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Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk at the Plenary Session Of APEC Ministers Related to Trade Regarding the Doha Round of World Trade Organization Talks

Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk
United States Trade Representative 

At the Plenary Session of APEC Ministers Related to Trade
Regarding the Doha Round of World Trade Organization Talks

Big Sky, Montana
May 19, 2011

* As Prepared for Delivery *

“Before opening the floor to my colleagues, allow me to offer my own brief reflections on the Doha Round and the multilateral system – where we find ourselves, and where we want to try to go.

“First, there is no point in disguising the disappointment of the United States that we have, collectively, not progressed in a more meaningful fashion since our meeting in Yokohama.

“That meeting, followed by discussions among some of us in Davos in January and bilateral contacts at the Leaders level, led me – and I imagine many of us – to have a new sense of cautious optimism that we might be seeing things start to move in the DDA. That optimism has not been borne out.

“This is not to say that there was not useful work done during the first months of this year. And I want to acknowledge that a number of my colleagues in this room were instrumental in contributing to discussions in Geneva that were constructive, honest, detailed and direct.

“But, in part because of those additional discussions in recent months, we now have a clearer picture of just how far apart we are on the core question of market access ambition – certainly in NAMA, but also with regard to services and agriculture.

“So, from our perspective – and I will be surprised if there is much argument on this point this morning – we are not in good shape.

“The question we have before us today is – what can and should we do? Should we give up? Declare failure? I don’t think any of us want to do that. The United States does not, at any rate.

“Should we restate our commitment to the Round? Well, we certainly need to do that – but we all understand, after repeating that commitment for many years, that this rings increasingly hollow. We need to do something more. But what?

“Above all, in my view, we need to reinforce our shared conviction – and I am confident it is shared – that the multilateral system represented by the WTO is immensely valuable to all of us – individually and collectively. Especially during the two and a half frightening years we’ve just endured in the global economy, we can agree that we would have been pretty lost without the ballast of the WTO and its system of agreed rules. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the WTO saved us from ourselves.

“But what does this mean for what should be done about the puzzle of the Doha Round?

“In my view, without abandoning our commitment to the success of the Round, we need to begin a hard-nosed discussion of what can be done. We need to explore what ‘next steps’ we can take to find a more productive path – and, if we find that path, to take it as quickly as possible.

“This kind of discussion will be – needless to say – incredibly difficult. It will take time, and will require some deep reflection. While some of this discussion will undoubtedly take place in the context of preparing for our December ministerial conference in Geneva, we should be cautious about creating expectations unless we have a fair degree of confidence that they can be met.

“To launch today’s discussion, I see three possible paths: keep doing what we have been doing, give up, or start thinking of something different that will lead us in a better direction.

“Wherever we go next, I think it’s critical to emphasize one point – the WTO is strong, as it has shown itself to be in the past three years. We have confidence in it. And we need to be very careful about absolutely equating ‘the WTO’ and ‘the Doha Round.’

“I hope these reflections will be helpful in provoking a good discussion over the next couple of hours. We clearly need fresh ideas, and I look forward to hearing from my colleagues.”