Remarks by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Michael Punke at the Australian Mini Ministerial Conference
June 4, 2015
“First, our best wishes for the rapid recovery of Minister Robb. Thank you Steve for convening this discussion at such a critical moment in our efforts to put together a post-Bali work program, as we look ahead to prospects for Doha results at the next Ministerial Conference in Nairobi.
“We will be gathering in Nairobi in just a few months’ time. Even as we meet here in Paris, in the heart of Europe, we know that another region – Africa – is placing particular hopes on MC10. We too have high hopes and I am so glad to see Kenyan Foreign Minister Mohamed joining you in chairing this meeting.
“At least one thing is glaringly obvious: we can and must do everything possible to bring about entry-into-force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement by Nairobi. I was just in Boracay, Philippines for the APEC Ministerial and I was very encouraged that a number of APEC economies indicated that they have completed or will shortly complete ratification.
“Minister Mohamed has called for WTO Members to ratify the TFA so that entry into force can be achieved by MC10. The United States has already shown, through our individual efforts, that we are determined to see this important new agreement come to life. We must keep moving forward, taking individual steps to ensure entry-into-force, and working productively with other WTO Members in their own efforts. Let’s get this done.
“It is also clearly time to finally conclude an agreement to expand the product coverage under the Information Technology Agreement, and work towards early conclusion of a new WTO agreement liberalizing trade in environmental goods. Every WTO Member – even those not participating directly in the negotiations – will benefit from these agreements.
“Success or failure in these initiatives will have extremely direct consequences for the multilateral system. Indeed, the repeated delays in concluding the ITA expansion – a simple tariff-cutting agreement on 200 tariff lines – have raised even more doubts about the ability of the WTO to deliver results. Let’s put those doubts to rest, and let’s do it quickly. We hope that those ITA participants still working to find consensus in bilateral configurations will move forward quickly. We should instruct our officials to return to Geneva in the next few weeks to finalize an agreement on the ITA product list before the end of the summer.
“Turning to the DDA, which we know will be a critical focus of the Nairobi conference.
“The United States is focused here on a single question: where can we find the points of consensus that can enable the conclusion of a negotiation that – let’s be honest – has drifted for far too long. Can we find those points of consensus?
“For a good number of years, the United States has maintained, sitting at this table, that the best outcome was one that involved high ambition, in keeping with our original hopes for the DDA.
“Much has changed over this period of time, and it appears that a consensus around a comprehensive, ambitious outcome remains elusive.
“But rather than languish in our disappointment, we have responded to calls by the Director General that Members must recalibrate. We are choosing to live in the real world, and are engaged with other Members in trying to find new landing zones that, even if they fall short of original expectations, will at least allow the WTO to achieve a constructive conclusion of the DDA.
“We have heard some criticisms about the process of recalibration, mostly from those who seem to think that we can find consensus on a 2008 package that we clearly failed to find consensus on at the time. This is far worse than living in the past. It's living in a fantasy world, and it is highly irresponsible. It will spell the doom for the negotiating credibility for the WTO, so dearly won back at Bali.
“With only a few months now to produce a work program for concluding the DDA, it’s critical that everyone be realistic. The process must be led by demandeurs. Those who continue to seek fully multilateral outcomes that will require new concessions on long-deadlocked issues must do two things quickly. First, they must articulate those specific requests and expectations. Second, they must articulate how their own contributions will help to balance their requests. We can then evaluate together whether or not we think new points of consensus are possible.
“The work program due in July will be critical in this regard, and will give us a clear sense of what to expect in Nairobi. For the United States, the work program must provide, at a minimum, a clear outline of the issues on which consensus might realistically be achieved through negotiations during the course of the fall, leading up to Nairobi.
“One way or the other, Nairobi will be a turning point. Time is short, but we still have a chance to deliver something meaningful, even if much more modest than what we had once hoped.
“And that must be our collective focus – finding a consensus for achieving a credible conclusion to a negotiation whose credibility has been in decline for over a decade. Most outside of Geneva have long since begun to talk about Doha in the past tense. The United States still believes an outcome at Nairobi is possible. But the reality is that Nairobi is our last chance to achieve such a result. After MC10, if we do not achieve a significant result, it is hard to imagine that any of our capitals will view Doha as a negotiation that offers potential to contribute to their trade and development goals. That being the case, it would be a mistake to envision a failure at Nairobi as just another step in these long negotiations. It really is now or never, something several ministers remarked on at APEC.
“So, we simply must focus on being successful. Because we know that our hopes to revive an essential system – the WTO – depends on it. There’s a tremendous amount that we can and must do within the WTO to strengthen the institution for its next two decades and beyond. But we know that we first have one very important job to do – find that elusive consensus that will enable conclusion of the DDA.