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11 June 2004

Supachai calls for constructive outcome from UNCTAD meeting

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi today called on members of the XI meeting of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to use their upcoming meeting in Sao Paolo as a catalyst for progress in the Doha Development Agenda round of global trade negotiations.

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The Director-General, who chaired UNCTAD X in Bangkok four years ago, welcomed the fact that many ministers from WTO Member Governments would meet in Sao Paolo seeking to narrow differences in their negotiating positions. But he warned that governments have very little time to agree on a framework package for agriculture, non-agricultural market access, development issues and other matters. Anything which might distract negotiators from that goal, he said, could have severely adverse consequences, particularly for developing countries.

Director-General Supachai called attention to a letter sent this week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to leaders of the Group of Eight industrial nations. In the letter, Mr. Annan wrote that enhanced trade may be “even more important” for developing countries in alleviating poverty than increased official development assistance. The Director-General pointed out that Mr. Annan's support for trade as a tool in combating poverty stood in stark contrast to controversial recent reports questioning the value of trade in development.

The Director-General also expressed his appreciation to Mr. Annan for his call to the G-8 to “put the Doha round back on track.” All WTO members, rich and poor, need to stay focused and committed to the negotiations in the few weeks remaining before the end of July, Director-General Supachai said.

“This is a crucial juncture for these negotiations. Governments must dedicate all attention and resources to securing a package of results in July. Such a package is indispensable if we are to have a successful outcome to these negotiations. Failure to reach agreement in July on a framework for agriculture and industrial products and an accord which better defines how we address the issues of cotton subsidies and trade facilitation, would mean a highly uncertain future for these negotiations. We would then have very little to show for three years of intensive effort,” the Director-General said.

He said the evolving global political landscape means there are no guarantees that newly appointed ministers would be as committed to the objectives set by their predecessors three years ago in Doha. For developing countries, the failure to secure a framework agreement may also mean the unravelling of commitments made by industrial countries to eliminate agriculture export subsidies and other subsidized forms of export competition.

“The elimination of these subsidized farm programmes and the promised sharp reduction in domestic agriculture support would hold tremendous benefit for developing countries. But if such reduction commitments are to be implemented, all countries must be flexible in their positions and must show willingness to compromise in agriculture and in all other areas of these negotiations. This will require courage and commitment by all participants. At this late stage, it is of paramount importance that we avoid creating any unnecessary divisions among governments or place additional obstacles in the path of negotiators. This meeting of ministers in Sao Paolo represents a real opportunity to make progress. We must seize it. Clearly, the success of UNCTAD XI will be judged by, among other things, whether it helps to create the conditions for success at the WTO in July,” said Director-General Supachai.

The Director-General said he planned to meet with ministers in Sao Paolo to encourage compromise and facilitate agreement on the July framework package. But he added he would not hesitate to remind Ministers of the heavy costs to all nations should governments miss their July target. Since the Cancun Ministerial Conference in September, Director-General Supachai has flown more than 150,000 miles (241,500 kilometres) to meet with Ministers and build support for an agreement. He has paid particular attention to developing countries making eight trips to Africa, six trips to Latin America and the Caribbean and five trips to developing countries in Asia.

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