The first General Council meeting of the year appeared to be short from the agenda, but lasted several hours. The majority of the statements by the Member States were in reaction to Pascal Lamy’s report on the Trade Negotiations Committee. In it, Lamy highlighted that some of the Negotiation groups had already started moving forward. This is the case of Trade Facilitation (TF), which has the first half of the year mapped-out. There also has been some progress in Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU) and Market Access. Under the DSU, the Special Sessions started last week, and although there was no substantial progress the momentum from last year remains and there was some progress on draft language relating to participation of third parties in the dispute consultation stage. On MA, the Chair will hold consultations in order to discuss the organization of future work in the coming weeks. In the Rules Negotiation group, there will be a meeting at the end of the month to appoint the new Chair and there is the intention to reactivate the Technical group. Lamy summarized his statement in three words: calm, cool and pragmatic. He stated that the consensus is to move forward in small steps on the areas where consensus exits, where he singled-out: TF and LDCs. Finally, he concluded by saying that this should not be a wasted year, but did recognize that there are no expectations for major breakthroughs soon.
The chain of statements delivered afterwards was pretty much in-line with has been discussed in the past few weeks. India, China and Brazil raised concerns on plurilateral trade negotiations. The US on the other hand emphatically supported the different approaches to trade negotiations, which include plurilaterals and moving forward on mature negotiations. Although there is no general agreement on the “mature negotiations”, LDCs, DSU and TF keep popping up.
It is also worth noting that the guidelines for appointment of officials have been gaining some attention lately. Furthermore, it is important to note that as some questions have risen from the informal consultations, the Chair formally stated that these guidelines will be discussed. Although there might be progress in the DDA, it will most likely be modest; however, it appears that a lot of attention will be focusing within the WTO and its internal functioning.
Finally, the Ambassador of Norway Elin Østebø Johansen assumed her chairmanship at the GC. She stated that she will carry-on the consultations started under Ambassador Agah.