WTO Ministerial Day 3: “Calm waters, no surprises”
Members of the WTO wanted a “normal” ministerial — they've had one. This conference was different from all previous ones. There were no surprises. It was not a big jamboree, with thousands of journalists, hugely costly arrangements and sleepless nights. But a feeling of normality, a feeling that the WTO is a solid institution, not an ocean producing big waves every day. This conference was more like a shareholders' meeting to review annual activities and priorities. Gosh, you should have seen how bored the journos were!
The plenary sessions were full of delegates during the whole conference. Most, if not all, of the ministers spoke for no longer than three minutes, respecting the request from the Chairman — as is fit for an organization whose business is all about rules.
Today there were more discussions organized by NGOs: climate change, food security, energy security ... they are leaving no stone unturned. The anecdote of the day comes from the minister of Papua New Guinea. Speaking about the need to discipline subsidies to fisheries, he said that “we live in an ocean full of sharks and no friends”. Could he be any more convincing? During these two and a half days, people have talked, have identified their differences — and their agreements. As I said at the closing ceremony, exposing agreements and disagreements makes us stronger. We were in calm waters. Maybe there really is a “spirit of Geneva” — a reference to arbitration processes and peace talks frequently held in this city since the 19th century. I must say that our Swiss friends did a great job in ensuring that everything ran smoothly on the logistics side, together with the WTO Secretariat team.
The closing ceremony was short and simple. Andres Velasco, the Chilean minister, was a very efficient Chairman — as a souvenir from this conference, I gave him a wooden gavel, used to mark moments of agreement. Hope he has the chance to use it extensively when back in Chile.
In the end, it's all about people. I continue to be deeply convinced that trade can help people around the world get better life conditions — trade can and does create benefits for all.
We've agreed to meet again in 2011. I promise I'll get back to you before that. In the meantime, have fun!
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WTO Ministerial Day 2: “WTO goes NGO”
A good run along the lake at 6:15 am with the Chilean, Norwegian, Canadian ministers: fresh air to start the day. Security officers were nervous about this run, but Geneva is usually a very safe place — and at that early time, there is barely anyone strolling in the streets. Quick shower and get dressed: I'm wearing a red ribbon on my lapel — today is World AIDS Day.
Then breakfast with ministers of least-developed countries. Felix Mutati, the Zambian trade minister, explained to us how he is using development assistance to reduce the cost of doing business in his country, doing relatively simple things like streamlining customs procedures — with huge benefits for his people.
For someone who has been in the trade negotiation business for quite a while, I am constantly amazed by the changes in positions, reflecting the evolution of social and economic conditions around the world. Listening to developing countries' encouragement to push for an agreement is a breath of fresh air — very much like the brisk morning air in early December in Geneva.
Who would think that many of the countries which were reluctant to launch the Round at Doha in 2001 would now be impatient to conclude it? For me, it means that this Round, which had “development” only in its name at the beginning, now has the potential to respond to very concrete interests of developing countries.
It's also interesting to see how several NGOs, which in the past were opposed to anything connected to the WTO, are now following our work and booming with innovative ideas on how to improve the Organization and its agreements. They are now in the tent with us.
A cool moment today: our “child” organization, the International Trade Centre (a 50/50 joint venture with UNCTAD), gathered all female ministers and offered them colourful purses manufactured by women in Kenya and Uganda. This is only one of the grassroots projects supported by the ITC, of which we are very proud.
Lots of concerns about environment, climate change. By the way, we decided to go “paperless” in this Ministerial Conference. No distribution of paper documents, all texts placed on our website in real time. The Costa Rica trade minister trumped everyone: he came to the podium to deliver his speech reading from his laptop screen — environmentally friendly.
PS: Some of my staff tell me they are doing a collection to buy me “real” food — tired of my bread and bananas! Am adding dates from 2morrow on.
