SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO

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Honourable ministers,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon. I am glad to join you today. As ever, it is a pleasure to be back here at ACP House.

Let me begin by conveying my sympathies to the many people across the Caribbean, who have been dealing with a series of extreme natural disasters in recent weeks. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

I think that our conversation today couldn't be more timely. The 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires is just a few weeks away.

I wanted to take this opportunity to hear directly from you at this very important juncture on our preparations for MC11.

The ACP plays a very important part in shaping our work. You are a very important constituency at the WTO, representing over a third of the membership. ACP countries are at the forefront of many of our debates in Geneva, with Ambassador Ford playing a key role as the Coordinator of the ACP Group.

This engagement is very positive. I have no doubt that you will continue to play a constructive role on our road to MC11 – and beyond. 

So I hope that we will have an interactive dialogue today. I am here to listen to your views.

To provide context for our conversation, I would like to give you a quick update on where we stand today.

I have been conducting a range of meetings over recent weeks, and consulting with numerous ministers. For example, I arrived here direct from Washington, where I met with the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. We had useful conversations and we will continue this dialogue.

Last week I attended an informal ministerial meeting in Marrekesh, convened and co-chaired by the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco and the Government of Argentina.

Some of you were there – and I think we had some useful and timely discussions. I was encouraged by the positive atmosphere and the high level of engagement. I heard a great deal of support for a successful MC11. However, I did not hear any significant differences from the positions that I have heard in Geneva. There are still many gaps to bridge.

This means that there is still much work ahead of us. We need to advance our conversations in Geneva and build on the good level of engagement so far – including from the ACP Group.

So let me give you a quick round-up of the ongoing conversations.

Agriculture continues to be a priority for many members.

Numerous submissions were made just before the summer break. 

The majority of them were on domestic support, confirming the importance attached to this issue by members. The ACP has also recently tabled a proposal, highlighting elements that could constitute a meaningful outcome by MC11.

There is a good level of engagement here. However, the divergences remain very significant among some.

Assuming that only incremental progress would be possible, it would be difficult to bridge these gaps. Progress in this area will require the engagement of all members. Otherwise a solution will most likely continue to elude us.

Many members argue that an outcome on domestic support must also include cotton.  I understand the C4 is about to circulate a proposal. While this is certainly positive, it is also clear that there are widely divergent positions between members that still need to be bridged. 

Also, we should not forget that cotton covers other components, including the development one – which deserves our continued attention.

Public stockholding is also an important focus of the agriculture work.

Again, views remain quite far apart on some of the key elements such as the legal nature of any outcome, scope, safeguards and transparency.

It’s clear that we need to make substantive progress before we get to Buenos Aires. If we do not advance from where we are now, it will not be doable for ministers at MC11. So we need even more urgency here.

An outcome on a Special Safeguard Mechanism is also a priority for many members. Nonetheless, there are big gaps. In light of the current state of the conversations, unless something dramatic happens very soon, it is hard to envisage a final deliverable in that area for Buenos Aires.

There is also a good level of engagement on export restrictions; in particular the need for enhanced transparency. At the same time, some concerns have been expressed with regards to an additional notification burden. 

I think members would have to engage in a more focused manner, to assess the likelihood of an outcome in this area.

Let me move onto fisheries subsidies.

I am very much aware of the critical importance of this issue to many of you in the ACP. In fact, an outcome here is a priority for several members. Many proposals were tabled, and after an intense process to identify areas of overlap, the chair has now circulated a consolidated text.

There are significant technical and political hurdles to overcome, and time is short. But there is momentum here. If members are to move towards convergence, now is the time.

Now, let me talk about special and differential treatment.

The ACP Group has always attached great importance to S&D negotiations – and I have been closely following the work in this area. A number of meetings have taken place, to examine the proposals tabled by the G-90 in July.

