Statement by the Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Roberto Azevedo at the ACP Trade Ministers meeting, 21 October 2015, Brussels
I am very pleased to be with you today. This conversation couldn't be more timely, and I hope it will also be very interactive.
I saw many of you yesterday at the African Union meeting, and I apologise in advance if I repeat some of the messages I gave during that session.
I would like to start by recognizing the key role played by the ACP in Geneva – and particularly the work of Ambassador Marion Williams as the Coordinator of the ACP Group.
The ACP Group is very important in the WTO's work – and not just because it represents well over a third of the membership, but also because the Group is very dynamic and is always at the forefront of the debate. In recent months it has been very proactive, tabling proposals on S&D and bringing forward a range of other proposals.
This leadership will be even more vital as we approach our Nairobi ministerial conference in December.
We now have less than 8 weeks until the beginning of the ministerial conference.
It is the WTO's first ministerial conference to be held in Africa since the organization was created in Marrakesh two decades ago. This underlines the importance of delivering outcomes for development.
But it will also be a milestone in terms of the future of the organization. What we deliver in Nairobi, and the path that we follow after Nairobi will be crucial in determining the future role of this organization as a forum for trade negotiations. I will come back to this point in a few moments.
But first I want to give an overview of the negotiations as they stand today.
We have worked hard in Geneva to advance things as far and as fast as possible.
But despite these very intensive efforts on all of the core DDA issues, I must report that – apart from in a few specific areas – little progress has been made.
In my assessment today, I may say that we will not be able to deliver on many of the major DDA issues such as agricultural domestic support, for example, or on market access – whether agricultural, non-agricultural, or services.
In other words, we will not successfully conclude the DDA in Nairobi.
Despite this, I think there is a clear desire to deliver important outcomes in Nairobi. And there are some areas where outcomes look more feasible.
This does not mean that we will be able to deliver in all – or even in any – of these areas. It simply means that delivery in those areas is more likely than in the core issues, where convergence is absolutely impossible in the near future.
Let me say a few words about each of these potential deliverables.
First, export competition in agriculture.
An outcome here would be a very significant breakthrough. It would be the WTO's most significant negotiated outcome on agriculture, which has long been the top priority for developing countries.
This is an important opportunity to get results that we have been trying very hard to secure for so long. Developed countries will be the ones contributing the most here. So if you want to guarantee results in this area, you'll need to be actively engaged supporting this demand.
Next, I think we can deliver a meaningful package of LDC and development issues. I think this is doable and I'm confident that the have the necessary political will to get it done.
Let's start with Special and Differential Treatment.
I welcome the proposals submitted by the ACP Group, together with the LDC and Africa groups before the summer break.
The proposal has some very, very ambitious elements and an intensive process is underway to review it in detail. Some real and very stark differences exist. Very clear red lines have been drawn by others in the negotiations. Given the ambition of some of the requests, I must say that I understand why the negative reaction was so firm.
It may still be possible to deliver some important elements on S&D treatment, but it will require a lot of compromise from both sides. I urge you to engage closely in these discussions.
Moving on to LDC issues – these issues should be an integral part of the Nairobi package and taking forward the LDC specific decisions of the Bali package is, in my view, critical.
Bali included provisions to improve DFQF market access for LDC goods, advancing the outcomes of Hong Kong in 2005. We should try to make concrete progress here in Nairobi.
To facilitate the utilization of these preferential schemes by LDCs, Ministers adopted, for the first-time, multilateral guidelines on rules of origin. There is room for advancements here as well.
Bali also set the stage for the adequate implementation of the LDC Services Waiver. To date, 17 Members – including the major markets – have notified their intention to offer preferences in sectors and modes of supply of export interest to LDCs. I am urging others to come forward with their notifications as soon as possible.
Cotton issues were also part of Bali – and we are seeing important engagement here – including on the proposal recently submitted by the C4. I think that in domestic support we will find it tough to make progress, but I believe that meaningful results are possible for the cotton file.
So these are the most promising areas for LDC deliverables. I will of course continue to engage with Members to ensure that we deliver a credible package for LDCs in Nairobi. It is however essential that we base our work on textual proposals.
The final potential deliverable is transparency provisions, which could cover issues such as antidumping and fishery subsidies.
This is another area where I think convergence is possible, but where it is perhaps less clear how active the demandeurs will be. Developing countries have called for transparency provisions on anti-dumping and fisheries subsidies in the past. Certainly there are not a lot of demandeurs among developed countries.
