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.
The official record is in the meeting’s minutes.
Good morning everyone.
Let me welcome you to the thirty-sixth formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee.
Before we start I would like to say two things.
First, I want to welcome Seychelles, who join us here as the 161st member of our organization. We will mark this occasion more formally at the General Council next week, but we are delighted to have you with us today.
Second, I would like to offer my most sincere condolences to Ambassador Dhital and to the people of Nepal after the terrible earthquake this weekend.
I think I speak for everyone here, and within the Secretariat, when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with you and everyone who has been affected by these tragic events.
Now, turning to the business before us today…
We will move straight onto the reports by Chairs of the bodies established by the TNC — to give an overview of the activity in their respective groups.
As usual, let's start with the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture. Ambassador Adank, you have the floor.
Next, the Negotiating Group on Market Access. Ambassador Remigi Winzap, you have the floor.
Next, the Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Ambassador Gabriel Duque you have the floor.
Unfortunately Ambassador Tan Yee Woan can't be with us today. I will therefore ask DDG Agah to read the report from the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development.
Next we have, the Special Session of the Council for TRIPS. Ambassador Dacio Castillo, you have the floor.
Next, the Negotiating Group on Rules. Ambassador Wayne McCook, you have the floor.
Unfortunately Ambassador Wiboonlasana Ruamraksa also can't be with us today. I will therefore ask DDG Shark to read the report from the Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment.
Finally we have the Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body. Ambassador Ronald Saborío Soto, you have the floor.
I will now make my statement as Chair of the TNC.
In my report to the General Council in February, I said that we had intensified our negotiating work.
I said that our aim was to have a deeper political discussion in a more interactive format, through a number of parallel but complementary tracks.
I think we have made a good start in that effort. And we have made good use of the momentum that we had coming into 2015.
I have been consulting with and listening to members.
We have met in Room W.
And the Chairs have been doing a terrific job in running their respective cycles of consultations.
I have met with all of the Chairs in recent days, and I want to take this opportunity again to thank them for their work.
Sometimes they are confronted by big gaps between positions, but they have not been discouraged. They continue to push members to engage. They continue to provoke new conversations, and to urge members to explore new ideas.
I am very grateful for their efforts.
We have all listened to the Chairs' reports today. I draw three essential conclusions from these reports, and from my own consultations.
First, a lot of good work has been done, particularly in the three core areas of Agriculture, Non-Agricultural Market Access and Services.
I think it is clear that achieving outcomes in these areas will be essential to the success of these negotiations.
I should note here that we need to make sure we are advancing work in all areas, trying to avoid any kind of de facto sequencing. At the same time, of course, we all know that there are gateway issues that we need to focus on — and the reality is that these are predominantly in the Agriculture and NAMA pillars. And, in all this, we also need to make sure that we don't leave Services behind.
My second conclusion is that it remains very clear that development and LDC issues remain central to everything we do here — and that we must continue working to move these issues forward.
The Global Review of Aid for Trade in June will provide an important additional focus to the development component of our work. In addition, I will remain closely engaged with broader efforts such as the UN's work on Financing for Development and discussions on the post-2015 development agenda.
My third conclusion is that while it is clear we still have a long way to go, and that some areas are proving very problematic, there is no doubt in my mind that we are making progress.
There is a great amount of engagement on the core DDA issues — and I want to thank members for their efforts to date.
It is encouraging that participation has been at a high level. Ambassadors are getting involved. This suggests that you are invested in the process, that you have been doing your homework, and that you have been engaging your capitals in this work. I think this is a very positive sign.
And this engagement has been overwhelmingly constructive.
We have moved from a finger-pointing mode to a solution-finding mode. This is exactly where we need to be — but I don't think we ever expected it to be easy.
Indeed, I think that this solution-finding mode is proving to be tough. We should not expect it to lead to immediate convergence, or to produce instant results. If it did, it would be truly amazing!
As we have heard from the Chairs, members are still at odds on some major issues, and some big gaps remain.
Some are still repeating their old positions, or taking more time to move to a solution-finding approach.
Again, this is to be expected, and I would urge you not to be discouraged by it.
I think this has been part of every negotiation that I have ever been involved with.
So we have to look at some of these signs, which could be perceived as negative, in the right context.
The fact that members are at odds on some issues now does not mean we're not willing to talk and move forward.
