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Ministers to shape the future in Doha 

 Dear Friends,

Welcome to Doha.

During the course of this Ministerial Conference, 142 governments will shape the future of the global trading system in the 21st century. Itís no exaggeration to say that what ministers decide here in the next few days, will determine whether the World Trade Organization remains at the centre of trade policy concerns over the next few years.

Others have said that if the WTO fails to embark on an ambitious work programme here in Doha that the organization will be consigned to hibernation or become irrelevant.

I donít agree with that. We will still be the most important global arbiter of commercial disputes between nations, we will still provide technical assistance and training to governments hungry to participate more extensively in the global trading system and we will still conduct the important Trade Policy Reviews.

But I believe itís true that the trade focus in many nations will shift away from Geneva if we fall short of success in Doha. Iíve said it many times because I believe it: trade liberalization negotiations will take place next year, the only question is whether they are conducted, bilaterally, regionally or multilaterally.

Regional trade agreements can make an important contribution to the global economy, but they are no substitute for a multilateral system of non-discriminatory trade rules. At a time when global cooperation is as important as it has ever been, a failure to improve one of the most important pillars of the international architecture would be not only unfortunate but dangerous.

Apart from the need to strengthen the system and the organization, there is the obvious need to send signals of confidence to a world in which the largest economies all face the prospect of recession. The last time that the European Union, Japan and the United States were all in recession together was in 1975. The economic vitality of these three members matters a great deal and not just to those who live there. When the big economies contract it means fewer exports from the developing world and less foreign direct investment to poor countries. This will mean fewer jobs in developing countries and lower prospects of raising living standards.

Agreeing to launch an ambitious work programme in Doha will not have immediate consequences for the global economy. But it will send a very strong signal that the WTO member governments are aware of the need for action on issues that are of great importance to our citizens.

Not all our member governments favour embarking on an ambitious work programme and I have been criticized for calling on members to begin a broad-based work programme at Doha. I accept differences of view on this point, but itís important not to lose sight of the fact that on matters of real substance, the only way to change the rules and workings of the WTO is through negotiations. This is, after all, a negotiating forum.

When developing countries say they have not received all the benefits they expected from the Uruguay Round and that the WTO should do better for them, I agree. But does anyone seriously believe that we will get substantive changes to our rules on agriculture, textiles or trade remedies through any avenue other than negotiations?

We need to face up to the fact that there are things in our organization that could work better. Not all our critics are wrong. This organization needs to do more to assist poor countries through market access and increased technical assistance. We need to do a better job of assuring our peoples that WTO rules are not a threat to the preservation of the environment. We need to work to reduce imbalances in a global agricultural system which results in rich countries spending roughly $1 billion a day in subsidies which are often wasteful and trade distorting. Reducing these subsidies and paring back the barriers to imports from developing countries would result in benefits to the developing countries equal to three times the level of Official Development Assistance provided by rich countries.

Moreover, we need to look at the way the organization is run. As superb as the dispute settlement system is, it has some problems which need to be addressed. The banana dispute has highlighted the need to address how and when a member government can retaliate against another for failure to implement a ruling from the Dispute Settlement Body. We need to examine ways in which developing countries can participate more fully in the benefits of the dispute settlement system.

We also need to serve our member governments better through a system of technical assistance that is adequately financed. Our current budget covers only a fraction of our technical assistance costs and the remainder must be made up through trust fund contributions. I appreciate the generosity of those members that have contributed to these trust funds. But without adequate resources in the core budget, we cannot properly plan our technical assistance activities beyond the current year. We need to find ways of addressing the development deficit through enhanced training and programmes which bring those governments that cannot afford offices in Geneva more into the fold.

Unless all members are fully engaged in the process of negotiating and feel confident that they comprehensively understand the issues, we run the risk of creating new implementation problems in the future. Any negotiations that are launched in Doha cannot be completed if some members feel marginalized from the process and the way to address this problem is through more and better targeted technical assistance.

I have no illusions as to the challenge ahead. Finding a satisfactory compromise on issues like implementation, patentability of essential medicines, agriculture, the environment, investment and competition will not be easy to achieve. But find it we must, because the price of failure is too high.
Mike Moore
WTO Director-General