Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Azevêdo warns against revisiting Bali decisions


Azevêdo warns against revisiting Bali decisions

Azevêdo warns against revisiting Bali decisions
Photo credit: WTO

Director-General Roberto Azevêdo, at the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting on 25 June 2014, noted concerns about efforts by some delegations to revisit the Trade Facilitation Agreement agreed in Bali. He warned that “everything we worked together to achieve in Bali would potentially be lost”. He assured members that the WTO Secretariat is “working hard” to ensure the provision of technical assistance to developing countries in trade facilitation.

Chairman’s statement and Oral Reports by the Chairs of the Bodies established by the TNC

Good morning everybody.

As I outlined at the meeting of the TNC in April and the General Council in May, we are now in the second phase of our discussions on the DDA work programme.

This second phase is focused on resolving the problems that we have been outlining, testing what went wrong and putting forward potential solutions.

The work is taking place at three levels:

  • First, through the negotiating group chairs
  • Second, in conversations between Members, which I hear are beginning to develop and deepen – and this is very welcome.
  • And third, through my own consultations.

In a moment I will give you my overview of how I see this work progressing. But I will start by asking the Negotiating Group Chairs to give their reports on how the discussions have developed in their respective areas.

Before I turn to the main focus of my remarks, I would like to raise something which is not an immediate part of our TNC work – but which could be of great relevance to our chances of making progress here. This relates to the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

I am aware that there are concerns about actions on the part of some delegations which could compromise what was negotiated in Bali last December. As Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, I have no doubt that you are all very much aware of the implications of revisiting what was agreed in Bali. It would not only compromise the Trade Facilitation Agreement – including the technical assistance element. All of the Bali decisions – every single one of them – would be compromised. Everything we worked together to achieve in Bali would potentially be lost.

On Section 2 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement I know from my consultations that there are concerns among developing and least-developed Members about accessing the necessary support. So we have been working very hard to address these concerns and ensure the provision of technical assistance to everyone, without exceptions.

My team and I have been intensely talking to donors and consulting with the Coordinators of the ACP, African and LDC Groups to try to find a solution that would allow the WTO to assist those seeking technical assistance and capacity building support. Such a solution should:

  • create the best possible conditions for the flow of information between donors and recipients on their needs and options;
  • assist Members in preparing and updating their needs assessments;
  • help Members to develop technical assistance projects;
  • identify possible development partners for countries that might have had difficulties doing so by themselves;
  • and ensure that resources are available for all those seeking technical assistance.

We expect to be able to set out a new WTO facility along these lines before the summer break.

I need not point out that most likely all of this would be lost if we compromise what was negotiated in Bali. And I am afraid a similar outcome could be expected for the work programme on the DDA. Revisiting the Bali agreements would not improve our chances of getting the DDA done. In fact it would have precisely the opposite effect. This is a serious issue for our work here. While I have stressed that this is not strictly a TNC issue, it does have implications for our work.

However, not least because the consequences would be so significant, I am confident that we will find a way forward which allows us to honour what was agreed in Bali and deal with any specific concerns. Clearly this is something which we will need to watch very closely.

Turning back to the focus of this meeting, from the chairs’ reports and from what I hear in my own consultations with individual delegations, it seems to me that we are now firmly into the second phase of discussions on the DDA work programme.

Members are engaging at a more substantive and strategic level. You have begun to talk about substance. In the first phase we were talking more about process and how to reengage, and we agreed on some broad principles.

  • To keep development at the heart of our efforts
  • To balance realism and ambition by focusing on what is doable
  • To be creative and open-minded
  • To recognise that the big issues are interconnected so must be tackled together
  • To be inclusive and transparent
  • And to maintain our sense of urgency

These principles have been widely adopted by Members, and they should continue to guide discussions in this second phase. I think we heard this in the chairs’ reports today.

But, it seems to me that while Members are observing the principles, we are still not at a point where the conversations actively and resolutely seek potential solutions. We are still in a different type of conversation that is more concerned about pointing to the problems that we find in each other’s positions. Members are ready to point fingers at insufficiencies in other Members’ positions. Members are also quick to say that they cannot do this and that, and to mark out their red lines. But I am not hearing – not from anyone – about what they can do. I am not hearing what they can put on the table that would make trade-offs possible.

On the positive side, all of you have indicated that you are ready to contribute. But our dialogue is falling short of determining more precisely where and how that contribution would take shape. This is the next step we will need to take if we are to look at what the solutions might be and find where the balance between the different positions may lie. So this is what we are now beginning to explore. It is hard work. And it means that Members will need to ask themselves some tough questions. But there is no other way of doing this.

I believe it is useful to dispel certain rumours that I have heard in the corridors. One of them concerns a paper that is supposedly going to come from me, or from someone else, which would provide a magical path forward. Let me clear yet: this is not going to happen. I don’t know how much more clear I can get! This will be a bottom-up process. Any roadmaps will have to come from Members – they will have to come from you. There are no magic solutions or short-cuts here.

Another rumour is that I have been holding meetings with a small group of countries. And so, again, I want be clear – I am not holding meetings with small groups of delegations. Indeed, there have been no group meetings whatsoever with me. I am talking to delegations individually – this is no secret. And not just to a small number of specific delegations, but to many different delegations on many different issues. If and when I hold meetings with some delegations, it will be in a transparent fashion and you will be the first to know. I will try to help and facilitate the conversation and I am willing to intensify my consultations if it is helpful. But this is your process – it has to be led by you. That is why it is so important that you continue to deepen your conversations with each other in this second phase.

Clearly we are in a very different scenario from when we were preparing for Bali with open-ended meetings in Room W – all-nighters – you remember how it was. We will get to that stage in due course – you will get your sleepless nights! But we are not there yet – we have some way to go. As I see it, we are still at the stage of laying the foundations.

A lot of work needs to be done in setting the terrain and preparing the ground before we can begin to build. People may not see concrete things happening at the moment – you cannot yet see the edifice rising. Some may find it frustrating, and it may well be. But this is essential work. If we do not do it right then the building will never go up – or it will fall before it is complete. But, if we prepare the ground correctly and construct solid foundations then, when we are ready, I think the building will go up fairly quickly. So I believe that this kind of work is critical. The conversations you are having with each other to test positions and test ideas are critical; as is the work of the negotiating group chairs – and as, I hope, are my own consultations. So we need to continue this work and to redouble our efforts.

What is important to remember is that work is being done, we have genuine engagement, and we are talking substance. We are sowing the seeds. They need time to germinate.

I am sure that we all feel the presence of the December deadline, just beyond the horizon. But I think there are reasons for a positive attitude. In recent weeks we have moved from talking about process, to talking about substance – with a focus on the three pivotal and interlinked areas of agriculture, NAMA and services. And let us remember that this is something that hasn’t happened for 6 years. Moreover, we have defined a set of clear principles for the conversations ahead.

And Members have been very open and constructive. We are not throwing away the work that was done before. This is extremely important – it must be emphasized. But we are being open-minded about how to close the existing negotiating gaps.

So let us continue developing our work at each of the three levels – with a renewed focus on what Members can do. And let us keep preparing the ground. If we do this properly, we will be able to construct the clearly defined work programme that we were tasked to deliver by the Bali declaration. Thank you very much for listening.


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