DDG Brauner welcomed the launch of two environment-focused discussion processes by groups of members, one on plastics pollution and trade, and the other on trade and environmental sustainability. He also described the WTO Secretariat’s support to members amid the disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The full text of DDG Brauner’s remarks is below:
Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to these informal TNC and informal HoDs meetings – the second such gathering under this interim arrangement after the resignation of the Director General.
Our last meetings in October were held in a hybrid format, with some delegations present at the WTO and others connecting electronically. In line with local public health guidance, today’s meetings are fully virtual.
Today is an opportunity to update each other on activities since October. It is also an opportunity – ahead of Wednesday’s General Council – to discuss ways forward in our work.
And as we approach the end of a year that none of us could have imagined, it would be appropriate to consider the broader issues and challenges that are on our minds.
Before continuing, I wish at this point in time to offer the floor to the Chairman of the General Council.
Ambassador Walker, you have the floor.
[General Council Chair speaks]
Thank you, Ambassador Walker.
We now turn to the Negotiating Group Chairs for their reports. After that I will provide a report on behalf of the DDGs before opening the floor.
To prepare for today’s meetings, and acting in coordination with the Chair of the General Council, I had convened a virtual meeting of Negotiating Group Chairs last Monday (7 December).
The Chairs informed us of the work they had undertaken with delegations in various configurations. We heard that in some areas, such as fisheries subsidies, agriculture and services, new proposals and ideas had been put forward.
The fisheries subsidies group in particular has been in continous negotiating mode. Ambassador Wills’ report will therefore be slightly longer and I will give him the floor after all the other chairs have reported.
So with this, we start with
- Ambassador Gloria ABRAHAM PERALTA (Costa Rica) – Special Session of the Committee on Agriculture. Ambassadro, you have the floor;
- Next is Ambassador Kadra Ahmed HASSAN (Djibouti) – Special Session of the Committee on Trade and Development;
- Next is Ambassador Zhanar AITZHANOVA (Kazakhstan) – Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services;
- Next Ambassador Alfredo SUESCUM (Panama) – Special Session of the Council for TRIPS.
- The last report is presented by Ambassador Santiago WILLS (Colombia) – Negotiating Group on Rules.
[Reports of the Negotiating Group Chairs]
Before I turn to my own report, let me start by placing on the record our thanks to the Chairs for their detailed reports, and for their efforts to assist Members in advancing negotiations under complicated circumstances.
We note in particular the intensive work on fisheries subsidies.
As we have just heard from Ambassador Wills, the WTO – that is, you the Members – will not deliver an agreement on fisheries this year.
I can only agree with the ambassador’s assessment and I am disappointed but not discouraged.
While we are still short of the finishing line, the negotiations have made considerable concrete progress towards finding a solution that all Members can accept. Renewed engagement, with greater political will and pressure from civil society, can get us there.
As Ambassador Wills said, meeting our mandate to reach an outcome will require compromise by everyone, on all issues.
Activity must pick up quickly in the New Year and continue until we deliver. As the Chair said, we will be making a late delivery, and every additional delay will increase the debt that must be paid. I plead to you, nothing that can be done now has to wait for MC12 or any other deadline.
In the agriculture negotiations, we just heard from the Chair that technical work is continuing under her facilitators. There have also been discussions on a possible decision that would exempt the World Food Programme’s purchases for humanitarian purposes from export restrictions. This topic will be on the General Council agenda.
Some of you have argued that longstanding issues on our agenda such as public stockholding in agriculture, as well as aspects of services or development, have taken on added importance in light of the pandemic. To take concrete steps forward in these areas it will not be enough to re-state long-held views and sensitivities. We need new ideas, new proposals, and real compromises.
The Chairs’ reports make clear that there is potential for movement. It is for you, the Members, to muster the political will. We urge you to continue to pursue convergence.
As ever, the Chairs and the DDGs with the Secretariat remain at your disposal.
I would now like to report on our activities as DDGs and the Secretariat.
Our first challenge was to keep the physical operations going in times of the pandemic. We were very happy when after the summer break the corona figures were such that we could again allow for physical meetings and even open the cafeteria.