So members will need to decide whether they want to move forward on these issues, or not.
These potential deliverables do not represent a perfect outcome – they simply represent what seems to be possible or achievable at this stage.
Nevertheless it is clear that they could have real economic and developmental significance. And, as I mentioned at the outset, just as important as any deliverables in Nairobi will be the direction of our work after Nairobi. There are big decisions to take about the future of the system.
As I have said before, even if we deliver all of the elements I have mentioned today in Nairobi, clearly it would not be viable, or credible, to announce it as a satisfactory conclusion of the DDA.
So how do we take forward the outstanding issues after Nairobi?
Many say that if there is no consensus to end the Doha Round then negotiations would simply have to continue – and that we should state this clearly in Nairobi.
But there is an equally firm opinion that if we do not deliver Doha by Nairobi then the DDA is over in its present form as it has not delivered and will not deliver any time soon.
It seems to me that all members agree to continue negotiations in the future on all of the DDA core issues, such as agriculture, market access, and services. They would remain on the agenda – I think there is consensus on that. However there is no agreement on how these negotiations should take place: whether under the present Doha framework, or whether under some new architecture.
Clearly these views will be quite difficult – if not downright impossible – to reconcile before Nairobi.
But this is not the only question we have to answer concerning our post-Nairobi work.
In fact, we all know that negotiations on a wide range of issues are already taking place outside the WTO. If we limit or paralyze conversations within the WTO (keeping the activities of the organisation limited to monitoring and dispute settlement), it will not mean that conversations on other trade issues don’t take place. It just means that they happen somewhere else – and in formats where developing voices most likely will not be heard – including the voices of the ACP.
TTIP, which is being discussed this week in Miami, and TPP, which was signed by 12 nations earlier this month, are good examples.
TPP has chapters covering issues like: development; rules of origin; sanitary and phytosanitary measures; electronic commerce; and SMEs. These are issues which I hear being raised by ACP members all the time.
You will need to keep this in mind as you think about how you want these issues to evolve, and where. You must have a clear view on your strategy; on your game plan for the future. What you decide to do in and after Nairobi will shape the future of the WTO and of trade negotiations in general.
And let me clear – I don’t have any particular or hidden agenda here. My agenda is plain to see. I want the system to be operational and capable of helping to deliver growth and development for all of you.
So we need to find a way of dealing with the divergent opinions you may have about the future. If you want to shape the future of the discussion on issues that are important to you, you stand a much better chance if you are united.
Yesterday, the African Union told me that they want to aim towards adopting a Ministerial Declaration in Nairobi. I think this is the common view of that group.
And we have started a discussion on this issue in Geneva. I have designated facilitators to consult members on my behalf while I'm away from the city. When I return, I will convene a meeting of all members to discuss these issues. And at that point all members will determine how to take this forward.
Clearly this will be a very important conversation. Be ready for it.
A huge amount is at stake in the coming weeks – in terms of the potential Nairobi deliverables, and in terms of what success, or failure, would mean for the future of the WTO.
I urge you all to recognize what is at stake. And I hope you will engage very closely in all of this work in the coming weeks. I will be here to help you. And I assure you that the process will continue to be open, transparent and inclusive at every stage.
I will be engaging with the ACP Group throughout the process – including at your Ambassadors and Experts Retreat in Lausanne in two weeks' time.
And I look forward to hearing your views today.
But, before I conclude, I have two very quick points to make.
While we are fighting to reach new negotiated outcomes, it is essential that we implement those we have already agreed on.
I heard the Secretary-General making a timely call on the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement just now – and I second that call.
I urge you all to take forward your domestic ratification processes. 51 members have ratified the TFA to date – so we are pretty much halfway to the Agreement entering into force. But this number includes just 6 of the 61 ACP members.
Implementing the TFA will mean helping to cut your trade costs, and expediting the technical assistance that the Agreement provides for, including through the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility. So it is important that you take this forward.
We also need to act on the amendment to the TRIPS Agreement.
This amendment will remove the barriers preventing access to medicines in the poorest nations. It came about as a demand of the African countries. So we need to finish the task. On this score, only 13 of the 61 ACP members have notified their formal acceptance of the amendment.
We only need 21 more for the amendment to come into force. So I encourage you to do all you can to accelerate your domestic ratification processes on both of these points.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to our discussion.