Friday, November 25, 2011

Treading the middle path?

The WTO website today quoted the Chair of the General Council reporting as follows :

"Thank you all for coming to this informal meeting.  We are now less than three weeks from the start of MC8.  You will recall that the last time we met in this format I announced that I would begin consultations on possible elements for Ministers’ political guidance under the first two boxes in my template — the Importance of the Multilateral Trading System and the WTO, and, Trade and Development.  The third box, on the DDA, is under the responsibility of the Director-General.
During this most recent phase in my consultative process I have met repeatedly with all the Group coordinators, with a large number of individual delegations and with delegations in various group formats including a focus group of Members covering a broad range of the membership.  I have also coordinated this work with the Chairs of the Subsidiary Bodies, who have done some very valuable work.  I thank them.   As ever, my door has also remained open for any delegation wishing to meet me and a number of you have taken advantage of this.  And I want to reaffirm that, according to our principles of transparency and inclusiveness, it is only the full membership who can reach consensus.  It is in keeping with these principles that I want to give you an account of the elements that have emerged from my consultations so far and hear your views. 
In presenting these elements to you, I want to be very clear.  Let me stress that these elements need to be considered as “work in progress”.  I am not presenting them as anything that they are not.  They represent a possible minimum level of convergence but clearly we cannot claim that they are agreed yet.  Whether we can build further on them is up to you, the Members.  Before I report on the substance of these elements, I wish to inform you that my statement will be circulated after this meeting so you will have an accurate account. 
On the first theme on the Importance of MTS and WTO: First, I have heard the need to emphasize the value of the rules-based multilateral trading system, to strengthen it and to make it more responsive to the needs of Members, especially in the current challenging global economic environment, in order to stimulate economic growth, employment and development.
Second, I have also heard the need to reaffirm the importance of the WTO’s role in keeping markets open and to resist protectionism.  In this regard Members have pointed to the DG’s report on recent developments in the trading system. 
I have also heard the need to stress the importance of the work of regular WTO bodies.  Particular points which emerged in this connection were their role in the oversight of implementing existing Agreements; dispute avoidance and encouraging transparency through monitoring and reporting, and as a forum for the consideration of trade-related issues raised by Members.  I have also seen support for strengthening and improving the functioning of the regular bodies.
With regard to the Dispute Settlement System, my consultations have shown Members recognize that it is an important asset and are committed to strengthening it, including through concluding the DSU review negotiations.
Everyone I have consulted so far welcomes the accession of Vanuatu, Samoa and the Russian Federation.  I noted a widespread recognition that accession contributes to strengthening the multilateral trading system.  There was also broad support for committing to efforts to facilitate accession, in particular those of LDCs.  And I am sure we all welcome the outcome of recent work in the LDC Sub-Committee. 
Turning to the second theme on Trade and Development, I have seen that development is a core element of the WTO’s work and that there is need for focused work in the relevant WTO bodies, in particular the CTD, to further examine the positive link between trade and development. 
I have seen wide recognition of the need to further integrate developing countries, particularly LDCs and small and vulnerable economies, into the multilateral trading system.
Also, with regard to LDCs, I saw convergence on the need to acknowledge their needs and to commit to ensuring that their interests are given due priority in the future work of the WTO.
There was also convergence that S&D provisions are an integral part of the WTO agreements and that the Doha mandate to review them with a view to strengthening them and making them more precise, effective and operational should be fulfilled.  In my consultations Members have also reiterated the importance of expediting work towards finalising the Monitoring Mechanism for S&D treatment.
On Aid for Trade, there was convergence on the need to take note of progress made and of the Third Global Aid for Trade Review.  From what I have heard in my consultations, there also appears to be convergence to maintain, beyond 2011, Aid for Trade levels that at least reflect the average of the period 2006 - 2008.  Also in the context of Aid for Trade, I have noted readiness to work with development banks to ensure the availability of trade finance to low income countries.  With regard to the WTO Global Trust Fund, my consultations have shown commitment to continue funding it in a predictable and timely manner to enable the Secretariat to continue to provide the required Technical Assistance and Capacity Building. 
I thought I would share with you these elements and get your feedback before I report to the General Council.  Clearly they are rather general in nature and I am sure many of you would like to make them more specific.  However my consultations have shown that convergence becomes more elusive the higher the level of specificity.  As always I remain in your hands, but if we are to build on these elements in the very short time remaining there will be need for more flexibility and understanding from each of you.  
Given the general understanding that MC8 is not to going be a negotiating meeting, and the need to provide for adequate preparation for your Ministers, there is a need for us to take stock of where we have got to sufficiently in advance of the Ministerial.  As you all know, I have always worked on the basis that our benchmark in this process should be the level of success we can reach.  In other words, that we continue our efforts to build incremental convergence up until it is clear we cannot go further.  I have heard from many delegations that this means the General Council of 30 November.  Their view is that whatever level of convergence we have reached by then on the elements of political guidance in all three areas — systemic, development and DDA — will be what goes to the Ministers for their endorsement.  This would be in line with the “no surprises” principle.
Of course agreeing to such a limit to our convergence-seeking process does not mean that issues on which there is no convergence are forgotten.  Ministers are free to pursue them in their speeches, as can delegations in the future.  It just means that we enable our Ministers to have an orderly meeting.
Another idea which has been gaining support in my consultations relates to the outcome document.  The idea to have a Conference Chair’s statement which would have two parts — one would be the elements on which we have reached consensus, and the other would be the Chair’s summary of the main points he has heard in the Ministerial discussions.
I intend to hold a further informal HoDs meeting on Tuesday 29 November where we can take stock of progress in all three political guidance boxes — systemic, development and DDA.  Together with the Director-General, I will be preparing this meeting through further consultations.  We will also need to take up a number of administrative issues related to the Ministerial at that meeting."

Attempt to bring convergence or treading the middle path? 

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