, we will need to be ready to move in all areas. There won’t be time to catch up.

In this context the information sharing sessions are very important, because many of us, like I said, are not familiar with issues that were negotiated almost a decade ago.

I also stress again that development remains a central element of all of this work, and that it will remain so in all of our conversations as we move forward. This applies to LDCs issues as well, and I am grateful for the very helpful and constructive session which I had with the LDC Group at their retreat earlier this week. 

In the coming days I will be away from Geneva to continue engaging with capitals. I will be visiting Chile, Paraguay, Brazil and Germany.

The Chairs will continue to advance our work during this period — and I will be kept fully informed of what is happening here. When I return I intend to continue my consultations — and convene further meetings in Room W.

Time is moving on — and July is fast approaching. Yet we still have a long distance to travel.

We are committed to agreeing a clear, detailed, modalities-like work programme, which would lead to a rapid conclusion of the Round. General statements will not achieve that goal. The only way that we can do so is to be much more focused and more interactive.

We have to talk to each other much more, in an open and constructive way, and we have to be ready to explore scenarios. We need to get into a solution-finding mode.

We do have real momentum now. So let's use it to move to the next stage.

That's my report. Thank you for listening.


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