On a similar point, I think there is some nervousness about exploring new ideas because it seems as if this requires moving away from positions of comfort.
Of course exploring options doesn’t mean giving up your position or fully committing to the ideas being tabled. However, sticking to such old and comfortable positions will prevent us from moving forward.
Whatever outcome we have, there's no doubt that it will be uncomfortable for everyone.
We have all been through many cycles of negotiations. So I want to be honest in my perception of where we are.
Some will say that we're not making progress, or that our work is not going to lead anywhere.
I disagree entirely.
It would be extremely surprising if, at this point in time, we already had solutions to the problems that we've been grappling with for so long.
Many voiced similar doubts in our lead up to Bali — and it did look very difficult at times. But, in the end, they were proved wrong.
Just as in Bali — if the political will is there, we will deliver.
And there are reasons to be upbeat.
While some members are still taking a cautious approach, others are being more proactive. Some are putting forward fresh thinking, making proposals and putting forward papers. Moreover, members are discussing these proposals. This is very positive.
And so the situation is very different from what we have experienced before. In the past, discussions had been limited to entrenched positions, with nothing new on the table. Now we have ideas and proposals to discuss. This is real progress.
In several areas we may have potential outcomes which are largely acceptable to everyone.
The question now is whether we can find balance overall — in a way that everyone can live with.
But we have another level of negotiations which has not yet been fully explored.
This is the horizontal discussion to identify inter-sectoral trade-offs.
We need to put more focus on identifying the trade-offs within pillars and between them.
By definition the Chairs' work cannot explore some of these trade-offs. They work strictly within their respective 'jurisdictions'. But it is their work that makes these trade-offs possible because they identify the potential options. This underlines again why it is important that we avoid sequencing our work. We have to keep moving forward in all of the different groups now, so that we can explore how they might interact.
These trade-offs are not clearly on the table yet. And I think that, once we begin to take a more careful look at them, things may change quite considerably.
In the coming weeks the Chairs will continue their work, but I will increasingly be looking at ways to facilitate discussion on those horizontal trade-offs.
My ongoing conversations with delegations are very useful in this context. Sometimes in these conversations I hear elements which do not feature in the bigger meetings.
Of course the overall positions expressed are the same, but I often hear the reasons behind positions, or additional elements which shed light on new avenues which could provide a way forward.
I think that this horizontal process, which we will take to the wider Room W meetings in due course, will be vital in fulfilling our mandate.
After-all, our instructions remain very clear. We are working to conclude a "clearly defined" work program on the remaining DDA issues by July this year.
I have said from the beginning that the best outcome would be a work programme that is specific and modalities-like, and which therefore allows us to finalise negotiations fairly quickly after the work programme has been agreed.
We are getting close to July now. And therefore we have to be realistic about just how specific and modalities-like it can be. That is a question which only you can answer. And the earlier we find conceptual solutions for the big, tough issues before us, the better the end product we will be able to deliver.
Whatever the nature of the work programme we get by July, clearly it will have to fulfill certain criteria:
- First, it will have to be substantive and meaningful.
- Second, it must give us guidance on how to conclude the negotiations.
- And third, it must be a springboard towards a successful 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December.
What we do now will dictate what is possible in Nairobi. So let's keep this at the forefront of our minds in our current discussions.
We still have three months before the July deadline. That is enough time to advance this work and deliver a substantive outcome. But we must use that time to the fullest.
We will need to increase our efforts in all of the negotiating formats. And we will need to engage capitals to an even greater degree, as we are approaching the stage where political calls will need to be made.
As I have indicated, the Chairs process will continue. I will be increasing the intensity of my consultations. And of course the principles of transparency and inclusiveness which served us so well on the road to Bali will continue to be a hallmark of our work as we move forward.
We have a long way to go. But we are making progress. We are testing new ideas. After many years of deadlock we are genuinely breaking new ground.
There are a number of possibilities and avenues available to us. But it is down to us to explore them. This is not going to happen by itself. We have to be creative. And I think we are beginning to be creative. Again, testing new ideas does not commit you to those ideas.
We have to maintain our focus on what is doable. We have to be prepared to leave our comfort zones. And we will all have to contribute.
Thank you for listening.
- Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture
- Negotiating Group on Market Access
- Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services
- Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development
- Special Session of the Council for TRIPS
- Negotiating Group on Rules
- Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Environment
- Special Session of the Dispute Settlement Body
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