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Statement by U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke at APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade

Statement by U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke at APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Ministers Responsible for Trade Meetings
Surabaya, Indonesia
April 20, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman - for your framing remarks today and especially for Indonesia's work in hosting this year. Thanks also to the World Trade Organization (WTO) [Deputy] Director General for his insights here today. 

"Two weeks ago, World Trade Organization Ambassadors gathered in Geneva and heard a sobering assessment of our trajectory toward a 'small package' agreement for the 9th WTO Ministerial, only a few months away. 

"In providing the U.S. perspective, we were blunt, with a message that must have been somewhat unsettling to our gracious hosts here in Indonesia today: Absent a course correction, the current path of multilateral talks will lead directly to failure at Bali. If Bali fails, it is hard to imagine how Doha can succeed. And that has serious implications for the WTO and for all of us, far beyond Indonesia’s host year. 

"In Geneva, we urged Members to consult with capitals, conveying the depth of the current crisis while at the same time seeking new ways to contribute toward consensus. Today, we have the potential for our discussion to brighten prospects for the WTO. 

"In the spirit of that effort, it will not be enough for each of us in Surabaya to restate our well-known concerns. For the sake of global trade itself, it is vital that the economies of APEC, as we so often do, take the lead to advance a critical conversation and to ensure that many more nations see the benefit of liberalized trade. 

"We all have a stake in stepping forward to lead. 

"While the path forward may be murky, the major roadblocks are reasonably clear. 

"One is the 'G-33 proposal' on price supports for the purpose of public stockholding, which poses two significant concerns. The proposal is widely acknowledged -- even by many G-33 members -- as being outside the bounds of what is 'doable' on agriculture by Bali. 

"But more disturbingly, the proposal asks WTO members to sacrifice a primary discipline on agriculture subsidies from the Uruguay Round. This would make Bali a step backward from the current disciplines of the WTO, from the principles that we have all agreed will benefit the broadest number of our citizens with more food through efficient and effective markets. 

"No one in the WTO, and certainly not the United States, is saying that food security is not a legitimate concern, or that the Uruguay Round Agreement does not already allow purchases for public stockholding. 

"What many in the WTO are saying is that this proposal, which would effectively lift limitations on trade-distortive purchases, is not the appropriate way to deal with it. And even if it were, the proposal presents issues that cannot be resolved in the Bali time frame. 

"We urge Members in consultation with their capitals to consider the likely negative effects of this proposal and others on their own systems. This is, essentially, a single-country proposal being promoted under the aegis of the G-33. Only two or three WTO Members have explained how they could or would use this mechanism if made available. 

"The creation of a new loophole for trade-distorting practices, by contrast, would certainly have a negative effect on global prices and food security for a far broader swath of Members, especially developing countries. 

"Unfortunately, our other roadblock before Bali is the lack of consensus on trade facilitation. This is of particular concern to APEC economies because [trade facilitation] has been a core part of APEC's work in general, and APEC economies have been strong advocates for including trade facilitation in a Bali package this year. The analytical evidence that a trade facilitation agreement will benefit developing countries in particular is well established. 

"I appreciate the Deputy Director General's reference to the balance in trade facilitation between obligations and capacity. 

"We appreciate this opportunity today to share a few elements of the trade facilitation debate that deserve broader understanding, starting with the high degree of flexibility available to developing countries under a proposal put forward by the United States. 

"In direct response to the concerns of a number of Members, we have proposed to allow every developing-country member to self-determine individual implementation schedules according to their individual needs. This is absolutely without precedent. 

"We should also realize that an ambitious trade facilitation agreement is eminently doable, with many developing countries already implementing elements of the agreement unilaterally. There is a shared interest by countries to reduce customs costs and delays for their traders. 

"The most recent support for this proposition comes from a least-developed country (LDC) Member, which a few weeks ago shared information on its UNCTAD-provided needs assessment. The report indicated that this LDC could implement all of the requirements of the current trade facilitation agreement in not more than 4 years and at a cost of $15 million. We have also heard repeatedly that international, regional, and domestic agencies are ready, even eager, to provide assistance. 

"Are there challenges? Of course. But they are certainly surmountable. We can do this if we try. 

"We know progress in Geneva is possible. In areas like Information Technology Agreement (ITA) expansion and services, we have recent examples of productive Geneva work. We must build on this with broader advances. 

"The success of the Bali ministerial is in question. But APEC can be a big part of the answer. This group represents all levels of economies. We have a track record of helping to advance WTO work at critical times. 

"As we lead together on many issues, we can go back to Geneva and drive this process. We can seek to define the boundaries of a realistic package. We can help to build consensus to dismantle the roadblocks between us and a vibrant, successful Bali Ministerial - and renewed faith in multilateral negotiating results at the WTO. 

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."