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Remarks by Mr Shiu Raj, Director Programmes and Initiatives at the WTO-PIFS Policy Dialogue on the World Trading System for Senior Government Officials from the Pacific.

 

"regional Preparatory workshop for the 11th wto ministerial conference (MC11)"
1-3 November 2017, tANOA INTERNATIONAL HOTEL

  • Senior Officials from the Pacific WTO Members;
  • Mr Tim Yeend, Chief of Staff and Chief Adviser to the WTO Director General, and staff of the WTO;
  • Dr. Luanga, Senior Counsellor, WTO  
  • Representative of the Forum Fisheries Agency and staff of the PIFS

On behalf of the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, I welcome you all to this important Regional Preparatory Workshop for the upcoming 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11), which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina next month. I am pleased that Fisheries, Agriculture and Commerce Officials are able to join their Trade Colleagues at this Workshop to help provide guidance on the issues under negotiations.

It is also my pleasure to welcome Mr. Tim Yeend back to the region along with Dr Faustin Luanga, to participate in this Workshop. It signals the prominence that the WTO places on the Pacific region’s preparations, noting that four Pacific WTO Members do not have representation in Geneva and rely on activities such as this workshop to gain a better understanding of the negotiating issues.  I therefore wish to extend my sincere appreciation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Secretariat for funding this workshop.

I also wish to welcome Mr. Mike Batty from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) for accepting our invitation to attend and to provide a regional perspective on the fisheries management in the region and its linkages to the fisheries subsidies negotiations   - an important element for the Pacific Members for MC11.

This Workshop is timely and provides a valuable opportunity for the Pacific WTO Members to enhance their understanding of the negotiations and engage constructively in the preparations for MC11 through the Geneva-based Pacific missions to ensure meaningful outcomes in Buenos Aires.

The objective of this Workshop is twofold. First, to provide an update on the state of play in the WTO negotiations and to assist the Pacific Officials to consider the region’s response to the ongoing negotiations especially in the areas that are of priority interests to the Pacific.   Second, to provide an opportunity for dialogue on recent developments in the global environment that are posing challenges for the multilateral trading system and discuss what should be the appropriate Pacific response to these developments.  

  • Mr Yeend has provided a good overview of the state of play in the various areas that are currently under negotiations. You will have noted that at this stage there are still significant divergences amongst Members on all issues and in some areas more than others.  The agenda of the Workshop will focus on the main areas that are of significant interest to the Pacific WTO Members. These are in Agriculture, Fisheries Subsidies, Development and Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) issues, and the emerging trade issues such as Digital Economy or E-commerce.

On Fisheries Subsidies, the negotiation is quite advanced, and is highly likely to be one of the important deliverables for MC11.  Fisheries is a vital economic sector for the Pacific Island Countries and is one of the priorities of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism agreed to in 2015 by the Pacific Forum Leaders who have also called for the elimination of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.  In their recent meeting in Samoa in September 2017, Leaders recognised that the demand for the region’s fisheries resources required coherent and coordinated approaches to address the multidimensional issues including IUU fishing, and monitoring, control and surveillance. The very theme of the Leaders meeting this year was the Blue Pacific, and as a region we are placing emphasis on our ocean, and the need to manage its resources sustainably.

In this regard, the WTO’s multilateral disciplines on fisheries subsidies can greatly complement regional efforts and contribute to the coherent and co-ordinated approach called for by Leaders in 2017, in providing an effective tool for the elimination of harmful subsidies such as subsidies to IUU fishing and to overfishing that reduce the sustainability of fish stocks. However, these disciplines need to be combined with appropriate flexibilities that enable small island developing states to develop and maximise the economic returns from their fisheries resources.  MC11 will therefore be an important Conference for the Pacific WTO members given the likely outcome on fisheries subsidies and the importance of meeting the SDG target 14.6 which calls for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies by 2020.

On Agriculture, this sector remains an important sector for Pacific Members for economic development, food security and in improving rural development and livelihoods.  There are two aspects of the negotiations that are of interest to the Pacific. The first is the need to discipline agricultural subsidies or domestic support to farmers particularly in developed and larger developing countries’ markets. These subsidies distort agricultural trade and unfairly restrict market access for agricultural exports of small countries such as ours, many of whom are either small subsidisers or cannot even afford to subsidise their farmers.  New disciplines on agriculture would ensure fair competition for small agricultural producers.

