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Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at a Meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Negotiations Committee

Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at a Meeting of the World Trade Organization's Trade Negotiations Committee

World Trade Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
July 22, 2013 

*As Prepared for Delivery*

It’s interesting that a new book came out this week with the title “The History and Future of the World Trade Organization.” Our statement today won’t be quite that ambitious, though it’s useful to look both backwards and forwards.

On the positive side of the ledger, it is possible to point to some very good work in this town over the past seven months. We should acknowledge in particular the labor intensive efforts of our experts on trade facilitation and agriculture. While all of us wish that more would have been accomplished by this juncture, these efforts have helped to narrow the ground and to clarify the issues.

If WTO Members have not exactly shrouded themselves in glory, they have at least kept the ship afloat for the fall, and in some cases, managed to steer it away from obvious shoals. To paraphrase from the immortal Monty Python, “We’re not dead yet.”

We’ve probably managed to do just enough over the past seven months to give us one final shot at a meaningful package for the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali.

For the part of the United States, our new US Trade Representative, Michael Froman, has made clear that we are committed to working toward a successful outcome at Bali. The US agenda is full, but I can guarantee my colleagues here today that we will do our share and more. Our experts in Geneva and Washington are examining the degree to which we can be flexible in our positions on key issues.

But we are far beyond the time for tactical maneuvering. Which is why I have spent a significant amount of time over the past couple of weeks delivering some unpopular messages in this chamber. Given the shortness of time we will confront in the fall, we can’t spin our wheels on repetitions of tired debates – and we all know what they are. I have heard many delegations complain recently about their “disappointment” over this or that issue. And my response is, “Join the club.” There is no monopoly on disappointment in the Doha Round. Certainly the United States has its own lengthy catalogue. But wallowing in our collective angst will not create a single new trade opportunity for any of our people. The question today – and the question for the fall -- is can something meaningful be salvaged?

Trade facilitation is widely acknowledged as the big ticket item most likely to come to fruition by Bali. And ministers from every corner of this membership have directed us to get it done. At various moments in the past few weeks, it’s been possible to imagine we might succeed. In areas such as advanced rulings, we’ve seen that the combination of advance work by proponents, skillful chairing, and flexibility all around – can deliver substantive results. We’ll need to repeat that formula throughout the text to deliver for Bali.

We also need a meeting of the minds on key issues, starting with the relationship between Section 1 and Section 2. It was the United States that first put forward a proposal – four years ago – for unprecedented flexibilities in trade facilitation for developing countries. But we cannot lose sight of the underlying premise of this proposal. These state-of-the art flexibilities offered to developing countries in Section 2 exist for one purpose – to support full implementation of meaningful, trade facilitating commitments that bring benefits to traders and developing countries alike. For there to be real benefits for all, obligations must be clear and binding.

The value that the WTO adds to global trade is binding rules. If we don’t create binding rules, our WTO negotiations add no value, and frankly, that type of outcome is of no interest to the United States. We already have a non-binding customs codes in the World Customs Organization. Which is why we have pushed back against Section 2 proposals that would allow Members to avoid the establishment of definitive end dates for implementation. Such proposals effectively make the trade facilitation agreement nonbinding. We must address this issue for a multilateral agreement to succeed.

It is also important for all trade facilitation advocates to make their voices heard. Too often, we hear quiet encouragement in the corridors and hallways, but deafening silence in the critical debates. The few voices against a strong agreement thus attain disproportionate volume. If all those who support trade facilitation do not speak up, there is a very real chance that we will fail in the final push for agreement.

Beyond trade facilitation, the United States has engaged extensively to find calibrated deliverables in agriculture and the so-called “development” pillar, including discussions of the monitoring mechanism and the Cancun 28 measures. At the same time, we’ve been honest and clear that some issues are too integrally associated with balances of the single undertaking to be part of the Bali package. Our positions are well known, and I see no utility in repeating those arguments today.

I do want to underscore the position of the United States on the G33 proposal, which represents one area in which our extensive engagement has put the issues in much sharper relief than at the beginning of the year. Critically, there appears to be broad recognition that we will not amend the Agreement on Agriculture, a significant evolution in our discussion. To succeed in reaching agreement, it will also be critical to address food security in a way that minimizes distortions to global trade, promotes transparency in the context of WTO commitments, and encourages continued reform. We are committed to work hard in finding a solution that strikes these balances.

As I mentioned at the outset, I look forward to reading the new book on the WTO’s history and future. Clearly though, as the book comes out this week, it will quickly be out of date. In the fall we – all of us – will write a definitive new chapter. One way or the other, the work we do before the ministerial meeting in Bali will put the WTO on a dramatic new course.