Trade Negotiations Committee
Statement of Ambassador Michael Punke
U.S. Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization
April 29, 2011
• I would like to start by thanking Director General Lamy for his assessment of the current situation in Geneva. Certainly it is sobering, but it is also an important part of our collective effort to grapple with the difficulties we all face.
• I would also like to thank the Chairs of the negotiating groups for the work products they have provided to us.
• The Chairs all showed good judgment in the various types of documents that they used to capture the state of play and taken together, these documents provide a good overall sense of where things stand.
• We are pleased that, by and large, Chairs remained true to the bottom-up approach to the negotiations that Members advocated. At the same time, the report format gave the Chairs an opportunity to offer some of their own important insights.
• We hope that these texts and reports have contributed to the ability of all Members to make their own, independent assessment of the State of the Round.
• We agree with the conclusion of Director General Lamy ‘s report that there is a fundamental gap in expectations among key Members, but this fundamental gap is not, in our view, limited to NAMA.
• We do not agree with the suggestion in the report that if we could work out our differences in NAMA, then other areas of the negotiations would simply fall into place.
• As we pointed out at the last TNC meeting, fundamental differences also exist with respect to agriculture and services.
• The Director General’s report suggests that the issues that divide us on NAMA are political, not technical or procedural. We agree with this assessment, but we also believe the same is true of agriculture and services.
• Beyond market access issues, the Chairs’ documents also provide a fairly clear picture of the broader situation in our Doha negotiations, and that picture is mixed.
• For instance, there has been noteworthy progress on Trade Facilitation and our negotiators deserve a lot of credit for the hard work that has gone into this effort. At the same time, the 850 remaining brackets make clear that much hard work remains.
• It is also useful that we now have texts in negotiating groups where we did not have them before. But these texts are tools – a snapshot – not end-results. The texts all show major substantive differences among Members.
• The documents also show that in some cases – little, if any, progress has been made. Ambassador Francis’s report on the fisheries subsidies negotiations is a very clear example of such a situation.
• We appreciate his candor in warning us all that too much effort has been placed in trying to preserve the status quo rather than, as he puts it, in “effectively addressing a common and rapidly worsening problem.”
• I will not comment on all the documents, as I trust there will be other opportunities to do so. As is undoubtedly the case with most Members, there are individual points in the various documents with which we would disagree. But such issues will be best addressed in the Negotiating Groups themselves. At today’s meeting, it is more important to focus on the broader picture.
• The United States has not given up on Doha, but we believe the negotiations, and the WTO more broadly, cannot avoid hard truths.
• One truth is that there is no clear path for closing the stark gaps among the key players.
• Our collective approach for the past year or more has been intensive engagement through what the Director General dubbed a “cocktail” of multiple configurations. As my colleagues well understand, the United States has played a leading role in this effort, and we have learned much from it. As is also known, we felt – and we continue to believe – that a vigorous element of bilateral engagement among key Members is one vital element of the cocktail approach.
• Unfortunately, our shared effort has not produced meaningful results. Instead, this process has only confirmed how far apart we find ourselves, especially on the vital market access elements of the Round.
• In a sense, of course, the unbridged gaps on market access – and here again, I refer to services and agriculture, as well as NAMA – should not come as a surprise. Market opening is hard. It exposes economic sensitivities. Economic sensitivities, in turn, expose political sensitivities.
• But this negotiation will set the terms of trade for decades to come and an agreement that does not reflect 21st century realities will contribute neither to the strength of the global trading system nor to the long-term viability of this institution.
• Despite the difficulties, the United States will not throw in the towel. As long as there are willing partners, we are willing to work together to find solutions.
• But we have reached a juncture where we need a hard-nosed consideration of the options for moving forward.
• The European Union has presented one option with its new NAMA proposal. We appreciate the effort that went into this proposal, and we are studying it carefully. The key threshold question, in our view, is whether this or any other proposal can serve as a catalyst for real negotiations – for true give and take. None of us can know the ultimate outcome of such a complex negotiation. But all of us can answer that threshold question. We owe each other an honest assessment. And we need it quickly.
• We need to determine – collectively – whether some branch of the current path can lead us to the finish line. If so, let’s all get to work. If not, we need to consider the viability of other pathways.
• Hollow declarations of our support for Doha will not get us to the finish line. We are where we are because the issues that confront us are hard ones. They can only be resolved through hard choices by key players.
• As I have said before, time is not on our side. Our discussion about productive next steps must be serious – and immediate. It cannot be open-ended.
• We need to confront the issues forthrightly and resist the temptation simply to posture so as to deflect blame in the case of failure.
• We must not allow decisions to be made through indecision. This institution is much too important to all of us to allow that to happen. Thank you.