SPEECHES — DG NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA

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Thank you, Santiago, for inviting me to join you today. It is a pleasure to be with you. Let me also join Santiago in thanking you for taking your time this morning and this week for focusing on the fisheries subsidies. I know you have an intensive week ahead of you but I think this is really necessary if we are to reach an outcome as soon as possible this year.

You have probably heard me say and I will continue to say that concluding these negotiations is a top priority for this organization, not only for the fisheries, but also for the WTO system. We simply cannot afford to fail here. I have made this point in all of my contacts and conversations with ministers, heads of governments, and other senior officials. I think everyone agrees with me that if there is anything that would demonstrate that the WTO is back and capable of having positive results, it is a good outcome early enough this year to these fisheries subsidies negotiations. I just came back from the US yesterday and I was able to meet with Ambassador Katherine Tai, the US Trade Representative (USTR), also on issues of fisheries subsidies. I'm happy to say we've had a very good discussion and the US is very supportive as is almost every other minister and leader that I've come across. So my feeling is that since there's a universal feeling that this is a test case for the WTO system that we really need to work hard here in Geneva to deliver these results.

I think we are closer than ever to an agreement but I know we also have many issues that still put some of us far apart. But my feeling is that only now we have reached a considerable degree of maturity in the negotiations, and we should do what it takes to close it.

I know that the issues that set us apart seem to be stuck in technical discussions that have become circular if one should use that word. To break these circles, we need higher level engagement — that is, your engagement — that is what is critical this week.  A lack of progress this week would be a substantial blow to our goal of reaching an outcome by the middle of the year. But I don't want to go there because I think we shouldn't entertain not being able to close this deal in Geneva.

That's the reason why the entire week of fisheries meetings is being organized at the level of Heads of Delegation. I thank you for your willingness to engage intensively in this process.

But that being said, if we are really to fulfil what I hear from our ministers and leaders, which is to come up with a deal, this high-level engagement with all of you is so precious and only works if we approach these discussions with flexibility and a willingness to compromise. Repeating well known positions is not going to take us very far. How do we get perhaps not the best we as a delegation want but get something that is good overall and an outcome we can live with. I always like to quote Santiago on this particular approach because I think it makes sense.

To make progress, it will be important for your engagement to be focused on the text: on drafting adjustments that would address your concerns, and on reacting to other members' suggestions. The 27 hours slated for your discussions this week may seem like a lot of time for heads of delegation (HOD) to engage, but it is really short for resolving the issues before you. I can only urge you to please use the time productively.  

For progress to continue after this week, this level of engagement at HOD level needs to stay high. I know that the Chair is considering how best to structure the work going forward after this week.

I call on all members, and in particular all Heads of Delegation, to prioritize the fisheries subsidies negotiations over the coming months, and to remain flexible and available as and when needed.

I have also told Santiago that I remain at his disposal, and at yours, as and when needed, in addition to my own outreach. I have already taken part in one meeting with some members, not aimed at any particular outcome, but mainly to provide me with greater clarity on some of the key issues and views. I found it to be very useful, and I understand that Santiago will report back next week on this meeting and other elements of the work of the Group since the last cluster.

So, delegations should expect more meetings, and in different configurations, all with the aim of finding solutions and making progress. I've been speaking with many of you during my visits and other occasions on the need to make progress, and I'd like to listen to your views on this issue, and I will continue to do that. I may even call some meetings myself in my capacity as Chair of the TNC to help move things along. I'm prepared to use this process to help us. Your flexibility on how the work is conducted is crucial. And I wanted to assure everybody that the principles of transparency and inclusiveness will be respected, and that no decisions will be taken behind closed doors. I've only been on this job I think five weeks, maybe I am entering six weeks, although it seems like forever. But I hope so far I've shown that I'm willing to work in a very transparent way, to be open to listen, to be inclusive, and I will continue to do that to support the chair in this process.

I just wanted to convey these few messages. I think you have noticed a couple of things common in my thread: One, we have to succeed. I see a will in capitals to get this done. I even see a feeling that it will rebound badly on the organization if we don't get it done. Another is “flexibility”. To get it done, we need to be flexible. We need to see where we are, where most of us meet. For example, on this hybrid approach that has been put together — let's stand behind it, let's be flexible with the process and our positions to close the negotiation. But that does not mean that we should end up with a fisheries subsidies agreement that is lower ambition. I hope we can come up with something for the world to look at and say: “Yes, this really speaks to 14.6, to the sustainability of our fisheries.”

Let me not take up more of your time because you have a busy week ahead. But I promise you will be seeing me again and again. I may even come back sometime during the week depending on how it is going. Later on, as I said, I may hold some meetings to help you. I wish your chair and all the members a very productive week and I look forward to learning how you have narrowed gaps on the draft text and what next I can do to move things forward. Please keep the date of July in mind as when we need to finally close these negotiations. Thank you again for your willingness. Santiago, thank you so much.

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