WTO General Council
Geneva, 26 January 2005
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,
I would like to start by expressing my most sincere solidarity towards the peoples and governments affected by the recent tragedy caused by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The loss of lives, the material damage and the suffering and hopelessness to which millions of people of the region have been subject represent a new challenge to international cooperation.
I fully share the Director General’s views when he said that the WTO must also contribute through trade measures to the generous effort undertaken by the international community in the face of this tragedy.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I would like to express my satisfaction to be once again in this house and to have the possibility to share with the General Council my vision of the challenges facing the multilateral trading system and the reasons that have prompted me to be a candidate for the post of Director General of the WTO.
The first reason is my strong belief in the irreplaceable role that this institution has in growth, development and human welfare. The second is that I think — with modesty but also with a strong conviction — that my background, my experience and vocation for international public service will allow me to make a positive contribution to the enormous task of building a more just and equitable multilateral trading system (MTS).
In my opinion, the organization will face a number of important and urgent challenges in the next years.
The first one is to reaffirm and guarantee the central role of multilateralism in international trade. This requires us to confront the growing fragmentation and disarticulation of the MTS characterized by a proliferation of Preferential Trade Agreements of various types and the progressive erosion of the non-discriminatory treatment enshrined in the Most Favored Nation Clause, a fundamental WTO principle. It also requires the accession of those countries that are not yet members of the organization in order to guarantee its complete universality. Furthermore, steps must be taken to ensure that the MTS offers equal opportunities to all its members, whether rich or poor, large or small — who must find in this system concrete opportunities for trade and development.
Finally, it will be necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of the monitoring mechanisms and to ensure that the dispute settlement system — a fundamental cornerstone of this institution — continues to be an objective and efficient tool to guarantee an impartial framework where all members, regardless of their size or power, may be able to defend their legitimate interests.
A second challenge, equally important, will be to transform into reality the development dimension in all agreements, disciplines and rules negotiated in the WTO. This organization must be ready to respond positively to needs that are not only real but that cannot be further postponed. It must also provide the space in which developing nations, in particular the least developed ones, can implement their objectives, instead of limiting their capacity to achieve them. But words are not enough. To be able to give a concrete meaning to the development dimension beyond S and D treatment is one of the most important responsibilities that the WTO currently has. The achievement of this goal will be a fundamental factor in facilitating the full integration of Developing Countries in the MTS and I will commit my utmost effort to it.
The third challenge is to make all necessary efforts to change the public image of the WTO. We all know the extent to which a distorted view of the objectives, activities and role of the WTO prevails in large segments of public opinion. In my view, much of the criticism levelled at this organization is unfair and does not correspond to reality. I think, at the same time, that as we continue to improve our working methods, ensuring transparency and efficiency in the decision making process, the time has also come for the WTO to make an additional effort to face this criticism and dispel doubts and uncertainties. Trade, far from being a threat to developing countries, can become an engine for economic growth, development and well being for our societies, as well as a vital tool to fight poverty.
This shared effort will also certainly require a renewed dialogue with civil society.
Fourthly, we face institutional challenges. We must ensure that the WTO continues to evolve and adapt to the changing realities of international trade. In the last years important progress was made in respect to transparency and inclusiveness in the negotiating process. We cannot be complacent — we must continue to move forward in that direction. Having chaired the most important bodies of the WTO, including the General Council, I have a clear idea of how this organization works. My opinion is that the WTO is an institution that does not require radical changes, although undoubtedly there is room to improve its efficiency and procedures. I have no doubt that in the decision making process we must preserve the principle of consensus. Whenever the need arises for the formation of smaller groups in the negotiating process, we should maintain a certain degree of flexibility in order to ensure the participation of all interested members according to the subjects being discussed.
These are, in my judgment, the major challenges looming in the future of this organization. To be able to successfully tackle them, I would like to share with you the priority actions that I will take if I am selected as Director General.
The first task is to finish the current round of negotiations in 2006, at the latest, by reaching a balanced package of results that reflects the interests of all members and that faithfully respects the Doha mandate. But above all, we must ensure that those results live up to our expectations, so that they are worthy of being called “The Development Round”. The time to achieve this goal is short. That makes it imperative that the next Director General has not only the necessary political stature for the post but, also, substantive knowledge of the issues and proven experience on WTO negotiations, so that he can move things forward from his first day on the job. I have been involved in this effort from the beginning of this Round, first as Uruguay's negotiator and later as Chairman of the General Council, and I can assure you that I will dedicate my utmost efforts to ensure the successful outcome of the Doha Round.
