> WTO news archives
> Supachai Panitchpakdi's speeches
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today at the opening of UNCTAD XI. When we
last met 4 years ago in Bangkok, I had the great honour and pleasure to
preside over UNCTAD X. I now look forward to participating actively at
UNCTAD XI and to seeing again so many good friends. Let me first of all
congratulate Brazil on taking up the baton for the next four years. You
have made a great start to UNCTAD XI and I am sure that much more of the
same lies in store.
UNCTAD XI is a very special conference for two reasons. The first is
obvious. It's UNCTAD's 40th anniversary! That alone is cause for
celebration. I congratulate the UNCTAD Secretariat — and its Secretary
General. Four decades have passed since UNCTAD was founded. The debate
over trade and development in the early 1960s was one of the main
reasons for establishing the Conference on Trade and Development. Today,
the mission of trade and development remains just as relevant as forty
The second reason why this meeting is special is that UNCTAD XI, comes
at a critical juncture in the Doha Development Agenda round of global
trade negotiations. Four years ago UNCTAD X, which took place just a few
weeks after Seattle, was part of the process to rebuild confidence in
the multilateral trading system and gave a very important boost to the
launch of the Doha negotiations. UNCTAD X concluded with a very positive
and constructive message in support of the WTO. It succeeded at bringing
back confidence in the WTO system after the traumatic experiences of
Seattle. It reconfirmed the complementary roles of UNCTAD and WTO, and
it forged a stronger partnership.
UNCTAD XI can also leave a positive mark on the future of the Doha
Round. We need UNCTAD XI to give a strong message of support for the
Doha Development Agenda. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his letter
to the G-8 has given just such a message. Secretary General Kofi Annan
has been very clear that enhanced trade may be “even more important” for
developing countries in alleviating poverty than increased official
development assistance. And he has reminded us all that “The Doha Round
is the first set of multilateral trade negotiations in which the needs
and interests of developing countries have been officially declared a
priority” and whose conclusion is essential.
I would strongly urge you to take the opportunity of UNCTAD XI to join
Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his call to “put the Doha round back on
track” and to stay focused and committed to the negotiations.
We are at a crucial juncture. By the end of July, which is just a few
weeks away, we need to secure a framework package for agriculture and
industrial products, and an accord which better defines how we address
cotton subsidies and the so called Singapore Issues. These were among
the most difficult areas faced by Ministers at our 2003 Ministerial
Conference in Cancún. It is clear that, without movement on these
issues, there will be no movement at all.
July is not the end of the Round but agreement on a framework package by
July is indispensable, if we are to have a successful outcome to these
negotiations. If that does not happen, we will not be able to make any
significant progress during the remainder of the year and that would
mean a highly uncertain future for everyone.
We do not have the luxury of time on our side. Nor, as I see it, do we
have much of a choice. If we want trade to work as an engine for growth
and development, it is indispensable that we succeed in the Doha Round.
As I said in Bangkok four years ago, we should not lose sight of the
fact that we have only one multilateral trading system and that our
ultimate objective should be to ensure that the system is strengthened,
operates efficiently and works for the benefit of all countries and
UNCTAD has a special responsibility to assist developing countries in
maximising the opportunities and benefits from the multilateral trading
system. It accomplishes this task not in isolation but by interacting
and working closely with other international organizations. We need
UNCTAD to work together with the WTO to create a coherent and balanced
multilateral trading system.
As I see it, UNCTAD XI can play a vital role by helping to build on the
sense of momentum which is now emerging to make the July package a
success. The alternative, which I am sure nobody wants, is that 3 years
of intensive effort would have been in vain, and that we would be back
to square one.
I hope very much that UNCTAD XI will seize the moment and deliver a
clear and unequivocal message in support of the Doha Round. Let there be
no doubt, we are seeing strong and growing resolve from all quarters of
the WTO membership to advance the negotiations in a concrete manner. I
have personally seen a much needed new level of political commitment at
important ministerial gatherings such as the OECD Ministerial Conference
in Paris, the LDC Trade Ministers' Meeting in Senegal, the African Union
Trade Ministers meeting in Rwanda and most recently the APEC Trade
Ministers meeting in Chile. Also, just last week G-8 Leaders gave their
full support to the Doha Development Agenda and instructed their
Ministers to finalize the frameworks by July and to put the negotiations
back on track.
