Thank you, Director-General, for your report.
Norway left Buenos Aires with an affirmation of the challenges facing the negotiating function of the WTO. Nevertheless, we also left Buenos Aires with a sense of hope, that there is a willingness to keep working, and to explore new dialogues and initiatives.
With a willingness to work together in a flexible manner as also pointed out by you, Director-General, Norway believes WTO members can take further steps towards safeguarding, or as Brazil said defending, and strengthening the multilateral trading system in the years to come.
Norway believes that trade plays a strong role, and can play an even stronger role, in fulfilling the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Not least, we look forward to continued hard work on fisheries subsidies, in order to implement SDG 14.6 in the WTO within the agreed timeframe. We all need to re-engage as soon as possible in text-based negotiations on fisheries subsidies under the guidance of the new chair of the negotiating group on rules.
As regards agriculture, negotiations will probably restart after a reflection period and when we, hopefully soon, have a chair for the negotiating group. We have all clearly seen how difficult it is to make progress. This begs the question whether we can find better ways to approach the negotiations on agriculture. The same question is just as relevant when it comes to other important areas such as non-agricultural market access (NAMA) and services.
Multilateral agreements will always be the first best. Norway will always do multilaterally, what we can do multilaterally. However, where not all members are convinced that trade rules, commitments and open markets are in their interest, Norway prefers not to give up, but to continue with all of those who do have an interest. Norway is convinced that outcomes of the open-ended joint initiatives from Buenos Aires that include obligations undertaken on most-favoured-nation basis and subject to dispute settlement in the WTO would benefit all members. No matter whether a member actually participates in an initiative or not, it will benefit from the improved transparency and predictability that an initiative can provide.
Norway is also convinced that an outcome on domestic regulations of trade in services, based on the text that was before members in Buenos Aires, should be pursued.
The discussions at the 11th Ministerial Conference showed clearly the different views concerning the relationship between trade and development, as well as regarding how to share responsibility between members at different levels of development. Nevertheless, Norway believes that in Buenos Aires members came closer to seeing the preconditions for bridging the gaps, we all know are there.
There is now a need to come out of the trenches and engage in real dialogue, without being restricted by past truths. Explaining more about what lies behind each Member’s own positions, without demanding that other members give up their positions a priori. Norway hopes members can build on this approach and find a way to move forward together.
Finally, Director-General, Norway is deeply concerned about the possible restrictions announced in Washington last week on imports of steel and aluminium following the Section 232 investigations by the Department of Commerce. These measures would represent a serious challenge to the multilateral trading system, which is already under strain due to the failure to appoint new members of the Appellate Body.
We urge the US to reconsider the announced restrictive measures and urge all members to prepare the grounds for filling the vacancies in the Appellate Body without further delay.
The Norwegian minister of foreign affairs, Ms Ine Eriksen Søreide has also voiced her concerns regarding the announced trade restrictions. Her reaction (in Norwegian only) can be found here.
At the WTO meeting on 5 March, WTO’s Director-General Roberto Azevedo called on members to avoid triggering an escalation in trade barriers. The WTO secretariat’s news item can be found here.