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Statement of Ambassador Michael Punke: Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee

Statement of Michael Punke, United States Ambassador to the World Trade Organization
"Report by the Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee"

February 20, 2015
Geneva, Switzerland


*As Delivered*

"Thank you, Director General, for your report and perspectives, which, as usual, help to focus our minds.  Thanks as well to the negotiating group chairs for their reports, and especially for their efforts to consult with Members in recent weeks.

"The past few weeks have, in our view, been a relatively productive period in our development of a post-Bali work program for the DDA.  Compared to the work we did last year, we now are aiming much more directly at substance, tackling hard issues, and engaging in meaningful, if difficult, exchanges.  The variable formations and groupings are playing a useful role in fostering this more substantive discussion.  Discussions are gradually becoming more horizontal, which is also very useful. 

"The substance itself, of course, remains extremely difficult for all of us.

"We have been in a necessary process of “connecting the dots” in the current landscape of the DDA and dealing honestly and directly with the picture that is revealed. When we connect the dots, what is revealed, undeniably, is that we are nowhere near consensus. We are quite distant from a common view of what a work program should look like, or how it could realistically enable us to conclude the Round in a manner that works for everyone, and that can be accomplished in a relatively rapid timeframe.

"To illustrate what I mean by a lack of consensus, I would cite the fact that we now have clear indications from a number of members, both developed and developing, that Rev. 3 in NAMA is not a viable basis for concluding our negotiations, while others remain attached to that text.  Another example is the very stark presentation of facts regarding Rev. 4, demonstrating that only one Member—namely, the United States—would be required to cut into current domestic support programs, while Members whose programs have grown exponentially since 2008 would make no meaningful contribution. Meanwhile, those Members have stated clearly their expectation that this mind-boggling imbalance, which would clearly fall short of any true effort to reform trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, should be preserved.  Using the lexicon of the WTO, we view that as blood for water—or, blood for air—which is simply not an outcome that we could endorse.

"These reminders of the size of our gaps are discouraging, but this is not a surprising set of circumstances.  The road to a productive conversation must start with a recognition of some realities.  We’ve had some tough discussions, but now we have a clearer understanding of the choice facing us.  In our view, we must continue to recalibrate.  We are collectively better positioned than we were a few weeks ago to really start tackling the question of what recalibration means.

"As we prepare for this next phase, it may be useful today to clarify a few aspects of the U.S. position on our work.

"During one of our recent informal meetings in Room W, there was a refreshingly direct exchange on the concept of “differentiation” in the roles and contributions of developing country members.  I appreciated the very direct views expressed by my colleagues on this important question, which helped us understand, again, the significance of some of the gaps we confront. 

"This is a term, by the way, that I first heard in a discussion among developing countries when I attended an African trade ministers forum in Ghana several years ago. But I do want to be clear about what the United States does, and does not, mean when we refer to differentiation. 

"We do not mean that we are seeking a new categorization of members within the WTO.  We are not talking about “graduation.”  We recognize such a discussion would result in endless debate and no outcome, and furthermore it is not what we need in order to accomplish a reasonable outcome.

"What we do mean, for example, is that a developing country member that today maintains very significant agricultural domestic support programs and has the productive capacity to affect global markets will necessarily have to participate in negotiations, and contribute to outcomes, in ways that are different than developing countries that don’t have such programs.  Such developing countries are different from other developing countries, and we cannot succeed if we pretend otherwise. But let me also be clear: the United States is not seeking new market access outcomes in Doha from those WTO Members who would not have applied the formula under the existing NAMA framework.

"In talking about this kind of differentiation, we are not trying to be provocative.  We are simply trying to prompt an honest discussion of world trade as it exists today and to foster an outcome that reflects real world trade dynamics.  None of this requires any revision of categories within this institution, but it does implicate the need for a flexible approach that recognizes that there can be no one-size-fits-all approach for development.

"Finally, I would like to offer a brief word with respect to the interesting ideas we have heard recently regarding the possibility of a request/offer format in Agriculture and NAMA as part of finding new ways forward.

"We welcome this contribution to the discussion as a much-needed element of the fresh thinking the United States has long been seeking.  We will want to study the idea further and to engage in detail with those proposing it.  Initially, we think it is important to be a bit cautious, to the extent that request/offer could prove to be significantly more complex and time-consuming than any of us might currently envision.  However, if ways can be found to frame such an approach with acceptable parameters, including with respect to scope and duration, this could be well worth further exploration. We remain hopeful that outcomes by Nairobi are within the realm of possibilities.

"Director General, Mr. Chairman – the United States reiterates its view that we are moving into interesting and at least somewhat encouraging new territory.  We look forward to doing our part to sustain this momentum."