Our joy was only of short duration as the number of infected people rose again in Geneva. With great regret we had to go back to a semi-confinement. It was, however quite reassuring to experience the desire of staff to work at the WTO.
When the host country authorities asked us to urge people to work from home we had to make quite an effort to convince colleagues not to come to the premises in big numbers. This demonstrates that staff is engaged and want to deliver their services to the Members at their best capabilities.
It also reflects well on the health task force. It has earned enough trust to make people feel comfortable coming to the WTO premises.
The trust is well-deserved. In view of the high figures for cases in Geneva I can report to you that today we have no staff member tested positive. We have only three colleagues in quarantine who were infected outside the WTO.
We continue to make every effort to ensure that the WTO is one of the safest places in Geneva. And we very much hope to welcome you again in person here on site very soon, but want to proceed in a way that does not compromise the health of Members and staff.
We have been able to maintain a high level of activities with the help of electronic means. We have improved horizontal coordination in the Secretariat by introducing a weekly senior management meeting which is attended by all directors.
We have been forced into the digital age. It is not perfect, we miss the direct contact with our colleagues, but the bottom line is that the WTO was able to function.
We maintained our services to you by giving support to your meetings. WTO bodies held 346 meetings since the last TNC. In addition, there were more than 500 consultations among Members using WebEx, Zoom or Teams.
I only counted meetings registered by Members through our conference service. This of course does NOT include consultations of the chair in the course of the DG selection process.
In addition to the internal meetings a large number of outreach activities took place.
We organised the WTO’s 25th anniversary as an online event. We were delighted to welcome the host country’s incoming federal president and other high-ranking participants.
Our outreach activities span the globe more efficiently than ever. My DDG colleagues were very active. No event, no opportunity was missed due to the absence of a serving DG.
In the interest of time, I will only mention some of the outreach activities since October:
- The G20 Riyadh Summit
- The APEC Trade Ministerial meeting
- A virtual informal meeting of trade ministers organized by Australia on the sidelines of the OECD’s annual meeting
- A ministerial meeting of the Ottawa Group
- The regular “1+6”(1) Round Table chaired by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang with the heads of other international organizations
- The autumn meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board
- ITC’s Joint Advisory Group
- A High-Level WTO-UNEP Trade and Environment event.
The Secretariat was very active as organiser of WTO webinars. IERD alone organised 23 webinars. We had webinars organised by the Accessions Division,
by the Trade and Environment Division and a host of events managed by the Economic Research and Statistics Division. We had webinars on food security and intellectual property.
Some may have attracted only a modest number of participants from the public, but they joined colleagues with other international institutions, and fostered our learning and that of all participants.
Others had a broader reach, enjoying the interest of hundreds, even thousands, of listeners. We were able to secure high-level participation such as government ministers and the heads of other international organisations.
We were also very productive in writing up reports, working papers and other publications. If you measure the relevance of this work by the number of downloads, then I can report to you the following figures:
Our COVID-19 reports have been downloaded more than 270,000 times.
Working papers are obviously for a more specialised audience. They were downloaded 26,000 times.
Our publications were downloaded more than 800,000 times. This includes our new World Trade Report, a number of World Tariff Profiles and the World Trade Statistical Review.
Worthwhile to mention that the topics dealing with gender issues attracted almost 15,000 downloads.
This demonstrates the WTO provides a common public good. There is demand for it.
Before I open the floor, I want to mention two activities initiated by Members to which we were invited in the context of the recent Trade and Environment Week. These are the Structured Discussions on Trade and Environmental Sustainability and the Informal Dialogue on Plastics Pollution and Environmentally Sustainable Plastics Trade.
These initiatives seek to promote collective action on sustainable trade. In our view, developments like this are important both in substantive terms and for the political signal they send: namely, that Members are acting under the WTO umbrella to address critical issues that respond to our founding objectives.
As with other initiatives involving groups of WTO Members, we understand that these new efforts will be guided by the principles of inclusiveness and transparency, with discussions open to all Members who wish to participate.
I hope that with these facts, figures and reflections I could send to you the positive message:
The WTO is alive. The Members are active. The Secretariat is providing its services and reaching out. There is demand for the global common good WTO.