> Summary of the General Council meeting



Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee

Thank you Mr Chairman. Good morning everybody.

Before I start I want to say a word about the situation in Fiji, in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston. I’m sure I speak for everyone at the WTO when I express my sincere condolences to all those affected by this terrible storm. My thoughts are with the government and people of Fiji as they begin the long road to recovery.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome those Ambassadors attending their first General Council meeting today.

  • H.E. Mr Moussa Bédializoun Nebie, of Burkina Faso
  • H.E. Ms Marianne Odette Bibalou Bounda, of Gabon, and
  • H.E. Mr Junichi Ihara, of Japan.

I look forward to working with you all.

Now, turning to the business before us, in Nairobi ministers gave us some clear guidance on our forward work.

Paragraph 33 of the Ministerial Declaration says that officials should work to find ways to advance negotiations. And they requested me, as Director-General, to report regularly to the General Council on these efforts.

So now let me move on to my report.

I have had a number of useful exchanges with members in recent weeks. I visited Barbados and Jamaica in January. And last week I visited Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. In each case I held a series of meetings with government representatives and, whenever possible, also interacted with both the private sector and civil society.

I also took part in the ministerial meeting convened by the Swiss authorities in Davos on the 23rd of January. And I attended a meeting of EU trade ministers in Amsterdam on the 2nd of February.

In each of these exchanges I was struck by the sense of optimism about the WTO. There is a clear desire to build on our recent successes.

A lot of ideas were floated during these meetings regarding process and substance. However, I’ll leave it to members to raise any such ideas themselves when they’re ready to do so.

Over recent weeks I have also been in touch with the private sector — and with civil society more broadly. Again, these exchanges have been positive.

Several parties expressed their interest in having a deeper, more interactive dialogue about WTO work with other stakeholders. I have been approached by some — in particular the ICC and B20 — to facilitate such a dialogue amongst them and others here in Geneva. 

This interest from these constituencies is very important, but I have been encouraging them to be as inclusive as possible. I think such dialogue should bring in large and small players from around the world — from both developing and developed economies.

We are working to see whether a first conversation of that kind could take place here at the end of May — perhaps on the 30th.

I hope that other discussions will take place, bringing a wide range of voices across civil society, representing different perspectives — including through the Public Forum in September.

As to meetings held here in Geneva over recent weeks, I met with the Negotiating Chairs on the 4th of February to listen to their views on our post-Nairobi work. And, on the 10th of February, I convened an informal Heads of Delegation meeting.

That meeting was an opportunity to reflect collectively on the outcomes of the 10th Ministerial Conference and to discuss the way forward.

I will briefly reiterate some of the key points from my presentation at the meeting.

I think Nairobi showed that we need to improve the way we work in Geneva. Despite the fact that we succeeded in delivering some important outcomes at the 10th Ministerial Conference, there’s no doubt that there are lessons to be learned.

Too much was left to negotiate in Nairobi itself. In future, by the time we make the transition from the Geneva process to the Ministerial Conference, we should aim to be in a much more advanced position.

To deliver that I have suggested two elements which I think are important:

  • First, we need to be in closer contact with capitals, to obtain more regular, substantive and updated political instructions.
  • Second, we need to engage ministers more throughout the process — not just at the end.

Those were the suggestions that I made. We would need to look at precisely how this could be achieved, if you think this is something we should do.

Now, regarding the substantive outcomes of the Ministerial Conference, I think it is important to recall that some of the decisions taken under the DDA specify a number of follow-up actions — including:

  • to “pursue negotiations” on an SSM,
  • to negotiate, “in an accelerated time-frame”, to find a permanent solution on Public Stockholding,
  • and to continue holding dedicated discussions on Cotton.

All of these follow-up actions now demand our attention.

Part 3 of the declaration, which is focused on our future work, also specified a number of follow-up actions.

Again, I want to stress that each and every word of the declaration is important. I am not attributing more prominence to one thing over another.

But there are two areas which we will need to look into, and which are particularly notable precisely because there is no common view on them. One is the remaining DDA issues. Another is non-DDA issues.

There is no consensus about how to address the DDA. Nonetheless, in Nairobi, all members gave a "strong commitment" to advancing negotiations on the remaining Doha issues. It is important to underline this point, even though members do not currently have a shared view on how it should be achieved.

I requested that the Negotiating Group chairs begin discussions within their respective groups.

Turning to non-DDA issues, again members were not of a common view. But it was clear that some want to discuss issues outside the DDA. It is not clear yet how that conversation would take place, but there is a clear understanding that if there’s a desire to launch multilateral negotiations that would have to happen with the agreement of all members.

Progress in these areas must be member-driven. I urge members to talk to each other. That’s the only way we can begin to advance.

Those were the key points which I made during the meeting. A number of delegations then took the floor.

Many shared my concerns with the process in Nairobi.

They agreed that the process at Ministerial Conferences needs to be more predictable and transparent. The responsibility lay with each member. Members also agreed that the preparatory process in Geneva needed to bring agreed or close-to-finished outcomes to ministers for decision, with very few issues left open, if any.

Different perspectives and views were expressed on the way forward. Some called for us to sustain the momentum from Nairobi and resume work in negotiating groups as soon as possible.

Others called for a frank discussion on the key elements of the declaration to attain clarity, or even a period of reflection to build a shared view on how to move ahead. 

Some delegations also reiterated their well-known positions on the DDA mandate and non-DDA issues.

Several references were made to the centrality of the development dimension and that special and differential treatment should remain an integral part of future negotiations.

A number of groups also reiterated the need to preserve their envisaged flexibilities.

What was clear by the end of the meeting is that there is still a lack of clarity among members with regard to how the process should evolve.

Therefore, I think members will need to deepen their dialogue with each other about how to advance their work.

Of course, the chairs are available to facilitate any conversations — as am I — but any ideas on the way forward should be coming from members themselves.

It is important that we have a rich conversation over the coming months — and that we hear the views of all.

I encourage you to talk to each other and to share your views about our next steps in light of the outcomes from Nairobi.

It is my view that we can’t allow multilateral cooperation to suffer, especially at a time when the world needs our contribution to help improve people’s lives and prospects around the world — particularly for the poorest.

That concludes my report. Thank you Mr Chairman.

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