Geneva, Switzerland — Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at the World Trade Organization General Council
This is a discussion that boils down to a simple question. And though it is simple, the answer each one of us gives will have profound consequences.
The question is this: Will Members of the WTO keep their commitments? For all the complexity of issues like trade facilitation and food security, the core issue today is quite direct.
In Bali, we all made commitments to each other, and to this institution.
The United States stands behind its word. We have followed through in good faith on every commitment we made, and we're ready to continue to do so. We believe that the vast majority of WTO Members take their obligations seriously.
All of the Bali decisions are important, none more so than those focusing on LDC issues. At the recent G20 Meeting in Sydney, the United States joined others in making a concerted effort to provide additional assurances regarding our commitment to the full implementation of all Bali decisions according to their agreed timelines. We have worked to address concerns about capacity for implementation of the trade facilitation agreement, including through the new Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility.
I do want to speak very directly about the issue of public stockholding for food security, because it has been a focal point of attention. We have heard repeated misstatements about activities in the past seven months, and so it is important to examine the facts in some detail.
Let us start with recalling very clearly what we agreed at Bali. To quote directly from our agreement: 'Members agree to establish a work programme to be undertaken in the Committee on Agriculture to pursue this issue with the aim of making recommendations for a permanent solution.'
We also all agreed specifically and by consensus on the timetable for developing these recommendations, specifically: "Members commit to the work programme mentioned in the previous paragraph with the aim of concluding it no later than the 11th Ministerial Conference." The 11th Ministerial Conference will take place in December 2017. There was a further commitment for an interim check in by the 10th Ministerial Conference, which will take place in December 2015.
These substantial commitments were made in the context of an intense negotiation. As Members in this room remember well, the agreed time period for reaching recommendations for a permanent solution on food security reflected the lengthy deadlock before Bali, and the wide recognition that progress on this complex issue would take time.
Since Bali, the United States has followed through on its commitments as one of the most active contributors to the food security discussion. Back in March, the United States was the first Member to put forward a written contribution, a paper outlining our domestic experiences with this issue. On July 14, we contributed a second paper, outlining ideas for the elements of a process to make the food security discussion informed and productive. While we have heard complaints about a lack of activity on food security, the fact is that proponents did not come forward with their first proposal on this topic until 9 days ago. We accept that it took time for them to coordinate an internal position, but it is odd for this fact to be juxtaposed against the complaint that work has not proceeded with sufficient pace.
At Bali, we also all agreed by consensus to work with fellow WTO Members to quote 'prepare within the next 12 months a clearly defined work program on the remaining Doha Development Agenda issues.'
Many Members, including ourselves, have followed through on this commitment scrupulously, meeting in a broad spectrum of formal and informal configurations, all with the goal of meeting our collective commitment to a work program by the end of 2014. It is well known that there are deep differences regarding the core Doha issues. The United States is working in good faith to bridge those differences, but we cannot guarantee to Members in this room that we will succeed, any more than others can make that commitment to us.
There are specific commitments, though, which we have made to each other, including the implementation deadlines for the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Today a small number of WTO Members are indicating that they may no longer stand by their commitments to implement the TFA. Or that they will honor their commitments only if they can now renegotiate the terms and receive new tradeoffs - additional to the ones they negotiated in Bali.
It is profoundly disappointing that we have arrived at this moment.
It was only seven months ago, December 7, 2013, that the people in this room sat together in an even larger room at the Bali Nusa Dua Conference Center. All of us were exhausted by months of 'round the clock work. Each of us had made difficult compromises toward the ultimate deal. Like all compromises, the deal itself was no piece of art, certainly no piece of great literature. And yet all of us embraced it. We all knew we were a part of something big, something important. Something important for its terms, but also vital for the life it injected into this institution.
From far-away Bali, we had flipped a switch that turned the lights back on at the WTO.
Today, we are extremely discouraged that a small handful of Members in this organization are ready to walk away from their commitments at Bali, to kill the Bali agreement, to kill the power of that good faith and goodwill we all shared, to flip the lights in this building back to dark.
It is no use to sugar coat the consequences of such action or to pretend that there would be business as usual in the aftermath. Many Members, including developing country members, have noted that, if the Bali package fails, there can be no post-Bali. It's with regret that we agree with them.
But it's not too late to avoid that outcome. The deadline to which we all agreed is July 31. We still have a few days. But while the deadline is fixed and firm, the real issue isn't time. The issue is, will all WTO Members keep their commitments? Will all WTO Members live by their word? In the next few days we'll find out. The whole world is watching.