Tuesday 23 March 2004

WTO African regional workshop on cotton, Cotonou, Republic of Benin

Opening remarks by Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi WTO Director-General

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> Summary conclusions (Word document, 5 pages, 56KB)

Minister Akplogan,
Representatives of multilateral institutions,
Distinguished participants,

Mes amis, Mesdames et Messieurs, Je vous souhaite la bienvenue à Cotonou.

I would like to warmly welcome you all to this WTO Secretariat-organized African regional workshop on cotton. To begin with, on all our behalf, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to our gracious hosts, the Government and People of the Republic of Benin. I would ask Minister Akplogan to convey to the President, to the Government and the People of Benin, the appreciation of all the participants at this Workshop for the generous hospitality we have received and for the facilities that have been put at our disposal for this Workshop. I very much welcome this opportunity to be here with you in West Africa. This is the beginning of a very important week for me in this region. From Cotonou, I will be travelling to Abuja, Nigeria to meet with the Trade Ministers of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) on the broader subject of what we need to do, in concert, to restore momentum in the Doha Round.

A sense of history is always vital before undertaking any task. As we meet here, over the next two days, to focus on the subject of cotton, we need to remember and appreciate the historical contributions of this region to the world. The modern state of Benin was preceded by the ancient kingdom and empire of Dahomey, a wealthy and flourishing civilization.

It was here in West Africa, centuries ago, that we had the flourishing empires and civilizations not only of Dahomey, but also of Ghana, Songhai, Mali, and several in modern Nigeria, including Oyo, Edo, the Ibos, and the Hausa-Fulani Caliphate. These civilizations, as you all know, were well integrated into a regional economy that stretched across the Sahara desert into North Africa and had links beyond. The borders separating countries in the region are relatively recent. I welcome the measures that the ECOWAS countries as a group, and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) are taking to liberalize the movement of goods, services and people within the region. These are essential measures for stimulating growth, wealth and prosperity in West Africa. With this sense of history combined with current efforts, I believe that the task of participants, here at this Workshop, in Cotonou, is to assist these countries to strengthen their capacities to trade.

Before, we begin with the actual Workshop, I would like to underline 6 key points to assist and define our work.

First, although this technical assistance workshop has been organized in response to the request by the 4 Least-Developed African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, upon the advice of the WTO African Group in Geneva we have also invited 26 other African countries for whom cotton also plays an important role. Post-Cancun there has been a greater realization of the importance of the cotton sector to the growth and poverty reduction efforts of these African countries. I thank all of you for contributing fully and concretely to the organization of this Workshop, and for providing positive indications of your commitment to a meaningful outcome. This is an African priority that deserves our support and I am grateful to you all for responding to the challenge.

Secondly, let me recall that this Workshop is exclusively focused on the development assistance component of the Cotton Initiative, as reflected in the programme before you. I would thus urge participants to focus on seeking concrete outcomes on financial and technical assistance. I hope that by the end of this workshop we will have achieved at least two objectives: one, greater clarity on existing cotton-specific financial and technical assistance by bilateral donors and multilateral institutions; and two, identification of additional value-added opportunities for cotton, particularly through enhanced coordination amongst multilateral institutions and bilateral donors. I urge all participants to fully dedicate themselves to this purpose.

As you all know, there is an equally important trade policy component to the Cotton Initiative. However, in keeping with the expressed wish of the proponent countries and the WTO African Group in Geneva, the trade policy dimension is a matter for the entirety of the WTO membership in the negotiations. I share the view expressed by the majority of our membership, including many African countries, that progress on the trade policy aspects can best be made within the framework of the broader agriculture negotiations. In taking this position, I also note that many consider that such progress should be made within the agriculture negotiations, while preserving the focus on cotton. Against this background, I would again urge participants to focus on the development assistance component of the Cotton Initiative at this Workshop, and to work collectively for a meaningful, substantive and positive outcome.

Thirdly, this Workshop is important because it brings together the trade and development communities. It is therefore striking that in the composition of the delegations of both the 18 multilateral institutions and the QUAD plus China, there are in each delegation representatives from trade and development departments. I find this both welcome and encouraging. A salutary lesson that the international community learnt, post-Seattle, was the importance of establishing a systematic, constructive and on-going partnership between the trade and development communities. The recognition of this partnership contributed to the success of the Doha Ministerial Conference and the establishment of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). This is also why, the WTO Secretariat, in constructing its programmes for trade-related technical assistance, has pursued the objective of having trade reflected within the wider development plans and poverty reduction strategies of our developing country Members.

Fourthly, recent experience shows that the chances of managing and resolving multilateral problems are significantly improved when there is effective co-operation between the Secretariats of multilateral institutions and their membership - particularly the major countries. This is why I welcome the presence here of the representatives of the Secretariats of 18 multilateral institutions and the representatives of Canada, the European Commission, Japan, the United States and China. In working together for a common purpose, multilateral institutions are strengthened. Multilateralism and multilateral institutions still hold our best chances for international co-operation, effective governance and management of the biggest challenges that confront the international community. I am in touch with the Ministers from the countries represented here and throughout this entire week I will be intensifying my contacts in West Africa. I have also spoken to many, if not all, of the Agency Heads of the multilateral institutions represented here. I would urge you to use the opportunity of this workshop to intensify your contacts with each other and to find ways to work even more effectively together.

Fifthly, experience shows that faster and quicker results can sometimes be obtained by working within and strengthening existing mechanisms. This does not mean that we should not seek to be creative and find new ways of doing things. But that, in doing so, we should also draw on the abundant lessons of the past, building on what works and avoiding what does not. Several instruments are already available and in use. It is evident that bilateral donors and multilateral institutions have coalesced around the development vehicle of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and also around the trade capacity building instruments of the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance for Least-Developed Countries (IF), and the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme (JITAP) for African countries. We need to work within these established instruments. If we do so, I believe that progress will be faster and the dividends greater.

Sixthly, progress in trade negotiations and development assistance usually comes through careful, consistent and cumulative effort, based on good will, patience and persistence. A spirit of pragmatism and flexibility will be necessary for us all to achieve our common objectives. This Workshop, here in Cotonou, is a clear indication of good will and resolve to produce a positive and meaningful outcome on the development assistance component of the Sectoral Initiative on Cotton. I am confident that we can make it work.

In closing, I want to say how pleased I am to see you all, including many of my personal friends. I acknowledge with appreciation the presence of the representatives of the 18 multilateral institutions who have responded to the call of the trading community and for the contributions you have made to our preparations for this Workshop.

I would also like to sincerely thank our major trading countries represented here by Canada, the European Commission, Japan, the United States and China, for their participation at this Workshop. Your presence and participation are essential in the confidence-building process underway in the WTO.

Not least, I am happy to see my friends, the African Ambassadors in Geneva. Your presence here today, will assist us in ensuring continuity so that the understandings and the outcomes we reach here, in Cotonou, can be carried forward and positively contribute to the Doha Development Agenda.

I thank you all, and I now have the honour to declare open “The African Regional Workshop on Cotton”.