TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May09/01)
11 May 2009
Third World Network

Lamy presents his vision for another four years as WTO head
Published in SUNS #6691 dated 30 April 2009

Geneva, 29 Apr (Riaz Tayob) -- WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, in a statement before the General Council Wednesday, declared that concluding the Doha Development Round', and delivering on the negotiating mandate of the Doha Round remained the "litmus test of our collective ability to strengthen the global trading system."

Mr. Lamy, who is seeking a second four-year term, was setting out his vision statement for the next four years, said that the main objective of the WTO for the years to come, in his view, is to strengthen the role of the WTO as the global trade body, making it "more development-friendly, and more user-friendly', so that its benefits are felt by all, large and small, rich and poor, strong and weak."

WTO's core business, he said, was "opening markets and designing trade rules, and this is and will remain our unfinished business."

The primary purpose of the WTO was to "open trade for the benefit of all", and he remained convinced that the "gradual opening of domestic markets to international trade, with justifiable exceptions or with adequate flexibilities, allows achievement of sustainable development, raising people's welfare, reducing poverty and fostering peace and stability."

He repeated his view that in the seven years along the Doha Round path, "we are 80% of the way, and we have done it, with a bottom-up, inclusive process", and said it was necessary "to reset the process at a political level, building on where we left it last year."

Looking ahead beyond the Doha Round, Mr. Lamy spoke of "many new ideas floating around on potential areas for future work", and referred in this regard to the issues of climate change.

"The first step (on this)," he said, "should be a multilateral agreement embracing all major emitters that we all hope to see emerge at Copenhagen."

"Issues relating to food security, energy, labour, competition, investment or financial protectionism, however defined, are also in the air," he added.

He also mentioned the number of ideas being floated on the negotiating processes, and noted that they were now operating within three constraints: "decision-making by consensus, all negotiating items bundled into a single undertaking and a bottom-up negotiating process."

He did not think that the consensus about consensus' issue should be reopened, since taking decisions by consensus increased the legitimacy of agreements. On how to build consensus, the "well known concentric circles' approach is probably the only efficient method available. But it demanded rigorous transparency commitment by all. "We must recognise there is not yet enough transparency in the way we currently work - hence, there is room for improvement."

Responding to questions from members, after his long opening statement, Lamy said how the WTO would deal with climate change would depend on the outcome of Copenhagen, and the cap and trade' measures agreed.

The WTO, he claimed, had adjusted itself to international environment conventions, and referred in this connection to the Montreal protocol on ozone, the CITES and the Basel Hazardous Waste Conventions. Border measures, he said, should be hammered out at Copenhagen by environment and trade ministers. It was difficult to include such measures outside any Copenhagen agreement, he declared.

Two areas under the current WTO mandate, and which deserved more attention, in Lamy's view were Regional Trade Agreement and Rules of Origin.

On RTAs, he said, it was difficult to see why such deep concessions and commitments were undertaken in the context of preferential agreements, without any consequences in the multilateral context.. "If we are serious about the prevalence of the Moist-Favoured-Nation principle, we should collectively think about some way of gradually multilateralising' concessions made in free trade agreements."

This, he added, should provide food for thought for the Art. XXIV (customs unions and free trade areas) negotiators.

On Rules of Origin, Lamy said, the proliferation of different regimes - multilateral, regional, bilateral or even unilateral - needs, in my view to be addressed head-on, in order to simplify the lives of trade and economic operators."

Speaking on what he called "external stakeholders" - NGOs, parliaments, staffers, academics and businesses - Lamy spoke of need to strengthen networking and increasing transparency.

The most challenging outreach problem, he said, "remains the general public."

Lamy acknowledged: "The WTO has very high notoriety - but low popularity, even if this is changing, in particular in developing countries."

The WTO, he said, is too complex to be user-friendly, and "we need to think how we communicate in a friendlier way".

He added: "In sum, we need to change gear. The classic asymmetry in the politics of trade - the many who benefit are silent, and the few who suffer are vocal - means that the burden of proof is on us. It is for us to make the case for open markets and bette4r regulations. We need to have a better radar picture of media reporting on the WTO. Public perceptions continue to be dotted, especially in the non-English speaking world. There is a need for further engagement with domestic and regional media. And the WTO secretariat cannot do it alone. We need to work on this together."

In response to other questions from members, Lamy said that over the next four years he would speak less and listen more.

On the Doha round, and resuming negotiations, Mr. Lamy said that the US had now moved from whether they would participate in the Doha to how to participate. He referred in this connection to a recent presentation by the USTR Ron Kirk at the George Town Law University, and noted that Mr. Kirk would be in Geneva in the second week of May.

[Commenting on Mr. Kirk's address at the Georgetown University Law centre and his talk about a new approach to trade', a post at the International Economic Law and Policy blog (of US trade lawyers), said that the only news in that speech was that the Obama "the campaign positions on trade have been buried." - SUNS]

In his presentation earlier, Lamy envisaged the holding of a ministerial meeting later in the year, and citing some of the recent reports, said "we should de-dramatise ministerial meetings, make them a more regular exercise, where WTO activities are reviewed across the board, to ascertain the level of satisfaction of Members with running of WTO activities and to address priorities at a political level. We have not had a ministerial meeting since 2005, and my own sense is that we should not close 2009 without one. A regular ministerial meeting is one thing; ministerial involvement in negotiations is another. We should not confuse the two."

In response to another question, Mr. Lamy said he would leave UNCTAD, where work has been done on this issue, and within its area of competence, to address the issues of commodities.

The General Council at its afternoon session was to continue with questions from members to Lamy and his responses. The Council is due to elect Lamy for a second term on Thursday afternoon. "The chances of Lamy not being confirmed are infinitesimal", the WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said at a briefing on the General Council. +