Ladies and gentlemen, first a big thank you. A thank you — that is — for organising your conference under the WTO roof. It is an honour and a boost to the democratic credentials of our organisation.
I have found the programme of your conference impressive, I must say. You have examined a range of different issues, such as the rising tide of bilateral and regional trade pacts, the rebalancing of the rules of the trading system in favour of the poor, and the question of sustainable development. Later today, you will also be broaching the fascinating topic of trade policy-making in an era of mass communication. Unsurprisingly your themes and messages are along the lines of what we hear from our Members.
My staff is following your deliberations closely. And the entire WTO stands to benefit from the unique perspective that you — the world's parliamentarians — are able to bring to these different topics. Your views and your contribution enable WTO Members, and the Secretariat alike, to better understand peoples' needs and expectations, and to correct, or even change, the WTO's course if need be.
I do not intend to be long in my remarks to you today. What I would like to do is to ensure that you are aware of the crucial moment that the WTO is now in. The Doha Development Agenda, which was launched in 2001, is now entering a critical phase — what some even call “its last window of opportunity.”
The Doha Round comprises many different topics, as you know. While some relate to the opening of markets, in other words to tariff and subsidy reductions on agricultural and industrial goods, and to greater trade opening in services, many other topics are of a more regulatory nature. They have to do with improving the rules-based system within which international trade takes place, placing development at its heart. They comprise topics such as reduction of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overfishing, the relationship between WTO rules and Multilateral Environmental Agreements, disciplines on trade-distorting subsidies, or the reduction of the bureaucratic red tape that slows down international trade, known as trade facilitation, to name a few.
Ladies and gentlemen, the “rules-based component” of the Doha Round is just as valuable as its “market access” elements; and should not be discounted, even if it grabs less media headlines. It is the rules of the Multilateral Trading System that prevent the law of the jungle from prevailing in international trade relations. If you look at the disputes that are brought to the WTO for settlement, you will find that many, if not most, have had to do with the “rules” of trade, and not with tariff or subsidy commitments that are being violated. I say this so you are able to appreciate the full value of the Doha Round.
Negotiators have made headway on many of the thorniest issues in this negotiation over the years. While these issues sometimes cut along North-South lines, they very often also cut across North-North lines, or even South-South ones. Some of the trickiest remaining issues, that you will have heard about, include defining the exact set of disciplines that will prevail in the fisheries subsidies area, how the Special Safeguard Mechanism will operate in the agricultural area to protect the developing world from sudden price drops or surges in the volume of imports and how to raise ambition across-the-board in industrial goods, agricultural goods, and services trade. While some of the remaining issues are technical in nature, others are, of course, more political.
In order to conclude the Round in 2011, as has been called for by the G20 and APEC leaders last year, and as is everyone's expectation now, the Membership agreed at the beginning of the year on a sequence of steps. The next step in that sequence was to have Chairs of different negotiating groups capture the level of progress that has been achieved thus far by tabling draft compromise texts. This is expected to happen around Easter.
The capturing of progress by Chairs has two fundamental objectives: firstly, it gives an across-the-board transparent picture of the remaining gaps which will need to be addressed in the end game; secondly, it provides a tool to move into a more horizontal phase in the negotiations post Easter. Capturing this progress is therefore a necessary step towards our collective aim of concluding the Round this year. But it is important to bear in mind that texts are a means to an end, and not an end in themselves. They are being prepared to reflect the convergence amongst our Members, and to help us gradually bring the Doha Round to closure. It is therefore fair to say that renouncing on capturing the progress made by Easter would be equivalent to questioning the objective to conclude the Round at the end of 2011. Throwing in the towel now is not what Ministers and Leaders have given as their instructions!
There are many reasons of course why we should conclude the Doha Round; not least because of the much needed boost that the Round would give to the global economy. And the boost, or vote of confidence, that it would also give to the Multilateral Trading System; to its resilience, utility, and credibility. A confirmation of the value of the insurance policy against protectionism which has protected all our Members during the economic crisis.
In the current turbulent times, the WTO must act as a catalyst of trust and global unity through the conclusion of the Doha Round. It must make a contribution to a more stable world. A WTO “in crisis” is not what is expected of responsible members of the international community. Let us not weaken one of the best examples of functioning international co-operation.
But there are other reasons too why we should strive to conclude the Doha Round. Take the issue of food security, a major preoccupation for many governments today across the globe. The Doha Round will help level the playing field in agricultural trade, shifting some agricultural production to the South, and giving the developing world a fairer chance to compete. This is what the developing world has fought for in this Round, and this is why many developing countries call this negotiation the Agriculture Round.
By dismantling some of the artificial barriers that prevent food from travelling across the globe, the Doha Round will also enable supply to better respond to demand. After all, trade is nothing other than an international transmission belt as you know. If properly oiled, it allows food to travel from the land of the plenty to the land of the few. The Doha Round will provide more of that oil. It is also my hope that the Round will somehow address the issue of export restrictions, the beggar-thy-neighbour policies that improve the food security of some at the expense of others. The most immediate goal, in my view, should be to ensure that the World Food Program's humanitarian aid is not cut-off through such sudden measures.
The Doha Round can also contribute to mitigating climate change, allowing for trade opening in the kinds of environmental goods and services that could lower our collective carbon footprint. The goods in question include solar panels and windmills, and the services include environmental consultancy services of various sorts. We should not impede trade in these goods and services through tariff or other non-tariff barriers. We should promote these technologies, rather than penalize them. The Doha Round will allow us to correct our course on this critically important issue. Making a success of this negotiation would demonstrate that the Multilateral Trading System can respond to environmental needs.
The Doha Round also gives special attention to the world's least-developed countries, as you know. You are already familiar with the Duty-Free Quota-Free package that it contains, a package that LDCs have strongly fought for and now defend. It must also provide responses to the concerns of African cotton producers.
In parallel to our efforts to conclude the Doha Round, we are also working on strengthening Aid for Trade, the purpose of which is to help developing countries build capacity to translate market opportunities into trade reality. The Third Aid for Trade “Global Review” that will take place in July this year will help us look at the impact that Aid for Trade is having on the ground. We have received over 250 case studies, real life stories which tell us what is working and not working on the many Aid for Trade projects that are being implemented across the globe. I would encourage you to follow the results of this review closely and to ensure that you make Aid for Trade part of your trade landscape at home.
Ladies and gentlemen, in less than two months the United Nations will host its Fourth Conference on Least-developed Countries in Istanbul. This will provide us with a unique opportunity to evaluate the progress that the world is making in ensuring that there are fewer LDCs. Trade has a role to play in empowering the world's poorest countries to fight their way out of poverty, and I hope that there will be a robust outcome on trade and trade capacity building. I am confident that by then we will be well on course to welcome an LDC country — Vanuatu — as a new member of the WTO family.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Doha Round is as relevant to the world today as it was in the moment that it was launched. But I am conscious that we cannot conclude these negotiations without your explicit support. Hence the importance of our dialogue today. The floor is yours. I look forward to your views.