Ministers are engaged and starting to show flexibility in key areas. At
this stage, our challenge is to translate these general expressions of
political commitment into concrete progress. The time for political
declarations and fixed positions is over. This is the time for creative
problem solving and constructive offers. In agriculture, for instance,
we have now on the table a historic offer from the EU to eliminate all
export subsidies. This is a ground breaking offer in an area which has
been controversial for many years. Of course, some differences remain
but the important point is that we need all participants to make
constructive and determined efforts to narrow gaps so as to enable
deals, acceptable to all, to be reached by the end of July.
Anything which now distracts our attention away from achieving a
successful July package will be counter-productive and would risk losing
the advances made so far. For once, we have a real chance to achieve
substantial reform in trade in agricultural products, a sector which is
so important to so many developing countries. Advances that we only
dreamed of just a few years ago could actually become reality if we all
work together to achieve this breakthrough. And as you all know, a
breakthrough in agriculture will unlock the Round.
I know that some of you may have concerns about taking on additional
commitments. Let me, however, recall that the July package will consist
of framework level agreements. It does not require all the details, in
particular reduction commitments, to be specified. These will be
negotiated later. We should resist the temptation to pre-empt or
pre-determine the final outcome. If we want to succeed at this stage, we
need to show some restraint and faith.
Let me also recall that in agriculture and non-agricultural market
access WTO Members are ready to accommodate the different capacities of
developing countries. There is also increased understanding that we
should not overload the weaker and more vulnerable Members. For example,
in agriculture, the prevailing view is that LDCs should be exempt from
commitments to reduce tariffs and that account should be taken of
preferential access which developing countries enjoyed in other markets.
Furthermore, in non-agricultural market access LDCs are not expected to
apply any agreed reduction formula to their tariffs or to necessarily
take part in any sectoral approach. In both areas there is recognition
of the need to address meaningfully the question of erosion of
preferences. Moreover, recent signals from major players have also given
an indication of their relatively modest levels of expectation from the
smaller and more vulnerable developing countries. There is also a
growing body of opinion among WTO Members that favours including in the
July package the important work, which will be ongoing, to make existing
special and differential treatment more precise, effective and
operational. We now need a constructive response — a response which will
strengthen the sense of convergence for a July package. Let me stress
that this is an appeal that I am making to all governments, developed
We should be mindful that there are no guarantees that this window of
opportunity will still be open if framework agreements are not secured
by July. The global political landscape is continually evolving.
.Failure to secure a framework agreement may mean the unravelling of
commitments made by developed countries to eliminate agriculture export
subsidies and other subsidized forms of export competition. I don't
believe that anyone genuinely believes that such unravelling can be
viewed as progress. Indeed, it would surely make matters much worse. I
cannot put it any better than President Kagame of Rwanda, who in his
very recent address to the African Union Ministers of Trade very wisely
“This window of opportunity is a real one, and we cannot allow it to
slip away. Clearly, we should seize the occasion, use real imagination
and be as constructive as possible..............We all have our
priorities and interests. This would be a complicating factor in any
negotiation. That is why the search for compromises is of paramount
importance. And let no one think that flexibility and a predisposition
to compromise is a sign of weakness or a sell-out. Rather, it should be
seen as a willingness to advance our common interests, resulting in a
I certainly understand the difficulties that some developing countries
have and I know that some of you may still have mixed views on further
liberalisation of global trade. The WTO is not perfect and the
multilateral trading system is certainly capable of improvement. But it
is also unrealistic, if not possibly harmful, to believe that there is
an alternative to the WTO. It is unrealistic because no other system has
delivered the same depth and scope of market access or the legal
certainty of a global rules-based trading environment. It is harmful
because any distractions at this critical stage in the negotiations
risks undermining our very objectives of trade and development as
established at Doha.
