Trade Negotiations Committee
December 7, 2012
TNC meetings offer an important opportunity for Members to share their view of the broad context in which our negotiations take place, their reaction to specific initiatives, and their thoughts for moving forward. This is, in part, a transparency exercise. But even more fundamentally, we owe each other an honest and straightforward assessment of where we all stand. We would like to provide that frank assessment today for our colleagues from the perspective of the United States.
As a starting point, it may be useful to work backwards from the upcoming 9th Ministerial Conference to be held in Bali, almost exactly a year away. At one level, a year seems like a long time, yet all of us who work in Geneva know that we have far fewer than twelve months at our disposal. Bali is not a deadline, but it has already emerged as a milestone. One way or the other, Bali will mark a moment when not only we but the world outside of Geneva take stock of our work and the health of the trading system.
What will their reference be? One year ago, at the 8th Ministerial Conference, our Ministers frankly acknowledged that Doha negotiations are at impasse. Yet they directed us to explore “different negotiating approaches” with particular focus on areas “where progress can be achieved.” This year – and next year – are all about our collective effort to determine whether, despite the broad impasse, there remain some areas where the WTO can make progress.
If we enter Bali with nothing to show for the two years since MC8, we should not delude ourselves about how the world will perceive the Doha negotiations. In previous meetings and today, we’ve heard Members express concern that if we harvest something short of the full Doha package, the rest may then be left behind. I want to make very clear to all my colleagues that the United States does not view the possible earlier achievement of some results as the end of the line. Like others, many of our most important Doha Development Agenda priorities are not on the table in the short-term context. So we, like others, need and expect that multilateral work must continue. That said, we actually believe the real risk is that if we cannot produce something now, Members and stakeholders will lose hope of accomplishing anything later.
There is already a growing perception that the WTO may no longer be an effective forum for trade negotiations. I think it is vitally important to the health of the institution that this perception not become a reality. But the test is deeds rather than words. So the question of whether we will have something to show for our efforts in the two years since MC8 takes on increasing urgency.
Which is why our work on trade facilitation, agriculture, and development is so important. I have no intention today of repeating stale debates about what issues are “self-balancing,” and who among us is demandeur for what.
Many Members – developed and developing – have identified trade facilitation as one issue that we should all pursue vigorously as part of the short-term agenda. The United States believes that trade facilitation promotes the trade equivalent of a healthy circulatory system; it clears blockages that are the economic equivalent of arterial sclerosis. Ultimately, of course, all Members will make their own assessments – about Trade Facilitation and every other issue.
We have listened very carefully to our colleagues from developing countries, and we understand that S&D is a vital part of the trade facilitation discussion. That is why, three years ago, the United States put forward a proposal for state-of-the-art S&D that actually allows every individual Member to categorize every individual obligation as it sees fit, and then to pick individual implementation deadlines for each obligation. This would be unprecedented in a WTO Agreement, and I look forward to discussing this issue with my colleagues in the weeks ahead.
At the last TNC, two months ago, there was a marked atmosphere of optimism. A broad diversity of Members expressed hope that, even in the post-MC8 context of reduced short-term ambition, we might be able to achieve something meaningful. Certainly the United States shares this hope.
That optimism was based, in significant part, on the constructive work by some Members to identify initiatives that might be paired with Trade Facilitation in crafting a broader package. At that point, the G20 had put forward a TRQ administration proposal which, while not perfect, had obviously been calibrated. For example, while the proposal seeks to solve an important problem, it does not have significant implications for the broad balance of benefits and obligations in the Round. Its scale fits the current, short-term negotiating context.
TRQ administration is also a relatively easy problem to describe, and the fix too is straightforward, so that potential negotiations are feasible in the time frame available. In short, without prejudice to what the ultimate negotiated outcome might be, and to questions we and others have raised about applicability limited to developed countries, TRQ administration seems to pass the abstract test of “do-ability.” So the tone at the last TNC reflected, in significant part, the sentiment that we were all still operating within the bounds.
On the other hand, my own sense is that there are real questions about both the scale and the do-ability of the more recent stock-piling proposal by India and others and that these questions are creating new concerns about what we can collectively put together by Bali.
Let me be absolutely clear about our view of the stock-piling proposal: We remain open-minded, and still hopeful that it might be rescaled into something appropriate for today’s negotiating context. However, we have many questions. We cannot go down the path of opening a brand new, WTO-authorized, open-ended carve out of agricultural subsidy programs. In this connection, we would also want to be sure that in taking an action in the name of food security for some, we are not undermining food security for others. For now our efforts to understand the problem and its solution are impeded significantly by the lack of required agricultural notifications from some prominent proponents. Such information from all major proponents, which we have pursued for years, is an essential first step to our collective ability to understand the issues and their context. We have appreciated efforts by India this week to begin providing more information along these lines. And we stand ready to continue the discussion on an intensive basis.
The work before us presents significant challenges. And we all know that the nature of our institution makes it easier to hold up progress than to make it happen. We believe that there is still time for the hard work that can make MC9 successful, and prove to the world that the WTO is still a place where Members can negotiate solutions to the problems we all face. But the clock is ticking. We have no time to waste.