While the completion of the Round is an important objective for strengthening the credibility of the system and reaffirming the central role of multilateralism, the task does not end there.
We must also have a longer term vision, and together with all members I will work to identify a substantive agenda for the future of the WTO.
My second task will be to equip the WTO with sufficient operational capacity to comply with its mandate, including the implementation, within the agreed time frames, of the outcome of the Round. For this purpose it will be necessary to undertake an evaluation of the analytical and technical assistance resources, as well as the infrastructure that the Secretariat currently has, in light of these new realities.
The third task on which I will focus is to further develop and strengthen coherence and coordination with other international organizations. This will mean that the valuable existing cooperation with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund moves to a more operational phase, involving joint actions designed to solve a number of sensitive issues we are currently dealing with. A clear example would be to strengthen cooperation with the World Bank on assistance for the adjustment process resulting from the implementation of the results of trade negotiations, including the problem of the erosion of preferences.
I also intend to strengthen and broaden cooperation with UNCTAD, ITC and WIPO, as well as with regional organizations in appropriate areas linked with development, taking advantage of the clear existing complementarities.
These challenges and action priorities — which I do not pretend to be exhaustive — require a joint and coordinated response from all Members. If I am selected I will work with all the tools at the disposal of the Director General to help find those answers.
During my entire professional career I have dealt with the type of problems that the DG of the WTO will have to face. I have dedicated more than 30 years of my professional life to trade and development. I have actively participated in the last three rounds of multilateral trade negotiations representing the interests of my country. I have also had the honor to chair in the last few years the most important bodies of the WTO, including this one, the General Council, and served the interests of all its members. In brief, I know the system from the inside.
But the enriching phase of my professional experience is that which has allowed me to get intimately involved with development matters. I worked for many years in UNCTAD, ITC, ECLAC and SELA in direct contact with every aspect of today's development challenges. During those years I had the privilege to visit more than 30 African countries-many of them least developed-in search of solutions to concrete problems on commodities such as cotton, tropical woods, meat, hides and skins as well as cereals. I also visited Asian countries, working hand in hand with the private sector in trade promotion activities. Having been elected Permanent Secretary of SELA (Latin American Economic System), I contributed in the search of solutions to trade and finance problems of all Latin American and Caribbean countries in trying times for their economies.
The point of this outline of my professional life is to highlight that the sole purpose behind my candidacy is my firm conviction that I have the necessary credentials that, in my judgment, Members require from the Director General.
There are two additional elements that I would like to underline before finishing and that I think are essential for the selection of next DG.
In the extensive participation that I have had in the multilateral system I think that there is a distinctive character trait that I have always demonstrated. That is the constant search for common ground and understanding, the identification of convergence and the building of consensus without which no agreement is possible.
Probably that trait can be traced back to the country whose interests I have represented. Uruguay, a small developing country, has made the search for consensus its raison d’être. In the same way, I have striven to generate the necessary respect and trust for my proposals to be always perceived as constructive and independent contributions, always in search of understanding among Members.
And it is because I come from Uruguay that to me the issue of development does not respond to a theoretical or academic vision, but an empirical one, forged through the daily contact with a reality that is often harsh and to which I remain committed to find the best possible solutions.
Likewise my commitment to multilateralism does not come from an abstract view of international relations. It is born out of a deeply rooted conviction that this principle is the best guarantee to achieve a respectful, harmonious and cooperative coexistence among members of the international community, as well as the best defence for the interests of developing countries.
Finally, Dear Friends, as of today, a selection process will be opened to determine which of the four candidates can attract the consensus of the members. I do not visualize this process as a confrontation between candidates from North and South. I see the process as the selection of an individual who has the best attributes to lead an organization based on the principles of international cooperation and multilateralism and I sincerely think that I can be the consensus candidate that the WTO needs.
To me the post of Director General is not a job or a mere place of employment. It is a commitment to you to strengthen the MTS. And it is also a commitment bringing with it my own profound aspiration to see a fairer and more just world where each one could see his own interests duly reflected. I am committed to a system in which trade is not an end in itself but an instrument to improve the human condition. A system that promotes stability, that is capable of resolving conflicts reasonably and that cares and tends to the needs of its least favored members. Such a system will be an invaluable contribution to a safer world, a world with less tension, where the best possible solutions can be found to improve human welfare, rights and dignity.