On the second agriculture issue of public stockholding programs for food security purposes, although the Pacific is not a demandeur on this issue, the Pacific’s interest would be to ensure that the permanent solution extends to new schemes. This will enable the Pacific countries, which are net food importing countries, to establish such schemes that would ensure food security and stabilise food prices after natural disasters.  A permanent solution should also have effective transparency mechanism in place to prevent Members using such schemes to flood the world market with the subsidized commodities which would be unfair to the agriculture producing Pacific countries.

The third issue of priority interest to the Pacific is on the Development issues or the strengthening of special and differential treatment provisions in the WTO agreements.  The only submission made under negotiations were by the G90 group which comprise the ACP, the LDC and the African group.  The submission comprises 10 proposals seeking amendments to current WTO rules to provide policy space for industrialization, economic diversification and value adding activities; to improve procedures for new SPS and TBT measures; and two LDC proposals to support simplified WTO accession and that unilateral schemes such as the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) schemes should provide market access for LDC exports.  Significant divergences exist amongst Members and an outcome is highly unlikely.  Given that many Pacific countries are moving to value-added exports, to diversify their economies and to pursue industrialization strategies, the Pacific countries should perhaps consider prioritization of those proposals that support industrialization and LDC issues as a possible way forward.

On the other negotiations, it is highly unlikely to have any outcome on Services and Non-Agriculture Market Access or NAMA at MC11 as significant differences exist in the Services domestic regulations area and there is no ambition in NAMA.  This could be welcomed by the Pacific countries as the current proposals on services domestic regulations place uncertainty over the right to regulate and do not address qualification requirements and standards that are of interest to the Pacific, and further liberalization in NAMA would erode trade preferences that the Pacific currently enjoy.  

On the new issues, discussions on E-commerce had gained significant interest amongst Members, both developed and developing.  Members’ positions for MC11 range from the usual two-year extension of the current Work Program on E-commerce and the moratorium not to impose duties on e-commerce transmissions, to clear decisions for a timeframe after MC11 to decide on launching the negotiations, to the establishment of a mechanism to commence negotiations. While Ecommerce provides potential for trade opportunities for the region, the Pacific Member countries have been taking a cautious approach to the launching of negotiations given the current gaps in national policies, laws, digital infrastructure, payment systems, data and consumer protection laws as identified at the Regional Workshop on Ecommerce held in June this year.  Other new issues discussed were Investment, Competition and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises or (MSMEs). 

Given these wide divergences in positions on all issues, the Pacific would need to identify the areas where convergence are possible for MC11, and those that can be continued in a Work Program for post-MC11.  Over the next three days, we will discuss these areas in more detail and to develop appropriate positions that would guide the Pacific region’s engagement in the remaining month before Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference. 

Finally, turning to the other objective of this workshop on the international landscape, we no doubt will recognize that the global environment has significantly changed over the past year.  There is greater uncertainty over global decision making, and the multilateralism that used to mark international co-operation is significantly weakening as unilateralism emerges.  At the same time, with over 16 years of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda negotiations, only two tangible outcomes have been achieved – the Trade Facilitation Agreement in 2013 and the decisions on Agricultural Export subsidies elimination in 2015. I encourage all Pacific Members to complete the necessary processes for the TFA notifications and ratifications so that we are able to work with development partners in ensuring that our trade needs are addressed. The Pacific region also needs to link to the Global Aid for Trade agenda, and earlier this week, the regional workshop on Trade Mainstreaming has provided some guidance on how we proceed with the next Pacific Aid for Trade Strategy beyond 2017.

The state of play indicates that decisions and convergence in positions are more and more difficult to reach in the WTO.  These developments are putting the multilateral trading system at risk.  Small developing countries such as the Pacific Members have always looked to the multilateral rules-based system of the WTO to provide a secure, transparent, and predictable trading environment for them.  The future of this multilateral system is clearly under threat.  Two sessions have been included in this Workshop to discuss these developments and reflect on how the Pacific should respond including what position might be useful for MC11. 

The ACP Declaration adopted in Brussels on the 19 October 2017 has called for the reaffirmation of the multilateral rules based system of the WTO at MC11 and it would be useful to have your views on how the Pacific should respond including how to improve the multilateral trading system. Pacific Islands Forum also has the opportunity to interact with APEC economies at the forthcoming APEC Ministerial Meeting and I encourage you to discuss the message that we can convey at such fora.

Before I conclude, I wish to reaffirm the Forum Secretariat’s commitment to supporting you in the ongoing WTO engagement. The PIFS Geneva Office is relatively small but we have ensured that regular briefs are sent to the Pacific Members and that wherever possible we engage as a collective in the WTO discussions and negotiations.  I would encourage you all to participate actively in the discussions over the next three days and wish you well in your deliberations.

Thank you.

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