However, I understand that wide divergences remain particularly on:

  • how to deal with the open-ended flexibilities sought in many of the proposals; and
  • how to make the desired flexibilities more targeted; basically the issue of differentiation.

I have been encouraging proponents to reach out and talk to their counterparts – this will be essential if we are to find a way forward.

Some are concerned that many of the S&D proposals are not about making technical adjustments. They would require significant changes to WTO agreements. Making progress on them would therefore require significant engagement at the political level. Delegations in Geneva may not have the autonomy to show the flexibility necessary for convergence.

You have to be aware of the level of ambition here, of the sensitivity attached to this issue, and therefore of the need for your personal attention and involvement if you want something by MC11.

In terms of LDC-specific issues, there has been good progress in the implementation of Bali and Nairobi decisions.

And I think there remains willingness to work on further outcomes that support the LDCs. 

That said, there has not been a lot of activity on specific LDC issues. We need proposals on the table now if they are to be considered for MC11. 

On all these issues, I stand ready to support you in any way I can.

Moving to services…

On domestic regulation, there has been good engagement in recent meetings, but some important differences remain. Some members have submitted questions and concerns, particularly relating to the loss of policy space and possible constraints on members' right to regulate. So proponents need to intensify their outreach efforts as we approach MC11.

We also have proposals on trade facilitation in services and online transactions. In those two areas, it seems there has been less activity.

We have a similar situation in non-agricultural market access, where there has not been a huge amount of activity.

There is a proposal on the table on facilitating SME trade and transparency of regulatory measures for trade in goods. But it's unclear to me what progress can be made by MC11 on this front.

Finally, let me say a word about those issues that are being discussed by members outside the negotiating groups or WTO subsidiary bodies – or that are being discussed on different tracks at the same time.

These include e-commerce, investment facilitation and work to help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to trade. Conversations here have focused particularly on the development and inclusivity aspects.

Whether or not these issues will feature in Buenos Aires will be up to the proponents. They will need to decide what they want to achieve and how.

So that's where we stand today. There are some positive signs, but on all the issues I mentioned, members' positions remain far apart.

We have not yet reached the point in any area where the contours of potential outcomes can be clearly discerned. If we are to achieve concrete results in Buenos Aires, more focused engagement and negotiation will be required to quickly identify areas of convergence.

And how we go about that will be essential.

You will recall that the Nairobi Ministerial Conference was a huge success in terms of the important outcomes we achieved. But the process that led to those decisions was less than perfect.

On most issues the negotiating process continued all the way to the Conference itself. The result was simply that some issues were quickly shot down – and we were left without any post-Nairobi work plan for those issues.

I believe we should seek to avoid this situation as we prepare for Buenos Aires.

I think we need to maximise the time we have left – and that means prioritizing our work.

In the very near future, members will have to decide which issues can be brought forward for ministers' consideration at the Conference, and which issues are not advancing fast enough to be resolved by that time. In this regard, your contribution and the political calls you make will be critical.

Of course, there could be instances that will require you to make political calls in Buenos Aires itself. But in these cases – which I hope will be few – delegations should still try and go as far as possible in Geneva.

For the issues that members decide will not be ready to be solved at MC11, it is important that we agree how they should be taken forward. But this is not a simple task. Agreeing work programmes in these areas will require as much effort as members devote to those which might produce outcomes at MC11.

So this is where we stand – at least from my perspective, based on everything that I have heard from members.

Buenos Aires is a very important milestone for the WTO – and for us all. We should seek to deliver everything we can by December. But it will not be the end of the road.

I hope that we will leave Buenos Aires with members committed to strengthening the trading system, and with a clear path forward for our future work.

As Director-General, I will be available to all members, in any area that you deem important. You can count on my full support and dedication. But ultimately it is you who must take the decisions.

So let's keep working. Together, we can ensure that the WTO delivers for development, growth and jobs in ACP countries – and around the world.

Thank you for listening. I look forward to our discussion.

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