WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

28 March 2000

WTO General Council informal meeting

Following is the interim report by Director-General Mike Moore on his consultations as mandated by the General Council.

"As delegations will recall, we took two important steps at the 7-8 February General Council meeting to guide our work forward in the coming months and to rebuild confidence and momentum in the trade agenda.

"Firstly, we set in motion the mandated negotiations on Agriculture and Services. As you know, the value and significance of both these negotiations is enormous. Together, they cover the range of economic activity from the most basic to the most sophisticated, and have the potential to improve economic prospects for people around the world, in both developing and developed countries.

"The first Special Session of the Services Council has already taken place at the end of February in a positive and constructive atmosphere. In pursuing their negotiating mandate, Members have agreed to hold further special sessions back-to-back with regular meetings of the Services Council with intervals of approximately six weeks.

"The equivalent meeting of the Agriculture Committee was held at the end of last week, and has made a solid start to the agricultural negotiating process. Members have agreed on a programme of work for the first phase of the negotiations, including benchmarks for submission of negotiating proposals, which will conclude with a stock-taking session to be held in March of next year. This is very positive. At the same time, of course, I have to note that we do not yet have agreement on the Chair and Vice-Chair of this very important body. I would be failing in my duty if I did not underline how important it is for Members to settle these appointments without delay.

"Beyond these two negotiations, I also noted in February that the mandated negotiations and reviews foreseen under the TRIPS Agreement were also under way. I am pleased to note that at its meeting on 21 March, the TRIPS Council held an extensive discussion on carrying forward its work on each of its built-in agenda items.

"Secondly, we also launched in February a realistic but important programme of consultations aimed at producing agreement on measures in favour of least-developed countries, on improving the funding and planning of WTO technical assistance activities, on implementation issues including transition periods and, finally, on improving internal transparency and the fuller participation of all Members.

"As regards these elements, I am working hard together with the Chairman, my Deputies and with delegations to try to build agreement, and to be able to report to you in greater detail by the Easter break. The overall picture so far is promising, and we're beginning to narrow down the differences on key issues. I am hopeful that following more broad-based discussions in the coming weeks we will be able to take positive action on these areas at the 3 May meeting of the General Council.

"Specifically, the LDC package remains a top priority in terms of the development objectives of the WTO. Clearly, better market access is vital for these countries. I hope that we will very shortly have some concrete indications from major trading economies of what they propose to do in this regard. Equally clearly market access is not the whole answer. That is why we are also working urgently to improve our efforts with other agencies through the Integrated Framework programme to help build the capacity to trade. I will be pursuing the improvement of the IF in meetings with UN agency heads next week, and with the President of the World Bank and the Managing Director of the IMF in April. We are also consulting with the aim of adding as many other elements as possible to assist LDCs to take full advantage of the opportunities of trade.

"Likewise, we need to make a more substantial and lasting contribution to the development of our poorer Members – within our mandate – through our programme of technical assistance and training. As you are well aware, the demand for such assistance far outstrips our budgetary resources. I am working with delegations on constructive ways to ensure that the current estimated annual demand of ten million Swiss Francs for such assistance can be budgeted on a stable and predictable basis so that our activities can be planned effectively over the longer term.

"Another important set of issues on which we are consulting concerns implementation, and in particular the transition periods under various WTO agreements that have expired on 1 January. This issue must be dealt with in a balanced and sensitive way – it is clearly a key confidence-building measure. Deputy Director-General Miguel Rodriguez has been assisting me in these consultations over the past two weeks, and has reported to me that we are beginning to see more pragmatism and flexibility on all sides. Our discussions have so far been focused on working with individual delegations, and in the coming weeks will need to be broadened so that Members can interact with each other on elements of a multilateral solution. Specific discussion on transition issues suggests that the number of Agreements we may need to consider in the immediate term is rather more limited than we may have previously considered. Also, Members have shown a willingness to seek resolution of specific concerns in the multilateral framework in a way that both meets legal requirements and is sensitive to domestic political necessities on all sides. On the broader implementation issues, there is considerable emerging support for a process to be launched under the overall direction of the General Council meeting in Special Session to examine implementation-related concerns such as those raised by countries in the pre-Seattle process.

"On the last element – transparency and participation – I hope that the debate at our meeting today on the basis of the submissions that the Chairman has invited from delegations will lead us eventually to agreeing on ways in which we can function with greater inclusiveness and a wider sense of ownership by all our Members.

"My colleagues and I have been also active in developing ways to increase the participation of smaller WTO Members, especially those without a resident mission in Geneva. One of my first acts as DG was to organize a Geneva Week for these delegations. We are now planning the next one. I have also appointed a Secretariat staff member as liaison with non-resident delegations, and we are working closely with them to make it possible for them to increase their active presence in the WTO within their very limited means. I will have some more specific proposals to make soon."