Statement to the World Trade Organization General Council by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punk
November 26, 2013
“Thank you, Director General, for your report today – as sobering as it is – on where we stand. We join others in appreciating your efforts in attempting to facilitate a deal for the upcoming 9thMinisterial Conference in Bali.
“I must say it is with a great deal of sadness that I deliver this statement today. Like others, at 10 p.m. Sunday night we were hopeful that eight-weeks of round-the-clock toil by Members could lead to the first multilateral trade deal in two decades – the first multilateral trade deal in the history of the World Trade Organization. But by 7 a.m. Monday morning, it appeared that the deal was no more. Today, we’re worried – alongside so many in this room – that a once-in-a-generation opportunity may have slipped our grasp.
“A local friend of mine who lives nearby but doesn’t know anything about international trade told me last week that he had ‘noticed lately that it seemed like the lights were on a lot more at the WTO.’ I thought it was a great metaphor.
“I’ve been in Geneva for three and a half years, and many times last week it was striking to me how alive this institution felt: bustling hallways; excited clusters of conversations swapping rumors between meetings; empty vending machines – even the ones that sell really bad coffee; Room W with text up on the big screen and negotiators filling every seat. It felt like a place where things happen. It’s the first time I’ve felt that way during my tenure in this town.
“Equally striking is the interest of global stakeholders in what we’re doing. They are calling and emailing, skeptically at first to say, ‘Is a deal really possible?’ Later with cautious hope, often after learning about particulars of the deal, to say, ‘Good luck – this would be good for the multilateral trading system.’
“The United States is among that vast majority of WTO Members who have worked hard to have a deal for Bali. We care about this institution. We seized this chance to keep the negotiating rooms busy; to earn the attention of stakeholders around the world. It has been, if not always a pleasure, a privilege to work shoulder-to-shoulder with distinguished colleagues over the last several weeks and months. By now, we know each other very well. We particularly appreciate the efforts of the many in the waning moments who worked together to bridge the gaps, to consider creative options for resolving issues, to bring us closer together rather than finding new ways to drive us apart. I appreciate the wise and generous remarks of the distinguished Chairman of the Africa Group. I send my thanks right back to Omar [Morocco], thanks Wayne [Jamaica], thanks Syafri [Indonesia], thanks Shanker [Nepal], and Wafaa (Egypt). And thanks to so many others.
“Despite all this effort and good faith, we’re not there yet. In an organization that operates by consensus, a small handful of Members can keep the majority from achieving success. The least common denominator can become the de facto highest common denominator. Sadly, that’s what appears to be happening.
“We’re skeptical that those who appear to be refusing to reach agreement can now be convinced by another long night of negotiation. Indeed, we agree with the assessment of the Director General that the Geneva process has run its course. Further work here, even if there were time, would run the risk of yet more hostage-taking.
“Nor do we agree with those who expect magic solutions to emerge though negotiations by Ministers in Bali. How would that work? Are we really proposing to put texts up on the screen and ask a plenary session of our 159 Ministers to find words where we could not? Would the Membership accept a Green Room, where thirty Ministers cut a deal while 129 wait outside in the hallway?
“Having learned the hard way from previous ministerials, all of us have said for months that Bali cannot be a negotiating session. Nor should this body contemplate rewarding the intransigent few with new concessions. We took the Director General seriously when he said that we’ve been in the end game – and we left our best offer on the table. In pursuit of an agreement with our trading partners here, we demonstrated our flexibility on tough issues including Section 2, and in that case, with willing partners, we all found agreement together.
“People in this room know that the United States negotiated hard, but it did so in a spirit of problem solving, making principled compromises when necessary to help solve a puzzle that has blocked negotiating progress for a decade. And having made those tough compromises, the United States stands by the deals we reached together.
“I have heard some suggestions of taking a couple of weeks after Bali to tie up negotiations. But I think we all know that won’t work. We have known for two years that Bali would be a moment of reckoning. What we cannot decide by then will not fall suddenly into place in the weeks thereafter.
“Like others in this room, we’re not sure about the path forward. Like others, we will use the next few days to consider carefully the next steps.
“After having a taste of the potential of this institution when we work together, after holding actual texts in our hands – it seems hard to contemplate going back to the quiet, dark hallways of the old WTO. But that is a prospect that is present again and we know it all too well.
“The United States will look for answers with those who are working to keep the lights switched on.”