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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr14/05)
23 April 2014
Third World Network  

It's time to shift up a gear, WTO D-G tells TNC meeting
Published in SUNS #7780 dated 8 April 2014
 
Geneva, 7 Apr (Kanaga Raja) -- It is time to shift up a gear and move into a second phase, focused on resolving the problems that have been outlined - testing what went wrong and putting forward potential solutions, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told a formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Monday.
 
In his statement as Chair of the TNC, the D-G recalled the remarks he had made to the General Council meeting on 14 March, where he had said that members had made a strong start in the discussions towards developing a work programme for the conclusion of the Doha Round.
 
"Since then, the level of activity has increased again. And we have been making good progress," he told the TNC meeting, pointing out that all of the negotiating groups have held an open-ended meeting, with the exception of the Rules (Negotiating) Group which will be doing so shortly.
 
A number of delegations spoke following the TNC Chair's statement.
 
The LDC Group (Uganda speaking) said, amongst others, that the priority must be to focus on the implementation of those Bali agreements that are not legally binding. The LDC issues that are part of the Bali package should be addressed with the same vigour as the Trade Facilitation Agreement has been.
 
On agriculture, it said that the Rev. 4 text (December 2008 draft modalities text) should be the basis for the negotiations.
 
The ACP group (Kenya speaking) said that development, agriculture and LDC issues must be the priority for the work programme.
 
The G-20 (Brazil speaking) stressed that the Rev. 4 text must be the basis of the agriculture negotiations, adding that agriculture is the benchmark that will determine the landing zones in the other areas. It is the determinant for the overall level of ambition in the Doha Round.
 
In his statement to the TNC meeting, the D-G spoke of his impression that there has been a positive atmosphere in the consultations and that many members have expressed their willingness to be open-minded, creative and to work together to find a way forward.
 
"While positive, the consultations have not yet produced anything very new in terms of members' stated positions. Well known arguments around the ‘status of the modalities texts' or ‘the question of balance' or ‘sequencing' or the need for ‘new data' have been rehearsed," said the TNC Chair.
 
He further said that he sensed that people want to find a way forward - they know what is at stake for the multilateral trading system - and that people want to finish the job.
 
"Our task now is to match our desire for progress with an acceptance of the practical steps we need to take to achieve it. In my view, we have reached the end of the first phase of this process. It's time to shift things up a gear. We must now move into a second phase, focused on resolving the problems that we have been outlining - testing what went wrong and putting forward potential solutions," said Azevedo.
 
He said that everything that he has heard in recent days and weeks suggest that "we need to be deepening our discussions, and engaging in a more direct, purposeful manner in order to identify the best way forward."
 
"Rather than restating old positions and aiming for our perfect outcomes, we have to accept that there are no perfect outcomes. Instead, we have to focus on the art of the possible," he said, noting, for example, that some have been saying that there is need to conclude the negotiations using the 2008 texts as they are.
 
"Of course, these texts are an important - indeed fundamental - part of how to assess the situation. They are the result of a genuine attempt by the respective Chairs to strike a balance and to move towards a zone of convergence acceptable to all Members."
 
However, he said, despite their obvious contribution to the negotiations, Members could not agree on those texts when they were issued in 2008. Members could not agree on them at that time. Members cannot agree on them now, he added.
 
"If any of you insists that those texts are cast in stone and unalterable, then you have made a choice; a choice that irreparably condemns our efforts to failure. We therefore must resume our task of finding the balance and the convergence that would enable progress towards the conclusion of the Round."
 
The D-G stressed however that while it is true that the 2008 texts are not agreed, he firmly believed that they can offer very useful parameters to frame efforts in shaping a work program to conclude the Doha Development Agenda (DDA).
 
"We must build on the insights and recommendations contained in those texts. We cannot disregard all the work that was put into them. So let's use these texts as an important input to our work, but we have to look for solutions that can lead to convergence today," he said.
 
He added that it is his view that "we need to be creative in this exercise - rather than repeating well-known positions. I don't think that kind of discussion is conducive to where we need to go. Instead, we need to test what options we have to find new solutions."
 
The D-G said that in carrying out the work in this phase, it may be helpful to recall the parameters from the TNC meeting in February, which many members have adopted.
 
He cited these parameters as: Balancing realism and ambition by focusing on what is doable; being creative and open-minded; recognising that the issues are interconnected, so must be tackled together; being inclusive and transparent; maintaining our sense of urgency; and keeping development at the heart of the efforts.
 
He said that as members begin to put forward concrete ideas and proposals, these parameters will be even more crucial. "In my view, they are the sine qua non of everything we are trying to do here."
 
"And as we move into this new phase, I have asked the Chairs to further broaden their contacts with you and conduct increasingly focused conversations - aimed at identifying what we can do. Let's concentrate on what is possible; on what is doable."
 
Unfortunately, he said, "every time I talk to a delegation about ‘doability', I get the very same reaction from each and everyone of you. You all fear that ‘doability' is about taking the pressure off somebody else and keeping or increasing the pressure on you."
 
He added: "Let me assure you that, as far as I am concerned, ‘doability' is about finding a balance that works for everyone. So I suggest we put aside the conspiracy theories for the moment. I invite you to move into the second phase of our discussions with an open mind and in good faith. We will only succeed if we are all equally unhappy with the final outcomes. So, please be prepared. I urge you all to remain fully engaged."
 
The TNC Chair said that on the basis of his own consultations and what he has been hearing from Chairs, "I am increasingly of the view that whichever approach we take, we will need to tackle the really tough areas of agriculture, NAMA [non-agricultural market access] and services."
 
The D-G further said that he is "increasingly of the view that we must look at these issues in a more integrated way than we have (done) before. Of course, agriculture is a central focus, as was made clear in the Bali Declaration itself, but we cannot hide from the reality that once we start talking about one of these issues, the other two inevitably come into play."
 
"I am not for a moment suggesting that the round should be based only on these issues - but I think it is clear that if we do not make progress in the toughest areas first, then progress on other issues would be limited, if any," he underlined.
 
Stressing that he is planning to intensify his own work in these areas, working closely with these three Chairs and the others as well, Azevedo said that he will certainly begin to consider what kind of approaches on these three core issues might be possible.
 
"I think we need to do this in a way that respects the levels of ambition inherent in the draft texts under discussion in 2008, but equally we need to do it in a way that respects the flexibility that was sought by many of you and which is also somewhat reflected in those texts."
 
"Perhaps with some creative thinking - and openness to testing new possible solutions - we may be able to square this circle," he added.
 
"We have set ourselves a big challenge. We are trying to get an automobile that has been stuck in the mud, at the bottom of a very deep lake for 6 years, up and running and back on the road. We can't just jump in and drive it away. It will take a lot of work - a lot of cleaning, a lot of oiling - but we can do it."
 
The D-G further said: "This phase of work will be tougher - so I urge you be ready to increase your engagement, and maintain the positive, constructive tone that we have seen so far. As I have said - this is the moment to shift up a gear. Time is passing quickly. We are already in the second quarter of the year. Our December deadline is not so far away. But as long as we have engagement, I am sure that the task is achievable."
 
The D-G then invited the Chairs of the various negotiating groups to present their reports to the TNC.
 
(A report on the statements of delegations at the TNC meeting will appear in a forthcoming issue of SUNS.)

 


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