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General Council, Wednesday 3 May 2000

Director-General's Report on Consultations

Agenda Item 7 – Measures in Favour of Least-Developed Countries

With your permission, I will make a few general comments on the consultative process before reporting on the progress made concerning measures in favour of least-developed countries.

The General Council agreed on 8 February that I should carry out consultations in co-operation with you on a number of issues that I had identified in my report to that meeting. These issues were, as reflected in the agenda items for today's Council, measures in favour of least-developed countries, capacity-building through technical co-operation, implementation including transition period issues, and internal transparency and the effective participation of Members.

On the first three of these issues I have, in agreement with you, conducted consultations, aided most ably by my deputies. We have also been fortunate to have the active support of the Chairman of the Council for Trade in Goods, who at your request has carried out consultations on TRIMs transition periods.

You yourself have taken the lead in consulting on the fourth issue, internal transparency and the effective participation of Members. I understand you will be reporting on this later.

This has been a very intensive consultative process. In the course of the last three months we have consulted both widely and deeply. I have reported to informal meetings of the General Council on three different occasions, and there has been a full and lively exchange of views at these meetings on the issues under consultation.

I would like to thank all delegations for their co-operative and constructive spirit throughout this process. I would like to thank my colleagues in the Secretariat for their hard and devoted work. I would also like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your support and leadership, as well as the Goods Council Chair, Ambassador Pérez del Castillo.

The objectives we set ourselves in February can be seen as modest from some points of view. I would prefer to say realistic. The results may not meet everyone's hopes in all cases. But when you look at where we started from I believe there is good reason to be encouraged about the resilience and dynamism of the WTO system, and what we are capable of doing when we work together.

Let me now report on measures in favour of least-developed countries.

On Market Access, the results of the consultations are encouraging, especially if they are seen, as I suggest they should be, as a significant step in a continuing process of improvement. I am encouraged that Canada, the EC, Japan and the United States have proposed to implement both tariff-free and quota-free treatment, consistent with domestic requirements and international agreements, under their preferential schemes, for essentially all products originating in least-developed countries.

I am glad to say that we have also had indications from the following Members that they have taken, or are intending to take, measures to improve the access of LDCs to their markets: Chile, Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Korea, Norway, New Zealand, Slovenia and Switzerland.

These measures are, of course, in addition to those which have already been taken by a number of Members since the 1997 High-Level Meeting for LDCs or indeed earlier. I should also note that one delegation, Hong Kong China, has reminded us that they give free access to imports from all sources, including LDCs.

I should emphasize that these are autonomous and voluntary measures, and I assume that Members extending access benefits to LDCs would wish them to be known. For this reason, I suggest that Members inform the Membership as a whole, in line with existing decisions and through the appropriate bodies, whenever they take any such actions in the future.

Collectively, these measures are beginning to add up to tangible and meaningful market access improvements in favour of LDCs. There is of course more that can and should be done in improving LDCs' market access, but this is a good starting-point.

There is a clear will among the membership as a whole to do more to open up trading opportunities for LDCs, and this is a very positive sign. Of course there are understandable concerns about issues such as potential trade diversion. This is why I believe that, at appropriate intervals, we should keep under review the evolution of market access provisions for LDCs, not only to help ensure a positive impact for LDCs, but also to avoid any unforeseen negative effects on other Members.

Secondly, I should like to bring you up to date on the state of play on the Integrated Framework.

The IF is a vital aspect of our efforts to address the trade-related capacity-building needs of LDCs, and assist their integration into the multilateral trading system. It is one of my top-most priorities and I am concerned that it is not so far fulfilling the justified expectations of Members. The IF also requires close coordination among the six core agencies, and therefore is a very important element in our mandate for coherence with other international organizations.

We initiated a meeting of the Geneva-based agency heads on the IF, and are now following up at chef de cabinet level on this process. I discussed it with the other agency heads at the UNCTAD meeting in Bangkok, and recently at the meeting of the UN Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) in Rome, I emphasised the need for the IF to work effectively for LDCs, and for a stronger, more coherent line of approach to the IF. I believe that the WTO Secretariat will be in a position to provide a lead in this field and I am taking steps to make sure that happens. At our suggestion, the Executive Heads of the UN system organizations have agreed that the WTO, as the lead agency for the IF, will report back to the ACC at its next session.

The IF is currently undergoing a major review mandated by the six core agencies. This is well advanced. An independent Review Team, task-managed by the World Bank, was in Geneva from 17-20 April. The Team met with the representatives of all the Geneva-based core Agencies (ITC, UNCTAD, and the WTO Secretariat). I also had a useful and productive meeting with the Team Leader. The Team also met with virtually all Geneva-based LDCs and a wide spectrum of other Members, developed and developing.

The Team's report will be ready by the first week of June. The Heads of the 6 core Agencies (World Bank, IMF, ITC, UNCTAD and UNDP) will meet on 6 July in New York to report – a meeting held at our suggestion. We shall then report to the respective governing bodies of our Organizations.

I should also report that in my recent meeting with the President of the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn was very supportive of our efforts on the IF and, more generally, our work to improve co-operation with other agencies in the interests of WTO Members. I will report more fully on these points when the General Council discusses the coherence issue.

In support of these efforts and on-going developments, I have also been considering ways of enhancing institutional arrangements for addressing LDC matters in the WTO, including Secretariat arrangements. There has been some discussion among Members as to whether, in present circumstances, the existing Sub-Committee on LDCs should be converted to a new Committee on LDCs, and whether new Secretariat arrangements should be made to service such a new Committee if it were to be established.

I understand that, while there is some support for the establishment of a new Committee as a stronger signal that the WTO is fully focused on addressing LDCs' concerns meaningfully and effectively, others feel that the present structure is working well and provides a valuable link between LDC questions and the full Committee on Trade and Development, its parent body. This is an issue which may deserve further consideration.

Finally, Accessions. Many of our Members considered that Accessions is a subject which is not limited to LDCs. Nonetheless, Members, developed and developing, have been flexible. In concrete terms, my consultations show that a fast-track system on accessions for LDCs would involve only a few countries. Therefore, a generalized, long-term effort would not be required. It was also recognized that action in this area would entail enhanced technical assistance. However, I understand that Members are prepared to consider favourably the possibilities for accelerating the pace of accession for LDCs, bearing in mind that the pace of accession also depends on institutional capacity in the LDCs themselves. It has been suggested that WTO Members could strive to complete current LDCs' accessions by the time of the Fourth Session of the Ministerial Conference.

There is my report on measures in favour of least-developed countries, Mr Chairman. Thank you.