WTO General Council
Geneva, 26 January 2005
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first of all thank you Mr. Chairman, and the Secretariat for organising this meeting.
I would also like to thank all Member Delegations for taking time to meet with me this morning and for providing me the opportunity to share my vision for the WTO as well as some of my thoughts on how I see the future phase of the WTO work, under the stewardship of a new Director-General.
Development Round: Overarching priority
My overarching priority will be the
successful completion of the Development Round we initiated in Doha.
This cannot, but be a legitimately shared vision. We cannot lose sight
of where we came from, and of the numerous setbacks we suffered before
we managed to launch this Round. In taking stock of the progress
achieved so far, I am of the view that now is the time for action if
we have to conclude this Round on time. We cannot afford, yet again,
to overshoot the time that we have targeted for its completion.
I need not underscore that I, personally, have taken actions that bear out my unflinching commitment to the Multilateral Trading System and to the Development Round. After Cancun, we worked together and we collectively redoubled our efforts to put the negotiations back on track.
July Package: the new thrust to Development
The July Package, as an outcome of our
collective efforts, reaffirmed the development dimensions and gave a
new thrust to the approach to development. Here, I would like to draw
your attention to the paragraph on development which reiterates that
special attention shall be given to the specific trade and
development-related needs and concerns of developing countries.
The elements of the July Package, inter-alia, call for immediate attention to address such issues as Special and Differential Treatment and Implementation Issues, as well as food security, rural development, livelihood, preferences, commodities and net food imports and prior unilateral liberalisation. All these underscore the importance of the development dimensions and have to be taken into consideration, as appropriate, in the course of the Negotiations and in particular to those related to Agriculture and NAMA.
One of my main objectives will, therefore, be to ensure that development is truly crystallized in this Round so as to live up to the Doha expectations and aspirations. A holistic approach to trade, in which I firmly believe, cannot ignore this dimension.
The Multilateral Trading System: Mutual Interdependence and Solidarity
The Multilateral Trading System is, de
facto, a mutually interdependent system. Hence, its effective and
efficient functioning cannot be divorced from the principles of
partnership, solidarity, cooperation and inclusiveness; nor can it be
from those of equity, fairness and transparency which must remain the
cornerstones of the WTO system.
We all agree, that trade is a powerful engine of sustainable development and growth, and is capable of lifting millions from poverty. In a Multilateral Trading System that has to deal with countries which are at different levels of development, international solidarity is of paramount importance in addressing the needs of the weak and vulnerable countries. International solidarity is not a vain concept. Efforts deployed by peoples around the globe after the recent tragic events in the Indian Ocean region have demonstrated the power of this solidarity and the capacity of all to understand the concerns of those among us who are less fortunate and afflicted.
These principles can safeguard the interest of all Members — the developed and the developing, the rich and the poor alike. I will ensure that they remain central in the work culture of the WTO.
Benefits of Trade Liberalisation not evenly distributed
Again, we all agree that trade liberalisation initiated under the GATT since 1947 has contributed enormously to global growth and development and to substantial increases in overall world trade. However, it is also a matter of concern that the benefits therefrom have not been equitably distributed, contrary to the objectives enshrined in the GATT and the WTO Marrakech Agreement. The early conclusion of this present Round is, therefore, imperative to ensure a better redistribution of the welfare benefits and gains of trade liberalisation. Nothing, therefore, should distract us from keeping the Doha Round on course. Neither can we afford to divert resources and energy from this development imperative at this very critical juncture.
It is not my intention to delve into the reasons that have contributed to the situation whereby the prime objectives of the Multilateral Trading System as set out in the Marrakech Agreement have not been fully realised. Suffice it to say that there is urgent need to bridge the gap in understanding the problems and needs of all members. We have to draw lessons from past failures. These are all serious challenges for us. But the greatest challenge, from a larger perspective, is for us all to work together in …… and (I enumerate):
(i) ensuring that development remains at the core of our preoccupations not only for this Round, but duly entrenched in the system as a whole;
(ii) bridging the differences on major
issues due to the diversity of interests;
(iii) building further on effective programmes to address capacity constraints, including the implementation of WTO Agreements and obligations;
(iv) ensuring that the decision-making process is based on greater transparency and inclusiveness;
(v) ensuring full and effective implementation of Commitments, Decisions, Understandings and Agreed Rules;
(vi) ensuring effective coherence in global policy-making aimed, primarily, at building more competitive economies to cope with global competition. More importantly, ensuring a right mix between providing a multilateral framework of rules for free trade on the one hand and assisting countries to mainstream into the Multilateral Trading System on the other.
Issue of Institutional Reform Process
Let me also touch on another important issue
which has been raised time and again. As you are aware, several ideas
have been floated concerning the institutional reform process in the
WTO. Some have suggested that, while undertaking institutional
reforms, account should be taken of both administrative issues and the
decision-making process. The recent report of the Consultative Board
also brings up some of these ideas. It is legitimate to undertake
introspection and soul-searching of an organisation with a view to
improving its efficiency and productivity. Reform is a continuum in an
evolutive process. The WTO cannot be an exception. However, I strongly
believe that, for any reform to be successful, it has to be fully
owned by its principal stakeholders. It also has to take account of
the evolutive dimension of the reform process.