There are, of course, broader considerations also to bear in mind. If
governments and their constituents lose faith in the ability of the Doha
Development Agenda to deliver results we shall, no doubt, see a growing
imbalance between multilateral and bilateral deal making. This could
rock the foundations of non-discrimination and transparency upon which
the multilateral trading system is built. These core principles not only
help level the playing field between developed and developing countries,
but also make the international trading environment a more predictable
and less complex place to do business. I am convinced that the world's
poorest and most vulnerable countries would be the biggest losers from a
focus on other deals at the expense of multilateralism.
While some may attribute importance to bilateral, regional or
plurilateral agreements, including deals between developing countries on
selected sectors, as alternatives, there is little evidence to suggest
that they can match the potential gains from a round of global trade
negotiations. Moreover, we all know that there are certain subjects,
such as agriculture and anti-dumping, where comprehensive reform can
only be obtained through a WTO round of global trade negotiations.
It is particularly important that the Doha Round is used to encourage
the expansion of South-South trade. Developing country trade patterns
are changing. Thanks to their active participation in the Uruguay Round
and new accessions to the WTO, as well as through their unilateral
liberalization measures, many developing countries have substantially
lowered their applied tariffs since the mid-1980s. These reductions have
contributed to an expansion of South-South trade. Over the 1990s,
South-South trade expanded twice as fast as world trade, 12 per cent
versus 6.5 per cent, and increased in value terms by over 200%. Today,
South-South trade amounts to $780 billion and represents over 12% of
global trade. The potential for further expansion is enormous.
However, despite these advances, developing countries still face on
average higher tariffs when exporting to other developing countries than
they do to developed countries. And their exporters also pay in absolute
terms more duties to developing countries' than to developed countries'
governments. Around 70% of the tariffs faced by developing country
exporters are applied by other developing countries. It is of great
concern that developing countries should face higher barriers to trade
between themselves than they do in their trade with developed countries.
I welcome the efforts made by UNCTAD XI to further South-South trade
liberalization. It is long overdue. I also appreciate the efforts that
are being made to revive the General System of Trade Preferences (GSTP)
scheme. As much as I commend the efforts to revive the GSTP, let us not
lose sight that the greatest gains are still to be made in the
successful completion of the Doha Development Agenda round of global
trade negotiations. The GSTP was designed to be complementary to WTO
global trade negotiations and not a substitute.
History has shown us that it is only with the critical mass of
trade-offs that can best be achieved in a global “single undertaking”
round that we will obtain tangible market access improvements in
North-South trade, as well as South-South trade.
We are on the verge of making history by pushing through fundamental
agricultural reform in the Doha Round. At this late stage, it is of
paramount importance that we avoid creating any unnecessary divisions
among governments or place additional obstacles in the path of the
negotiations. This is not the time to falter in our commitment and
resolve to meet our objectives as established at Doha three years ago.
Since the Cancun Ministerial Conference in September 2003, I have flown
more than 250,000 kilometres, met with a large cross section of WTO
Ministers and participated in 11 ministerial meetings in an effort to
find common ground among governments. I have paid particular attention
to developing countries, particularly the smallest and most vulnerable,
and in the last nine months I have made eight trips to Africa and six
trips to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Every Minister, as well as Head of State and Government, that I have met
have told me that they want the Doha Development Agenda to succeed. They
want the Doha Development Agenda to succeed because they know that it is
the best way to unlock the trading potential of their countries and to
usher in a new era of prosperity for all.
The Doha Development Agenda is at a crossroads, a watershed. Common
ground must be found, and quickly. Otherwise the trading system — and
the two key inter-governmental pillars that support it — mainly UNCTAD
and the WTO — will have failed in some of their important objectives.
International business and the global trade machine will certainly not
wait for us to move. Discriminatory market access arrangements will
become common place and the law of the jungle will prevail. The losers —
every time — will be the poorer, developing countries.
To avoid such a fate, we need everyone — Ministers of UNCTAD and WTO
Member governments — to pull in the same direction. This is the time for
us to take together a right step in the right direction.