> Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for this opportunity to address you today.
I'm glad to be back at APEC.
This forum has always been a champion of the multilateral trading system.
At this meeting last year I asked for your support to deliver the Bali package — and you made a vital contribution to achieving that breakthrough.
But, just a year on from the successful Bali ministerial conference, I am sorry to report that today we are fighting to save the Bali package.
During this critical period your support will be more important than ever.
As you know, we reached a major impasse in July, related to the interplay between two of the Bali decisions — public stockholding on one hand, and the adoption of the protocol of amendment on the Trade Facilitation Agreement on the other.
And while this impasse only relates directly to these two Bali decisions — its implications are much broader.
In reality the impasse has shut down multilateral negotiations in the organisation.
Trust between members has been severely dented.
We have been hard working to resolve the impasse. We have held an intensive process of consultations to discuss potential ways forward — not just on these two decisions, but on all of the other issues which are interconnected with them — specifically:
- The other 8 Bali decisions, including the LDC package
- The ministerial mandate to develop a work program on the post-Bali agenda
- And the very integrity of the negotiating pillar of the WTO
These conversations were positive and constructive — but there was no significant breakthrough.
I have not given up on finding a solution, and indeed in the last few days I have been informed that some key delegations have resumed their discussion on ways to resolve the impasse and move forward.
This is positive news. I hope that this will continue and that it will give us a breakthrough — but I am not aware that any understanding has been reached as yet.
So, in the absence of a solution, members have been trying to map out what may lie ahead.
Three potential scenarios emerged from the consultations.
Scenario 1 is that we find a solution for the impasse very soon.
Clearly this is the ideal scenario. It would put all of our other work back on track.
So the recent signs of reengagement on this scenario are welcome.
But — and this is very important — even if we found a solution to the impasse tomorrow, we would still have a problem as regards the post-Bali work program. The detailed and precise modalities-like work program that we had been discussing previously would be virtually impossible to achieve by the December deadline we agreed in Bali.
We can complete this task and conclude the work program, but we may need to look at a different time-frame.
Moving on, scenario 2 is that we continue our search for a solution to the current impasse over the coming months.
This is essentially where we've been since July.
But we've found that while we wait for a solution, continuing our essential work on the other Bali decisions and on the DDA — or anywhere, frankly — is very difficult. Members are disengaging.
Many members did not support this scenario. They want to move forward now — their patience in waiting for a solution to emerge has almost run out.
And this brings me to scenario 3, which is that members look for alternative ways to make progress.
This scenario would come into place whenever a group of members might decide to go ahead with any kind of non-multilateral approach. I stress that it is not my scenario, in either substance or timing.
There are basically two sub-scenarios here.
One is that members seek to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement as a plurilateral agreement outside the WTO. But I have not heard much sympathy for this approach.
The other sub-scenario is that members seek implementation inside the WTO.
There is a whole spectrum of possible ways that this could happen.
For example, Members could take an approach where the terms of the Trade Facilitation Agreement are simply put in place by those parties who are willing to do so, on an MFN basis.
This would be less than multilateral, at least in the first instance, but it would also leave open the possibility of a full multilateral agreement at some point in the future.
This approach could also be linked to bringing some or all of the other Bali decisions forward — along with Section 2 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, meaning that technical assistance would be available to developing countries who want to participate.
Many were ready to explore the options that may be possible here.
So my message to anyone not favouring this option is that you need to solve this impasse quickly.
There is real urgency to this now — without a solution to the impasse you could see the discussion on other alternatives intensify in the coming weeks.
In fact there is clearly already an active discussion taking place between members on what the precise options might be.
In the view of these members, the WTO needs to deliver on the negotiating pillar or the organisation will suffer probably irreparable damage.
Others are more reluctant. They are concerned about taking a non-multilateral approach — even if it could potentially be multilateralised in due course.
The Information Technology Agreement, which is being discussed here at APEC, is an example of a non-multilateral agreement inside the WTO which has worked very well.
The ITA currently has 52 participants accounting for approximately 97 per cent of world trade in IT products — but it is open to any member wishing to join. It requires the participants to eliminate and bind tariffs at zero for all products covered by the Agreement on an MFN basis.
Indeed, in recent weeks I have been encouraged by indications that a possible breakthrough to expand the agreement might be on the cards. I hope that we will hear good news on this soon — not least as it would provide a real boost for the multilateral trading system. It would send a strong signal about the ability of the WTO to deliver outcomes as it would be the first tariff-cutting agreement in a decade and a half.
Of course, the full implementation of the Bali Package remains the best option for everyone. I am committed to doing everything possible to secure this outcome — so the recent news of reengagement is welcome. But let's also be clear that for now there the path is still blocked.
We will continue to work to find a solution. After this meeting I will travel on to the G-20 summit in Brisbane to discuss the situation with leaders there — and I remain in close contact with members in Geneva. I hope APEC Leaders will also play close attention to the health of the multilateral trading system in their discussions next Tuesday.
We need to recognise the extreme seriousness of the situation we're in.
And therefore we need to be prepared to answer some fundamental questions about what we do with the Bali Package, the post-Bali agenda and the negotiating function of the organization.
We have to ask what we want from the WTO — and how we see its future.
I want to make sure that we are in the best possible position to preserve the credibility of the multilateral trading system, so that it can serve the global economy as it was created to do.
APEC has always played a leadership role here. You have always been strong supporters of the system and you have been pioneers in many areas — including trade facilitation.
Therefore I know that you want to have to true picture of the situation so that you can respond in the most appropriate and effective manner.
I have tried to give you that picture today.
The system needs your support — so thank you for listening to me today.
A joint statement issued by APEC ministers at the end of the Ministerial Meeting in Beijing reaffirms APEC support for the multilateral trading system.
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