SPEECHES — DG ROBERTO AZEVÊDO
Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to thank Ambassador Ford for inviting me to this important and timely meeting. I also want to congratulate him for his excellent work as coordinator of the Group.
This is the ideal moment for reflection, and exploring innovative ways to advance our work.
There were many positives from MC11. The meeting was completely open and transparent. Levels of engagement were excellent – and I want to thank you all for that. And we saw in Buenos Aires a huge amount of political support for our work here.
However, despite all of this, and despite the energy we saw on various issues, clearly the overall outcome was disappointing.
The outcome on fisheries subsidies was a step forward and will help to provide focus for our work. I hoped we could go further, but that was not the case.
Despite our best efforts we could not meet the deadline on public stockholding.
And it was also concerning that we could not even agree on more detailed work programmes in many areas.
So we need to face up to the problems before us.
Everyone seems ready to pledge their support for the system. But as I said at the closing ceremony in Buenos Aires, while political support is essential it is not sufficient.
Words need to be matched by deeds.
Members have to ask themselves what they really want from the WTO.
If you are not prepared to put yourself in others' shoes or to make the compromises needed to find common ground, then we have little hope to move forward.
If we believe in multilateralism, we have to be ready to take the steps needed to make it work.
So where do we go from here?
In terms of our negotiating work, I am pleased that work has already resumed on fisheries subsidies, given the important commitment that members made in Argentina – and the need to meet the SDG deadline in 2019.
Clearly this is an important issue for this Group. I would like to pay tribute to the work of Ambassador Wayne McCook and to Minister Kamina Johnson Smith for their hard work in chairing and facilitating discussions on this topic. And I encourage you all to continue your active participation.
Of course currently the Negotiating Group on Rules does not have a Chair. Until this is agreed, I would encourage you to move ahead with an interim Chair. I have instructed the Director of the Rules Division to facilitate the holding of meetings, as required.
I hope we can see some meaningful progress in other areas of importance to your Group – including special and differential treatment, services, and in cotton and agriculture, where again members need to appoint a chair for the negotiation group.
In terms of resuming work in each of these areas, I don’t think it can just be business as usual. We need to find ways to avoid repeating unsuccessful approaches, and reaching the same unsatisfactory result.
So we need to reflect – but to do so in an active way. Therefore this brainstorming session is very welcome indeed.
I would like to see the Chairs of the Negotiating Groups provoke a conversation about these issues as well. In my view, the aim should be to find a framework for our conversations that is open-minded and creative enough to allow fresh perspectives to emerge and new pathways to be explored. This does not mean that we abandon proposals already tabled.
This process would just be one meeting or two – it wouldn't go on forever. We need to get back on track quickly. And of course we may reach different conclusions in the different negotiating groups. That will be up to members – as always.
I will be ready to help facilitate this process in any way that members think can be useful.
As I said in my closing statement at MC11, development and particularly the prospects of the LDCs must remain at the heart of our work. And I think we need to do some real soul searching here.
As many of you pointed to in Buenos Aires, there are a range of different perspectives among you on the issue of development and on Special and Differential Treatment. In many ways, some of these differences amount to the main reasons behind some of the blockages we see.
Certain proposals connect with core principles underpinning agreements – such as TRIMS, for example. Stepping away from these fundamental aspects of the WTO rulebook is clearly a controversial idea.
While there were no outcomes on this at MC11, there was good dialogue. Members may well have ideas on how we should move forward. We need to have this discussion.
On a broader point, we should reflect on the political dialogue started by Minister Malcorra at MC11 on the deliberative function of the WTO. I think we should seek to build on that conversation.
We must also face up to concerns around the appellate body.
No doubt this is in the forefront of members' minds, given the urgency of the situation. We should seek to resolve this issue as quickly as we possibly can. We must also reflect on how to keep the system functional while the solution eludes us.
Members will need to take the lead here – and indeed we have already seen some efforts to this end.
Facing up to these fundamental issues will be a key challenge in 2018.
I also want to acknowledge the declarations put forward by various groups of members in Buenos Aires – including some ACP members – covering e-commerce, investment facilitation, MSMEs and women's economic empowerment.
It will be up to proponents to take these initiatives forward.
It's encouraging that, in each case, proponents are clear that these initiatives will be as open, inclusive and transparent as possible.
I have always stressed that these initiatives should not be a departure from multilateralism, but a way to help and support it.
So I am urging that these processes should be conducted very carefully. They should remain genuinely open, inclusive and transparent – and take all perspectives into account.
So this is where we stand today.
I am looking forward to hearing your views and ideas this morning on how we should seek to move forward. As ever, I am ready to work with you to make sure that your interests remain at the centre of our work this year, and beyond.
These discussions will be taken forward through the negotiating groups, and in discussions among members. As I did last November, I intend to convene an informal meeting of the full membership ahead of the forthcoming General Council, to provide an opportunity for all views to be heard.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to hearing your comments.