Building capacity to help Africa trade better

DG Azevêdo urges flexibility and political will for a successful Ministerial Conference


DG Azevêdo urges flexibility and political will for a successful Ministerial Conference

DG Azevêdo urges flexibility and political will for a successful Ministerial Conference
Photo credit: Israel Trade and Economic Office

In his report to the General Council on 7 December about the potential outcomes of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference, Director-General Roberto Azevêdo urged WTO members to “seize the last opportunity to show the flexibility and political will that we need” for a successful Ministerial Conference that is “essential to support growth and development for all members”. This is what he said:

Thank you, Mr Chairman.

As I outlined at our Room W meeting yesterday, I foresee this being a very short meeting. 

We have a lot of work still to do. In a moment I will give you my report, and I will try to keep it short and factual. I suggest that we do not have a lengthy discussion. The key task for us now is to keep advancing our work on the potential Nairobi deliverables and on the text of the Ministerial Declaration. 

So with that in mind, here is my report. 

The last time I addressed the General Council under this item was on the 8th of October. At that meeting, I reported that progress on some key issues, namely domestic support and market access in agriculture, NAMA and services, continued to prove extremely difficult.

I therefore suggested that it was time for members to start working intensely on issues where there appeared to be more convergence and which could provide potential deliverables for MC10.

Since that report to the General Council, a range of meetings and consultations have taken place in respective negotiating bodies, by Chairs in different configurations or through Friends of the TNC Chair. In addition, members have continued to convene meetings themselves, and I have continued to hold my own consultations. 

Before I provide you with brief highlights on the state of play in this work, I wish to mention that written reports on these issues have been circulated by respective Chairs or Friends of the TNC Chair, which you can consult for more details. I will come back to this in a moment.

On the issue of written reports, the TNC has reported obligations to the General Council – and through the General Council to the Ministerial Conference. Therefore written reports have been circulated by all Chairs of bodies established by the TNC, under their own responsibilities.

The reports have been circulated in the following official documents that I will read for the record:

In addition, written reports have been circulated on LDC issues by Friends of the TNC Chair in the following official documents:

  • A Report on Preferential Rules of Origin for LDCs by Ambassador Steffen Smidt in document TN/C/17

  • A Report by Ambassador Eyjólfsson on the LDC Services Waiver in document TN/C/18

  • And I have circulated a report on Duty Free and Quota Free Market Access for LDCs in document TN/C/16.

I will not be inviting the Chairs and Friends to introduce these reports, but would encourage delegations to read them carefully as they prepare to brief their ministers.

I will just say a word now on each of the potential deliverables, as that work is still going on. I will start with Agriculture, where a range of issues are under consideration for Nairobi. 

The Chair of the Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture has held several consultations on the issue of the SSM, on which the G33 has circulated two proposals. The consultations on the most recent of these have continued to show entrenched and widely divergent positions. Proponents of the SSM have stressed that they consider the SSM to be a balancing element in relation to other potential outcomes for Nairobi. 

Other members have maintained their position that an outcome on SSM was not possible in the absence of a broader outcome on agriculture market access. Given these sustained divergent views, the negotiations on this issue have reached an impasse, but work in various formats continues.

The Chair has also held several consultations on the separate issue of public stockholding. There has been a new submission from the G33 and also one from Australia, Paraguay and Canada. G33 members have called for a permanent solution to be adopted this year in Nairobi, citing the General Council Decision of 28 November 2014. They have noted that the recent G33 proposal seeks to address the systemic concerns of members. 

Others consider that the proposal still does not adequately address a variety of concerns, both systemic and trade-related. The latest consultations, based on the proposed texts, have not so far taken us much closer to convergence, but as with the SSM, work continues in various formats. 

On export competition, the Chair has initiated a text-based negotiation process using the Rev. 4 text as a basis and taking also into account textual proposals by members. So far these consultations have not led to significant convergence either. Among other issues, specific substantive concerns continue to be expressed about the timeframes and conditions envisaged for the elimination of export subsidies, repayment terms in the area of export finance, coverage of self-financing provisions, special and differential treatment, transparency provisions, monetisation in food aid – it’s a large list of issues which are still unresolved. Intensive work is continuing on export competition, as on the other issues.

On cotton, the C4 circulated a proposal which was introduced in the Special Session. Delegations have moved into a text-based negotiation based on this proposal, including its list of products of interest, as well as on written inputs from members. On the basis of these negotiations, a draft text has been circulated by the Chair on his own responsibility. This is close to being finalised for consideration at Nairobi, leaving options open on the most controversial issues for ministers to consider and decide upon. 

In addition, as you know, paragraph 11 of the Bali Decision on Cotton says that a progress report on the implementation of the trade-related components of cotton should be submitted by the Director-General at each Ministerial Conference. I will therefore shortly be circulating this report, which will be concise and factual.

Now let me turn to transparency issues. I will start with services, where I understand that the Council for Trade in Services in Special Session is taking into consideration two recently submitted proposals on possible outcomes regarding transparency in services. These consist of a submission by Australia and Canada on transparency in domestic regulation and a submission by India on services transparency in measures relating to temporary entry of natural persons. An informal meeting to discuss these proposals is scheduled to take place tomorrow.

