Thank, you, DG, for your report, and thanks to the chairs of the negotiating groups for their updates.
Norway is pleased to note that the need to strengthen the multilateral trading system through modernization and reform has become a more broadly accepted objective. In this context, we welcome the G20 statement from Buenos Aires. We realize that views are diverging when we talk about specific changes and reform issues, but we are pleased to note a shared will to work within the system.
We are grateful to Canada for arranging a ministerial level discussion among a significant and diverse group of members that share the fundamental objective of supporting rules-based trade anchored in the WTO.
We welcome recent proposals addressing transparency and notification requirements. We do not agree to all elements, but we welcome the discussion, as we share the view that the current track-record of members’ compliance with their notification obligations is not good enough, and that transparency is essential for building trust and laying the ground for making progress in negotiations.
Let me in this context also point out that the picture is not all dark. Important work is going on in the various WTO committees such as the Trade Facilitation Committee where Members are active, disagreements are worked out, and important information is being shared for the common good. And, let us not forget, while we are deeply concerned with increasing protectionism and unilateralism, on the ground the rules are generally functioning and millions of exchanges and border crossings are happening every day.
The issue of Appellate Body vacancies remains unresolved. Norway calls on all members to agree without further delay to resolve this unacceptable situation, which threatens to undermine the efficiency of this organisation.
At the same time, Norway recognizes the concerns raised by members in relation to the functioning of the Appellate Body. Even if we do not share those concerns, we are willing to listen and engage in a conversation about those concerns. This is why we are among the co-sponsors of proposals addressing those concerns, which will be presented to the General Council on Wednesday.
Updating the rule-book is fundamental to the modernization and reform of an organisation that is built on rules. In this context, Norway is delighted to see the positive engagement from many Members in following up the Joint Initiatives from MC11. The e-commerce initiative has, in particular, made good progress, and we are looking forward to the next steps in this endeavour.
On fisheries subsidies we urge all members to submit updated notifications as soon as possible. Norway is encouraged by the constructive discussions that took place in the incubator groups this autumn. It is our hope that members will engage in text-based negotiations with the same willingness to work together and search for approaches and ideas that can bring convergence and fulfill the mandate.
The more fundamental challenge facing us in our effort to update the rule book, is the diverging priorities and views of Members. Many are pointing to so-called “21st century issues” and the need for “levelling the playing field”. Others point to “unfinished business” while having very different views about which of these “unfinished” issues are the most important to address. Some are concerned that their particular priority is in danger of falling off the table as members focus their attention on “current trade issues” and “reform”.
The discussions are also complicated by the fact that some issues have a clear political mandate, while other issues lack a commonly agreed basis for further work.
In addition, some members, are pursuing bilateral, regional or plurilateral tracks to develop new rules and commitments to enhance trade. Others are concerned that “flexible multilateralism” represents a fundamental threat to the multilateral trading system.
The only way we can deal with such divergent expectations is through dialogue, discussions and eventually negotiations on real and concrete issues and proposals.
In these dialogues we cannot afford to ignore the concern of anybody – big or small, rich or poor. At the end of the day, effective modernization of the World Trade Organization needs support from all members.
In this context, Norway would like to once again underline the need to give the development dimension sufficient weight and visibility – in particular in these days when a lot of attention is focused on the so-called “current trade issues” highlighted in the G20 statement.
The most immediate threat to the rules-based trading system is the damaging effects of increased protectionism, unilateral measures and escalating trade tensions. While the system does need to be improved, we should be careful not to destroy the fundamental principles upholding the rules-based order in our pursuit of reform. The WTO is in need of modernization, not demolition.