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Ambassador Punke Delivers WTO General Council Statement of the United States

September 9, 2013

On behalf of the United States, let me start by adding our voice to all of those offering sincere congratulations to Director General Azevedo. Roberto, like others in this room, we know you well. We know you as a highly intelligent practitioner of international trade law and policy. We know you as an articulate and passionate advocate. And most importantly for your new position as Director General, we know you as an honest broker.

All of your skills will be challenged by the task before you – or more accurately, by the task before every person assembled in this room. Because, as it is worth recalling, all of the Director General’s skills will be necessary for us to succeed, but they will not be sufficient. To succeed, Members will need to do something that – surprisingly – has never been done in the twenty year history of the World Trade Organization: successfully conclude a multilateral trade agreement.

The United States worked with others to found the current system of rules-based multilateral trade. Our commitment to this system is unsurpassed, through six decades and twelve presidents. But we support multilateralism as a means for getting things done, not as a mere abstraction. If the WTO is to be an institution seen by its Members as offering future opportunities to negotiate new rules, the time has come for it to produce meaningful, multilateral results.

Between now and the 9th Ministerial Conference in Bali, we will learn if the WTO is an institution that can produce results. The good news is that a meaningful deal remains possible, if only just barely.

The deal envisioned could harken a new phase in the history of the WTO in which success begets success: a virtuous cycle in which the completion of new agreements creates an impetus to pursue and complete future agreements. And there is no reason that the Members in this room can’t produce this result. Even as we have tempered the ambition of the full Doha Round, we must work to ensure that the remaining elements in the Bali package make a true contribution to global trade.

Virtually all serious outside observers recognize that the most significant development outcome at Bali would be an agreement on trade facilitation. To be meaningful, though, such an agreement must be ambitious. Practically every element of the trade facilitation deal is designed to make trading easier for small and medium-sized businesses. As we consider individual provisions in the weeks ahead, let’s view them through the prism of the small business owners in all of our countries who are working hard to link their enterprises to opportunities provided in global markets. If we cut the red tape that blocks their path, they’ll create the jobs we want in all of our countries. We agree with the Director General’s statement today that our overriding goal—which we must never forget—is to improve our people’s lives. Trade facilitation is how we do it. That’s the essence of trade facilitation. In fact, that’s the essence of the WTO.

In a similar vein, the provisions of a trade facilitation agreement are only meaningful if they are implemented, which is why the agreement must be founded on binding obligations. That’s the value-added of the WTO – binding rules. A binding agreement should also provide special and differential treatment for developing countries. That’s why, almost four years ago, the United States put forward a path-breaking proposal to create more flexibility and self-determination for developing countries than has ever been contemplated in an international trade agreement. If we fail to reach agreement at Bali, this offer of unprecedented flexibility will be among the opportunities foregone.

If Bali fails, it is difficult to imagine any near or even medium-term prospect of a multilateral trade deal. And absent such a prospect, countries will no doubt intensify their focus on those configurations and fora that are producing results.

Certainly we are ready to work to make the ministerial conference in Bali – and future negotiations in the WTO – a success. The Director General laid out today an ambitious but workable plan. But of course, that plan represents a process, not the substance of a deal. No one can come to the negotiations unprepared to deal. The issues are well-known, and consultations with capital should already be advanced. Nor do we have any time for abstract musings about proposals with no short-term prospects for success. Such proposals will be recognized for what they are. As others have suggested, by mid-October, one way or the other, we’re going to have a very good idea of whether success is possible.

Director-General, colleagues, we look forward to joining together to make actions of all our words; to make the WTO the productive forum we all want it to be.