U.S. Statement Delivered by Ambassador Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Negotiations Committee Meeting
October 16, 2014
*For the Record*
“The origins of the current impasse are well known, and it is not constructive to dwell upon them today.
“The Director General urged us all to reflect on the path forward over the month of August. In September, the DG asked the chairs to assess the prospects for constructive work going forward. Today we heard from both the DG and the chairs. And today, the time has come to begin connecting the dots.
“To engage in this process, it’s important that we’re clear-eyed about where we stand. For the good of this institution, we agree that we must now begin to ask ourselves difficult questions, no matter how uncomfortable the answers we might evoke.
“To start with the obvious, as of today there is no indication that the handful of Members blocking implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement have altered their position of July 31st in any way. For the purpose of transparency with the broader membership, I reiterate that the United States, in response to specific concerns we heard from one Member, made a specific offer of new flexibility to clarify that the duration of the Bali due restraint mechanism would last until Members reached agreement on a permanent solution for food security. Implicit in this offer is the expectation that the Trade Facilitation Agreement will be implemented in the straight-forward manner envisioned by our Ministers at Bali. For the time being, our offer stands as a way out of the current morass, but it has not been accepted.
“This episode is worrisome from a number of perspectives, including the breach of an international agreement it represents and the lack of regard for the impact of this action on others less fortunate.
“In this context, I was pleased that one of the countries blocking implementation of the TFA announced recently that it was moving ahead with its own efforts to facilitate trade. But many poorer developing Members of this institution were counting on the joint effort that is so integral in the concept of a multilateral agreement. Many of these countries had also looked hopefully to the promised creation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility, believing again that working together with other Members would be important to their domestic efforts.
“If there is one sliver of brightness over the past two months, it is the large number of developing countries that have moved forward to submit their Category A notifications under the TFA. As of today, 48 developing countries have demonstrated the seriousness with which they take their obligations, even in the face of uncertainty created by others. These Members have sent a strong signal to donors and to investors. We hope more such actions will follow, as notifications stand as one sign that we may be able to salvage something from the hard work of so many Members.
“At the same time, as we and many others have emphasized, the terrain we have been crossing since July 31 is uncertain ground. Trust has been shattered, and business as usual in such circumstances is impossible. The Bali Package has been significantly undermined, and it is axiomatic that post-Bali work has been impacted. The reports today from the Director General and the chairs make crystal clear that the actions of a few have placed us in a situation of deadlock across a wide range of issues. This was wholly foreseeable.
“We are all asking ourselves how we might move forward in this environment, and for the United States, I want to offer our initial thoughts.
“As a starting point, the United States is committed to attempting to keep the actions of a few from hurting LDCs. Already work is underway on rules of origin for LDC preferences and implementation of the LDC services waiver. Good will is important for this work to be fully successful, so the current environment creates undeniable challenges. But we want to find ways to move forward.
“The elements of the Bali package that face immediately damaging consequences are those that require collective WTO Member follow up. I will discuss trade facilitation in a moment, but with implementation of the TFA blocked, there are obvious consequences for issues including our work on food security and the post-Bali work plan. It is worth recalling that these issues were unfinished at Bali because we were nowhere near a consensus on how to move forward. Lacking consensus, we agreed to timelines for future work. The hope was that we could build on the goodwill of Bali to invigorate our efforts.
“Sadly, instead of implementing the TFA in the manner directed by our ministers, we have squandered many valuable months of what might have been productive post-Bali work due to an unnecessary and counterproductive crisis. The goodwill from Bali has largely dissipated, replaced by questions about whether any multilateral agreement is possible.
“As for trade facilitation, on today’s facts we must confront the reality that a fully multilateral agreement may not be possible. The immediate question is obvious: Can we salvage something from the work done by so many in this room?
“In considering options for preserving our work, the United States has been considering how best we might keep such an effort inside the WTO. All of us have experience in negotiating outside the WTO, but this is a moment in which the preferred options, at least from a US perspective, would involve keeping trade facilitation inside this organization and not being forced into a position considering an agreement outside of it.
“We do not pretend that the United States has answers yet for the questions we are posing today. And of course, there are many more questions left unposed today, broader questions about the work of this organization and even the future relevance of this organization. But the moment for those questions – and the answers to them – is approaching rapidly.
“We look forward to working with all those seeking a constructive outcome to find a way forward.”