In the rules area, I understand that the Group has continued to work intensively, with efforts to sharpen and consolidate proposals for outcomes, notably in fisheries subsidies and in anti-dumping and countervailing measures. The Group received new proposals last week and is continuing to discuss them. However, I also understand that the Group so far has not seen convergence on the proposals, and that the environment has not so far contributed to a high level of engagement.

Turning to the S&D Agreement-Specific Proposals, work is continuing on the basis of the most recent submission made by the G90.

I have been given to understand that on some proposals the text-based negotiations have advanced somewhat, although a lot more work is still required – while, on others, more significant gaps remain. Members will need to continue their efforts with an open mind and a sense of flexibility and accommodation in order to make progress. 

The Chair of the CTD Special Session intends to continue meeting in a small group format up to and including tomorrow, with the aim of further fine-tuning text and endeavouring to finalize a potential package for Nairobi.

On DFQF, as I indicated in my written report, some progress has been made during the past few months in taking forward this issue. But we will have to find common ground on this issue in case it is to be part of the developmental outcomes we are striving for at MC10. As of today, no specific textual proposal has been tabled either by the LDC Group, or by any of its members. This would be a crucial step. 

With regard to LDCs and services, you will recall that Bangladesh on behalf of the LDC Group circulated a draft Ministerial Decision. I asked Ambassador Eyjólfsson to facilitate discussions on this item on my behalf. During informal consultations, delegations representing the LDCs as well as preference-granting members asked Ambassador Eyjólfsson to facilitate discussions by preparing a draft based on the LDC Group’s proposal, with a view to bridging gaps between delegations’ positions and advancing the process.

This draft was issued in a document dated 1 December 2015. Open-ended informal consultations on the text took place on the 3rd of December, where members agreed that the Chairman’s draft presented an acceptable basis for further work. On this basis, Ambassador Eyjólfsson is continuing his consultations.

On LDC rules of origin, I understand the delegations are close to reaching an agreement on a draft ministerial decision, but that some additional consultations are still needed to get there.

It is encouraging that there are potential outcomes on the table for some of these issues. But, again, in all areas, there is a long way still to go. 

Work will be continuing on a number of these issues after this meeting, and I hope we can resume those conversations as soon as possible so that we can go to Nairobi in better shape. 

Turning to the work on the Ministerial Declaration for Nairobi, as members will recall, at the last General Council, there was a discussion about the urgent need to address this issue – specifically what the declaration should cover, and how we should arrive at a text.

I appointed Ambassadors Gabriel Duque, of Colombia; Harald Neple, of Norway; and Stephen Karau of Kenya, as my facilitators on the Ministerial Declaration.

The facilitators consulted extensively with delegations. Their report on these consultations set out the views across the membership on the structure, elements and process to lead members to a consensual text.

There was convergence early in this process on a “Bali-like” declaration in three parts.

The facilitators’ report highlighted the urgent need to move to a text-based discussion.

It was also clear that textual proposals for the Declaration would come from members themselves – and so this is the approach we took.

Over 20 written proposals were submitted by members individually or in groups. The facilitators’ compilation of texts reflecting proposals submitted was circulated to members.

This was followed by a heading-by-heading consideration of the compilation in order to have a clear understanding of members’ reactions to other members’ proposals – and importantly where convergence could be possible and where more work would be required to bridge differences. 

The facilitators were then requested to present a draft consolidated text to facilitate their discussions towards a consensual Ministerial Declaration. 

As instructed by members, the text did not provide language on the most contentious issues that had been identified by members earlier in the process, particularly the reaffirmation of the DDA and instructions on the way forward, and new issues.

The full membership has been meeting over recent days, including over the weekend, to try to further streamline the text. This process will also continue after this meeting. 

I am also beginning to engage with members, in different configurations, on the more contentious issues, as I outlined a moment ago. My consultations will also continue after this meeting. 

So that’s where we stand today. 

We have only three outcomes from our regular work – on small economies, non-violation and situation complaints, and on e-commerce.

And we have three working days left until members start leaving Geneva to travel to the Ministerial Conference.

We currently, today, have no deliverables for Nairobi – either on the potential outcomes that we identified, or on the Ministerial Declaration.

Beyond the written reports I listed earlier, the General Council has nothing to transmit for the consideration of our ministers in Nairobi.

Nevertheless, we do still have the chance of delivering some significant elements in the extremely limited time available.

So I would urge you to seize this last opportunity to show the flexibility and political will that we need.

I have been asked about the process ahead of us – both here in Geneva and in Nairobi. 

In Geneva we are going to have a very busy few days. The negotiating process will continue, including through the work of the chairs and through my work as Chair of the TNC – on the Ministerial Declaration in particular, and regarding other deliverables to try to help the chairs find convergence. Meetings will be held as necessary as things develop, in a range of configurations, and sometimes at very short notice.

In Nairobi, a lot will depend on what we leave Geneva with. We have three days to finalise our work here, and on that basis we will have to see what is ready for ministerial engagement. We should aim to present ministers with documents for a yes/no decision – or if necessary with only a couple of outstanding issues to resolve. So, as I have said, all of this depends on the progress we make over the next three days.

A successful Ministerial Conference is essential to support growth and development for all members, and for the strength and credibility of the multilateral trading system. Therefore I suggest that we close this meeting as soon as possible and get back to work.

Thank you Mr Chairman.


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