Monday, 30 July 2001

Statement by the Director-General

Informal General Council

PastWTO Ministerials
> Seattle, 1999
> Geneva, 1998
> Singapore, 1996



Mr. Chairman,

You and I jointly have made our report to the Council on the current state of the preparatory work for Doha, and I stand by every word of that. It is a sobering assessment of the volume of work and the political commitment that is required if we are to arrive in Doha at an outcome acceptable to all WTO members. But I want to add something as Director-General — that is, as the guardian of the long-term health of the trading system embodied in the WTO — to what we said there. I feel I owe it to the Council to be as frank in this room as I have been in public about my views on the importance of the Doha meeting.

We cannot pretend that this can be merely a “routine” ministerial meeting, at which ministers will discuss general economic trends and progress in the WTO's built-in agenda. The context in which ministers will meet ensures that a fundamental decision will be taken at Doha, whether positive or negative, which will have long term implications for the future of this institution and the way we conduct our business. In our joint report, Mr. Chairman, we have said that failure to reach consensus on a forward work programme that would advance the objectives of the multilateral trading system, particularly in the light of the earlier failure at Seattle, would lead many to question the value of the WTO as a forum for negotiation. It would certainly condemn us to a long period of irrelevance, because it will not be any easier next year, or the year after.

The questions facing ministers will be the same as at Seattle: are they ready to launch a wider process of negotiations — a new round, in fact — and if so what should its content be. I have made no secret of my conviction that a new round is necessary. There is no better way in which we can effectively address the problems of economic slowdown or prevent the further marginalization of many developing countries through the weakening of the multilateral system. There is no other way in which we can make sure that the legal system embodied in the WTO responds to economic reality. There is no other way in which we can sustain the momentum of the negotiations on agriculture and services. Nowhere in the world, as far as I know, is the need for negotiation on agriculture disputed; but nowhere else in the world, if not here, is that negotiation going to happen.

All of the rules in this system have been negotiated — that is their strength and the source of their legitimacy. But by the same token they can only be changed by negotiation. Minister Simba of Tanzania spoke recently about inequities in the system, and he is right — they exist. But only negotiation can remove them. Not to negotiate means accepting the status quo, which was yesterday's compromise. I said on 26 June — and some criticised me for saying it — that opting for the status quo will not stop further trade negotiations next year. They would take place, but outside the WTO, with those not included bearing the cost of exclusion.

Though the question may be the same as at Seattle, the context is not. Many problems that plagued the pre-Seattle process have been the subject of intensive efforts in the past 18 months. To take the most important:

  • Thanks to your untiring efforts, Mr Chairman, and those of your predecessor, internal transparency and participation have been greatly improved; since February, 35 plenary meetings of the Council, formal and informal, have been devoted to the Doha process. As a result, the positions of delegations, both the objectives of the proponents of an expanded negotiating agenda and the problems seen by others, are far better understood.
  • Important progress has been made towards realizing our objectives in respect of technical assistance and market access for least-developed countries. Implementation issues have been exhaustively examined, in an intensive, dedicated process, and we all understand how central this issue is for progress. The Secretariat has also worked hard to assist smaller, resource-poor and non-resident delegations to play their proper part in the WTO's work.

The arguments in favour of launching a new round have been recognised by an increasing number of international institutions, notably by the Secretary-General of the UN himself, and by a succession of ministerial and leaders' summits. However, a large number of players are not yet convinced. I firmly believe that the best answer — in fact the only answer — to those who remain sceptical about the merit of new negotiations is a forward looking work programme which caters for the interests of all Members, but in particular the developing and least-developed countries. Similarly, the best response to those who deny the benefits of trade liberalization in economic development is a negotiating agenda which strives to make international trade fairer.

But we are still far from agreement. Not all members are convinced of the need for new negotiations and among those who are there is insufficient clarity about the scope and level of ambition envisaged. It is to be expected that while this uncertainty persists many members will hesitate to commit themselves. On most of the specific issues described in our report quite wide gaps remain between positions. These gaps are still there because the process of single-issue consultations has reached its limits; in negotiation you have to address the relationships and possible trade-offs between issues, and this involves political commitment and decision. This process has hardly started.

I have to tell you that if the Doha meeting were taking place in September I would now be saying that the opportunity had been missed — that reconciling these differences in the time remaining was no longer possible. But there is time. That is why we are reporting this reality check to you now, in July. It is perfectly possible to achieve an outcome at Doha which would be satisfactory to all members and which would benefit both the trading system and the world economy. To do that will require immediate and concentrated attention in capitals. This cannot wait until September. By the beginning of September we must be ready to start the intensive process of negotiation that will enable you to put before ministers a coherent and balanced draft declaration. They cannot be expected to resolve all problems in four days at Doha. Ministers have warned us time and again that the package must be largely agreed before they go to Doha.

I have said this many times before, but it is still true: what is in question is the launching of negotiations, not their conclusion. The agenda must be balanced and fair, and the principle of consensus must ensure that the outcome is acceptable to all members. All this is possible. The greater danger is a failure to reach consensus that would call into question the commitment of members to the multilateral system and to the principle of international cooperation.

I have often described this meeting as the occasion for a “reality check”, and the report before you is the Chairman's and my contribution to that exercise. It is now for you to undertake your own reality check, here and in capitals. I urge all delegations to undertake it in a frank and constructive spirit. Capitals must adjust their demands according to what can accommodate others' needs. This meeting should enable you to report that the time has come to get real — that long-held positions must be reviewed and reconciled so that we can make a start on a negotiating agenda that will benefit all our peoples.

However, I am positive we have in this chamber people of quality and vision, who know the costs of not making progress, who know the state of the world economy and the role the multilateral trading system can play. We know also that 3 billion people, half the world's population, live on less than $2 per day. That figure could rise to 4 billion within 25 years. We have it within our grasp to do something about it.

I look forward to your return in September. But I need to say that the situation is fragile, and without generosity, good manners and good will, the process could implode and become unmanageable. Unless the reality we now see is taken to heart and acted upon, the passage of time will change the reality for the worse, and the process could become unmanageable. If we return in September with unchanged positions then I fear the worst. There is time, we must use it. When we meet again the question will be “What has changed?”.