Paris, 30 April 2003

Director-General — Talking Points for OECD Ministerial

Madam Chair, Ministers, Mr. Secretary-General:

Thank you for the opportunity to join Luis Derbez in opening this very important debate. OECD Ministerials are always significant events, but this one in particular has the chance to make a real positive difference at a crucial stage of the Doha Round.

I warned some time ago that the Round was facing imminent gridlock unless focused political energy was applied to avert it. So far we have avoided the worst, and I very much appreciate the responsible way in which governments have handled the setback in agriculture at the end of March. At the TNC earlier this month I urged participants to turn their disappointment into determination, and the response has been generally encouraging. Work in key negotiating groups such as Non-Agricultural Market Access and in other areas of our work programme is continuing in earnest. It has also been positive to see a number of demandeurs in agriculture submit significant services offers.

However the fundamental concerns are still there, and my warning still stands. Avoiding the worst is no substitute for real progress towards success. Furthermore, we cannot pretend that the setbacks so far have been cost-free. The problem of negative linkages is still very much with us, and we must take care that we are not simply postponing the gridlock to Cancún. The consequences of doing so would be very serious for the Round as a whole.

From all of my contacts I have the strong impression that governments remain committed to finishing the Round by the agreed deadline of 1 January 2005. The Cancún Ministerial is a very important point on the way towards achieving that. It is not the end of the Round, but it has to set up the conditions to enable negotiations to be concluded successfully in 2004. This, I suggest, is the perspective from which we should approach the preparation of the meeting, which must now move to a more intensive and focused phase.

Together with the Chairman of the General Council and the Chairs of the negotiating bodies, I am working to step up the Geneva process. We will very shortly begin intensive consultations in informal Heads of Delegation mode, backed up by a range of other contacts. At the same time the negotiating group chairs are working hard to fulfil their mandates. The aim overall is to focus our work on what needs to be done in Cancún to maximize the chances of success thereafter.

Following the mandates agreed at Doha, there are around a dozen issues requiring action before or at Cancún, ranging from agriculture to small economies. One clear priority for our work in the immediate future must be to reduce this burden to manageable proportions by reaching understanding on as many of these issues as possible before the Ministerial Conference. Those issues which remain outstanding need to be presented in a clear and operational manner.

This is the aim of our work in Geneva, but to succeed it needs the active involvement and support of political leadership at every step. Putting together the right package for Cancún requires political choices and the willingness to seek compromises in the common interest of concluding the Round successfully and on time. I hope a sense of such leadership will emerge from this meeting.

I also suggest you consider what you need to do at Cancún beyond the specific requirements laid down at Doha in respect of various sectors. An important aspect of the Conference will be to provide guidance for the remainder of the negotiations as envisaged in the Doha Declaration. We should be working towards a sort of “road map” which can help focus the efforts that will be needed in the final year. This will also be an element on which I shall be consulting. Once again, it is an element which needs active and creative political input to develop usefully.

I urge governments to recall and reaffirm what unites them, so they can work together more effectively to overcome their divisions. What I know we all share is a strong commitment to a vigorous and effective multilateral trading system that works for the benefit of all its members. Governments acted on this understanding at Doha, and it is even more valid in today's climate of uncertainty. Finishing the Round successfully and on time would be not only an economic stimulus but also be a powerful signal of international co-operation. On the other hand, failure to do so could seriously weaken a vital piece of the architecture of co-operation.

The negotiations launched at Doha were ambitious, not only in terms of timeframe but also in terms of substance. It is vital to maintain and live up to this level of ambition, however complex and difficult its realization may be. Lowering our expectations for the Round's outcome would not make an outcome any easier to reach; it could even make it harder. It would certainly make it less worthwhile. On the contrary, we need to maintain our ambitions across the board as well as in key sectors. The crucial importance of a substantial liberalizing result in agriculture is emphasized by participants at all levels of development. We should also focus on the need for ambitious results in services, in non-agricultural market access and in rules. After all, if so many regional or bilateral agreements can envisage bold steps in these areas why should the multilateral trading system lag behind?

Maintaining a high level of ambition also means keeping the development dimension of the Round in the central place it was assigned at Doha. In doing so we have to avoid either viewing it too narrowly or leaving it too late. Developmental concerns feature in many places in the Doha work programme. You as Ministers put them there for the good reason that there is no single response to a multifaceted issue. It is also a fact that issues of particular concern to developing countries have been prominent among those where deadlines have so far been missed. TRIPs and Public Health is a particular case in point. We must, therefore, make progress across a range of issues, from special and differential treatment to LDC accessions, while also making the most of the development potential contained in the market access negotiations.

Finally, let me repeat my conviction that the Doha agenda is even more important to the world than when it was launched. I am sure this is a conviction widely shared in this meeting. The challenge we face is to act upon it. I want to work very closely with you and other ministers in the weeks ahead to accelerate progress in the negotiations. We must use every opportunity presented by gatherings like this one and intensify informal networking as well. I also hope that the OECD will continue to underpin our efforts through its valuable analytical work.

There is also an increasingly urgent need to make sure that your instructions to your negotiators in specific areas are consistent with your commitment to a successful outcome overall. This — I must say frankly — does not always appear to be the case, particularly in key areas such as agriculture. I therefore appeal to all of you — and I underline all — to ensure that from now on your negotiators have enough flexibility to create the overall momentum we need to carry us through Cancún to a successful conclusion.