WTO: Members unable to bridge the gap on trade facilitation

Roberto Azevêdo, WTOWTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo reported to WTO ambassadors on 31 July 2014 that despite intensive consultations, “we have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge the gap” on the adoption of the protocol on the Trade Facilitation Agreement. He urged members “to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback”.

These are the last few working hours before the deadline to adopt the protocol on the Trade Facilitation Agreement, so I wanted to take this opportunity to brief you on everything that has happened since the General Council adjourned on Friday evening.

Since Friday I have been reaching out to different delegations, and I have been in contact with some capitals.

My understanding is that the remaining gaps are unbridgeable with the time that we have.

On the one side we have the firm conviction, shared by many, that the decisions that ministers reached in Bali cannot be changed or amended in any way — and that those decisions have to be fully respected.

And on the other side of the debate we have some who believe that those decisions leave unresolved concerns that need to be addressed in ways that, in the view of others, change the balance of what was agreed in Bali.

We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge that gap.

My sense, in the light of the things I hear from you, is that this is not just another delay which can simply be ignored or accommodated into a new timetable — this will have consequences. And it seems to me, from what I hear in my conversations with you, that the consequences are likely to be significant.

We have a natural hiatus in our calendar as people leave for the summer break in the coming days.

So I invite you all to use this time to think carefully about what the next steps might be. I urge you to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback.

And when everyone is back in Geneva, I will be asking the chairs of the negotiating groups and the regular bodies to consult with Members on what can be done in these changed circumstances.

As we look forward to these discussions I want to stress the importance of each of the three pillars of the WTO: disputes, monitoring and negotiations — not to mention our work on technical assistance and aid-for-trade.

When I took office last September, I was clear that I had real concerns for the future of the negotiating pillar.

Bali was a very important moment in reviving and revitalising the negotiating function.

But, just seven months later, once again I am very, very concerned.

My view has always been that the multilateral trading system is essential not just to support economic growth and development, but also to deal with other systemic, global issues of governance — such as: guarding against protectionism; responding to new challenges at the global level; and working to resolve not just specific disputes but larger, more fundamental imbalances.

In this way, since its creation in 1948, the multilateral system has been a powerful force for openness, cooperation — and peace.

But it is clear to me that all three pillars are needed for the system to function properly. And if the system fails to function properly then the smallest nations will be the biggest losers.

The major economies will have other options open to them. But the smaller, more vulnerable economies may not. They’re the ones with fewer options, who are at risk of being left behind. They’re the ones that may no longer have a seat at the table.

My fear is that the smaller and more vulnerable an economy is, the more it will suffer.

It would be a tragic outcome for those economies — and therefore a tragic outcome for us all.

So I hope you will all reflect on this very seriously and very carefully — to consider what the next steps might be.

As I have said, you will be the ones that determine the consequences of today’s events.

The future of the multilateral trading system is in your hands.

So, thank you for listening.

I am sure that you all have a lot to say. But I hope you will understand that this meeting may not be the right moment to say it.

Instead I think we should take the time to reflect and come back in September.

Thank you.

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