We will therefore have to continue to focus on how we could improve on what we already have in the system so as to make the WTO responsive to the dynamic environment in which it operates. Be that as it may, it is my strong view that this should not be done at the expense of the Development Round.
The Director-General needs to work in very close consultation with Members and will have to ensure that such a process is facilitated for the efficient and effective functioning of the WTO. Under no circumstances, however, the fundamental principles of fairness, equity, inclusiveness and transparency should be undermined.
Issue of Internal and External Transparency
The Doha Mandate also underscores the importance of ensuring internal transparency and effective participation of all Members. Concerns have been expressed over internal and external transparency, including improving public and citizen access to information about the WTO procedures and decisions. I shall work with you on these issues and see how we can collectively and effectively proceed.
Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
It is a matter of constant concern for a
number of members that lack of capacity has prevented them from
participating effectively in the Multilateral Trading System, in the
negotiations and in the implementation of Decisions. Technical
assistance and capacity building will therefore have to remain a core
element of WTO activities. There is need to build on the experiences
and lessons of the past to make capacity building and technical
assistance a more meaningful tool for development and in enabling WTO
Members, particularly the Developing Countries, the Least Developed
Countries, the Small, Weak and Vulnerable Economies derive legitimate
trade and development gains from this Round. I shall work closely with
all other international institutions and agencies to ensure greater
synergies and meaningful collaboration, and global coherence.
I see all this as part of a balanced approach to a gradual process of trade liberalisation. The more effective this approach to Technical Assistance and Capacity Building, the more far-reaching and successful this trade liberalisation process will be, thereby making the WTO work meaningfully for progress and development of all Members.
Services are an integral part of the
negotiations. The potentialities of this sector to the development
agenda of Members are enormous.
Indeed, the development of the services sector can unlock huge opportunities for improving the income levels and quality of life of peoples around the world. While undertaking such development, due account should be taken of the concerns of both developing and developed countries relating to the social dimension of this sector, having special regard to health, education, utilities, transport and audiovisual services.
We took a historic decision on TRIPS and
Public Health in Doha and gave a clear expression of what we can do
together when we have the necessary political will and sense of
solidarity. We now need to push this decision most expeditiously to
its logical conclusion by giving a meaningful closure to the
outstanding work on making this Decision operational on a predictable
and permanent basis.
In addition to the Public Health issue, we need also resolve issues such as the relationship between TRIPS and the Convention on Biological Diversity and transfer of technology.
In this regard, we need to ensure a balanced distribution of benefits arising from the TRIPS Agreement. Indeed, the protection of intellectual property rights can lead to the movement of capital in high tech sectors in many developing countries devoid of natural resources. This is a key to prosperity.
About Regional Trade Arrangements
It is my staunch belief that the multilateral trading system can best protect the interests of all Members. It is also true that effective regional integration is a stepping-stone to the multilateral trading system. This is especially true for many developing countries which only by pooling together their competitive advantages, can become global players.
Dispute Settlement Mechanism and Rules-Making
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to mention that the Dispute settlement mechanism and rules-making are two important aspects in the functioning of the WTO system that will require our focused attention. The Dispute Settlement Body is no doubt one of the central pillars of the WTO system. However, in the light of experience gathered so far, there is a consensus that there is need to improve on the functioning of the DSB. I will work with you all to ensure that the best balance is achieved in the interest of the system.
Catering for the needs of a more universal Membership
It is a matter of satisfaction that the membership of the WTO is now becoming more universal. From its original 25, we are now 148. The question that begs is: is it now time to have a fresh look at the process of participation of all members, be it in the negotiations, regular committee and working group meetings or at ministerial conferences? The answer is Yes! In the same breath, there is also the need to see how the Secretariat could be made more responsive to the growing needs of a more universal membership. Inclusiveness and transparency being my constant preoccupations, I intend to work with members on these important aspects and build on the positives achieved so far in order to ensure that even the resource-poor member is able to participate effectively and meaningfully.
I should like to conclude by re-emphasizing
that only a timely and successful conclusion of the Development Round
and the full implementation of the Decisions and Commitments will
safeguard the institutional credibility of the WTO and of the
Multilateral Trading System. In this endeavour, I firmly believe that
there is need to reconcile the process of liberalization with the
imperatives of development. There is need for realism.
Any institution in a negotiating process will have to take account of the interests of all its Members. If any group feels marginalized, this will undermine the legitimacy of the whole exercise. However, there is a perception that the concerns of the weak and vulnerable nations are not sufficiently addressed at the WTO. Seattle and Cancun are stark reminders of this reality. It is therefore imperative that the WTO develops a truly consensual relationship that reflects and serves the interests of the entire membership. My personal involvement along with others in the post Cancun period, was to try to act as a bridge to get the process on track again. No one wanted 2004 to be a lost year. It is generally recognized that the G-90 meeting in Mauritius paved the way for the July Package. The challenge facing the WTO to-day is to develop a true and effective partnership between developed and developing countries, in order to create a prosperous and stable world order where everyone feels that a fair and balanced Multilateral Trading System is in the superior interest of every partner.
I pledge to work with all Members in this direction. The successful completion of the Development Round will be among the first moves in giving the WTO a genuinely humane face.
I thank you for your attention.