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WTO Ministerial Day 1: “Strengthening the global trading system”
Rainy weather here in Geneva. I had loads of papers to read before going to the office. The morning was busy, with more meetings with trade ministers — I had an “Asian” morning — ministers of Viet Nam, Japan and China. In our talks, concerns with the crisis — the Dubai default is a strong reminder that it is not over. But ministers tell me that wrapping up the Doha Round would be a great help to overcome the crisis.
Lunch — if I can call it lunch, my usual bread and bananas — kept in a tupperware and eaten during a short car ride from the WTO to a meeting with NGOs. Great discussion — sharp questions, provocative comments. I really like talking, debating with NGO leaders. My assistants tell me that even my English improves when I reply to tough questions.
Then the big event: the official opening of the Conference. Almost 3,000 delegates — the largest meeting ever held in this convention centre in Geneva. A number of common themes: strengthening the multilateral trading system. Make sure it remains relevant. And work to make it more coherent with other areas of international governance: food security, energy security, climate change. I hope it is an encouragement to folks going to Copenhagen next week. We even heard encouraging calls to move to the end game in the Doha Round!
When I think of the amount of resources put into the organization of this Conference, when I listen to ministers (by the way, the attention paid to the speeches of the representatives of China and the US was quite telling); when I see this community of people who have such a wealth of knowledge of trade matters and negotiating skills, I tell myself that we must be able to reach an agreement on the Round in a not so distant future.
The day finishes with several overlapping receptions and other commitments — cocktails are not really my thing, but it's good to meet and talk to old — and new — friends in an informal setting. This evening it was cheese and sushi — a Swiss reception and a Japanese buffet. Tomorrow will start early with a meeting with ministers of the least-developed countries. They are at the centre of our concerns and attention.
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WTO Ministerial Day 0: “Not in my Name”
Long time no speak. It is even longer than the silence from FT Martin Lukes ... even if unlike him I was not “incarcerated” ...
Well, in a sense perhaps I was ... you have all been following the ups and down of the Doha Round since the Hong Kong Ministerial when we were in daily contact. You also have been following the economic crisis. The G20 meeting, the United Nations gatherings. The initiatives we took to monitor the trade front to help contain protectionism. Tough stuff. And, in the midst of that, millions lost their jobs. No wonder there is frustration out there! But there now seems to be some flicker of hope appearing. We have to try hard to turn it into a beam of light to brighten our economies.
We are just about to start the 7th WTO Ministerial gathering. At our headquarters we are bustling with activity. I hear that the Geneva airport VIP service is truly stretched. Over 110 ministers coming! For a small city like Geneva, this is a huge enterprise.
I hope we will get the chance to talk turkey at the Ministerial and see how we are all going to pull together to have trade play its role in the recovery. This is why my opening statement tomorrow will be “Unity is Strength”, an old Chinese proverb which I will try hard to pronounce in my best Mandarin! Can you imagine the face of my staff as I practise???
Officially, this Conference only starts on Monday afternoon, but there is a lot going on already. A lot more than we would wish. Did you hear what happened yesterday afternoon? A group of “black blocks” took advantage of a peaceful demonstration to perform acts of gratuitous violence, burning cars, breaking windows of shops and cafés and hurting civilians.
It is really sad to see that demonstrators — who have the right to make their views known, in a peaceful way — have their event hijacked by a group of people who preach violence for its own sake. Who have no alternative to offer but pain and devastation. They have destroyed the windows of one of our sister organizations. I felt like shouting: “Not in my name.” “No violence in the name of the WTO”! Let's keep our fingers crossed that they have understood the message from the people ...
On a more tranquil note, I am already meeting with trade ministers. El Salvador, Kenya, Bangladesh, Turkey, the G-20 ... I mean the WTO G20 agriculture coalition of developing countries; yeah, I know all of this sounds confusing ... and many more to come ... They all have the same message: “We need trade to grow and develop; we want to get the Doha Round concluded quickly.” They will be making their case over the coming days. I guess the best thing is for you to hear it from the horses' mouths. You can follow it all on our website. Stay tuned!