Informal Meeting of WTO Trade Ministers, Paris: Speech by Amb. Amina C. Mohamed

Speech by Amb. Amina C. Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary, Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, during the Informal Meeting of WTO Trade Ministers on the Margins of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Council: Paris, 4 June 2015

Thank you Hon. Stephen Ciobo for providing this opportunity and for inviting me to co-chair with you this informal meeting of colleague Ministers responsible for the World Trade Organization (WTO), and which is also being attended by Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General, Fernando de Mateo, Chairman of the General Council and friends. Thank you all for coming. I am pleased to be here.

I must tell you that on our preparations for this Tenth WTO Ministerial meeting, I am being micro-managed by President Kenyatta! At every stage, he asks me to provide him with precise reports on the state of play, description of problems and of probable solutions.

This is not just because he was former trade Minister, but because he has taken the public position that the first WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Africa shall neither fail, nor be subject to a low ambition exercise, nor be subject to endgame dramatic episodes that have characterized some other ministerial meetings. So to be clear, however we do it, Nairobi shall be a successful WTO Ministerial meeting.

The Nairobi Ministerial meeting is six months away. Not much time is left. We must, therefore, maximize every opportunity to consult, precisely on the principal issues before us and address, specifically, the key questions that we face, collectively.

A few points to get our meeting started. At this stage, I believe that we require focus, specifically on the consultative process and envisaged substantive ingredients for the inputs to and outputs from MC10.

On the process

First, what are the mechanics and steering mechanism that we should put in place now with the direct involvement of myself, the Director-General and the Chairman of General Council. We cannot afford a process that slip slides all over. I believe that we need to structure and organize now, with focus and direction.

Having chaired the General Council, I know and I am convinced that we must get the business of the WTO done by working in workable, different, but complimentary formats and configurations linked to transparency exercises in plenary meetings at appropriate moments. Uniform, undifferentiated consultative and negotiating formats can undermine confidence and negotiations. I would welcome your views and guidance.

Second, for transparency purposes, I should let you know what I have been up to and will sustain and upscale. I have been meeting with African trade ministers and the African Union Commissioner for Trade in different formats; seeking their advice, guidance and reaffirming with them that the first African Ministerial Conference must be ambitious in favour of trade multilateralism and must be successful. Africa must accept and share the responsibility of multilateralism and own MC10. They must not find themselves on the outside looking in.

Third, I will be using the policy dialogue in the China accession Round Table process to underscore the vital importance of domestic reforms, strengthening trade multilateralism and the benefits of a stable, predictable, rules-based inter-dependent global economy. The fourth WTO China Round Table, also the first to be held in Africa, will take place in Nairobi from 12th to 13th December, 2015 for all LDCs and African countries.

It is sponsored by the Government of China, organized by the WTO Secretariat and will be hosted by Kenya. I will open it with my counterparts and participate. It is an important exercise for confidence building. Successful trade negotiations require confidentiality (away from the public eye), tact and discretion but at appropriate moments, they must be squared with openness and transparency to ensure buy-in and avoid blow-back.

I would welcome your understanding of the goings-on in your different constituencies. One question that I am being asked which I understand, but I find somewhat puzzling is whether Kenya can deliver Africa. I am not sure it is so much a question of whether we, as individual WTO members, can deliver our regions.

I think that is far-fetched. I think that the real and legitimate expectation is whether we are able, collectively, to establish a process that inspires confidence with the clear understanding that the outcome must reflect pragmatism and realism and not anyone’s wish list.

Finally, from past experience, I believe that we must not leave huge unresolved problems for the Ministerial proper. President Kenyatta is determined to ensure that the African Ministerial Conference succeeds and that in doing so, we shall not engage another WTO MC attendant with drama in the final moments.

On substance

I hope you can understand Africa’s fundamental commitment to trade multilateralism; for Africa, for us, it is multilateralism first and last. We shall seek to use the Nairobi preparatory process to strengthen and advance multilateralism and strengthen the WTO as the engine of the rules-based multilateral trading system. We want to see the WTO more relevant, stronger and the first point of reference in writing non-discriminatory multilateral trade rules and for trade opening for recovery and growth in the global economy. More specifically, on the outcome document since Bali to now, we have a clear understanding of where we should be headed. We must not seek to do everything. If we try to do everything, we will end up doing nothing. So, the outcome from Nairobi should reflect several core elements namely;

First, a post-Bali/Nairobi work programme that is realistic, balanced and which modernizes and updates the WTO negotiating agenda and puts the WTO back in centre field.

The work programme should be substantively robust, reflect the fundamentals in the Doha agenda and issues that will ensure that the WTO is relevant and adaptable. Yet, it must not be a wish list. It must not divide the membership. It must contain benefits for the membership. Doha never died. The work programme should facilitate closure on Doha.

We shall have to find closure on Doha. We can and should, through the work programme to be agreed. It would need to include agriculture, including an outcome on cotton and an understanding on food security; services; NAMA; trade and environment; fishery subsidies; an expanded information technology agreement and a package for LDCs. Through the work programme we need to renew WTO. And we can.

Second, between now and end of November, we must find the 2/3 requirement to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement. On my part I have written to all African trade ministers and will have the Trade Facilitation Agreement discussed at the African Union Summit in South Africa as we did during our trade ministers meeting in Addis in May. We all need to push on this. In the same vein, we should do all that we can to ensure the ratification and entry into force of the amendment to the TRIPS Agreement.

Third, by Nairobi, we should also work to enlarge the WTO through accessions. On queue are the accessions of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Liberia. I would like to thank Roberto specifically for his outstanding “delivery” on WTO accessions, with his Secretariat team. This is one of the areas of the WTO that is working exceptionally well. We all know that the only real market access that has been achieved in WTO has been through accessions.

I have been a bit long, but I am aware of the questions and concerns that are being raised. The reports reach me in Nairobi. On security, let me assure you that the Government of Kenya will ensure the safety and the well-being of participants. We will do everything-everything possible to ensure success at the Ministerial.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group