‘Transparency in WTO work’: General Council minutes, July 1998

WTO

This technical note accompanies
WTO reform: how wide should the window be set?
summary and 3-part long read


WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION

RESTRICTED

WT/GC/M/29
30 September 1998

(98-3769)


General Council
15, 16 and 22 July 1998

Minutes of Meeting (Excerpt)

Held in the Centre William Rappard
on 15, 16 and 22 July 1998

Chairman:  Mr. J. Weekes (Canada)

[…]

Speakers: Chair | Director-General | US | EU | Canada | Egypt | ASEAN | Norway | Turkey | Peru | US | New Zealand | Brazil | Australia | Mexico | Uruguay | Jamaica | Chile | Cuba | Japan | Pakistan | Uganda | Mauritius | Rep.Korea | Hong Kong, China | India | Switzerland | Panama | Burundi | Argentina | US | Chair | Mexico | Chair and conclusion

[The full minutes are here]

6.       Transparency in WTO work

The Chairman recalled that in paragraph 4 of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration (WT/MIN(98)/DEC)*, Ministers had recognized the importance of enhancing public understanding of the benefits of the multilateral trading system and, in this context, had indicated that it was their intention to consider how to improve the transparency of WTO operations. He recalled also that the Director-General had addressed this matter, at previous meetings of the General Council, stressing the importance of improving the transparency of WTO operations. Related to the question of transparency was the question of the circulation and derestriction of documents. In this connection, he recalled that under the procedures for the circulation and derestriction of documents adopted by the General Council in July 1996 (WT/L/160/Rev.1, [see note below]), the General Council was to review and, if necessary, modify the procedures two years after their adoption. At informal consultations held on 3 July, delegations had had the opportunity to have a first exchange of views on the issues relating to transparency. Also at that meeting, delegations had had a first look at a proposal by the United States that certain types of documents be circulated as unrestricted documents sooner than currently provided for. Following the consultations, the United States had recently submitted a modified proposal (WT/GC/W/88). He also drew attention to another recently submitted communication on transparency from the European Communities (WT/GC/W/92).

* We recognize the importance of enhancing public understanding of the benefits of the multilateral trading system in order to build support for it and agree to work towards this end. In this context we will consider how to improve the transparency of WTO operations.  We shall also continue to improve our efforts towards the objectives of sustained economic growth and sustainable development. — 1998 Ministerial Declaration, paragraph 4

It had appeared from the initial discussion on 3 July that delegations viewed the question of transparency in WTO work as having several different elements, one of which was the derestriction of documents. The view had also been expressed during the consultations that an important issue that needed to be addressed was how to strengthen public confidence in the multilateral trading system. As the Director-General had indicated at the consultations, while much had already been done in terms of keeping the public informed about the work of the WTO through regular press briefings and the organization of symposia on topical issues, delegations would want to reflect further on what might be done.

The General Council could do more to promote transparency, in order to dispel the misleading impression of secrecy

Renato Ruggiero
Renato Ruggiero | WTO
Renato Ruggiero | WTO

The Director-General [Renato Ruggiero] said that there were four main issues raised by delegations which, in one way or another, belonged to the discussion on the subject of transparency. First was information policy. There was a strong need to improve the exchange of information about the nature and the goals of the institution, and one was certainly far from achieving results that could be considered satisfactory. However, with the limited resources that were available, he believed that impressive progress had been made, and he would send to all Heads of delegations a summary of the Secretariat’s activities in this important area. However, one would not make real progress unless there was a strong commitment from national governments. This effort involved highly political issues and clearly called for more work from Members and certainly the Secretariat to improve public understanding of the WTO’s mission. The second issue was derestriction. The WTO was not a secretive organization, as was sometimes claimed; the extensive and growing media coverage of the WTO’s activities showed this, and this should be welcomed. The Secretariat, for its part, had made a concerted effort to brief the press on each and every issue. And because it had adopted an open policy, it had built a strong and constructive relationship with the press. There would indeed be a problem if the WTO were not as open as it was. He recalled that practically all of the WTO’s documents were distributed to the public. The principle was not restriction but rather an open policy. For the exceptions, there was a list which was a public document. However, even in this limited area, he believed that the General Council could do more to promote transparency, in order to dispel the misleading impression of secrecy. Third, there was the issue of dispute settlement. One of the main problems here was not just the disclosure of panel findings, serious though it was, but rather the partisan and inaccurate way in which this was done. This problem was compounded by the fact that one was prevented from responding to and correcting these inaccuracies by the rules of the Organization. All this made it very difficult to provide the balanced and full information that was in the interests of all the governments concerned. For this reason, it was important that Member governments should help to find a solution to this problem. His fourth general observation was that transparency also meant the participation of all delegations in the formal and informal exchange of view inside the WTO. This required that formal and informal meetings were open-ended, so that delegations were fully informed and actively involved. As all were aware, this had always been a fundamental principle for him. He believed that this consensus-based organization, founded on non-discrimination, could not work well without it.

Emphasizing some of the steps that had already been taken regarding the WTO’s relations with civil society, and recalling that this relationship was based on a very clear and detailed mandate given by the General Council, he said that because of this mandate it had been possible to open the doors of the Ministerial Conference to NGOs. More than 300 NGO representatives from all over the world had made the journey to Singapore, to attend the first Ministerial Conference, and this success had been repeated at the May 1998 Ministerial Conference in Geneva. The Secretariat had organized four very useful symposia on issues ranging from trade facilitation, the marginalization of LDCs, to trade and environment. It was now organizing seven regional symposia on trade and environment, with the participation of developing countries. Building on this experience, it was planned to hold more. Much of the success of these meetings could be attributed to the active participation of Member countries themselves — mainly those Members, regrettably few in number — who had generously assisted with financing. Because of them, these initiatives had been, and would continue to be, made possible. Furthermore, a WTO website had been established on the Internet, which was widely regarded as one of the best websites among the international organizations. All derestricted documents were now instantly available to NGOs, academics and other interested members of the public — all in down-loadable format. By the Secretariat’s estimates, upwards of a million people from 134 countries viewed the WTO website each year. These accomplishments — all in just the past three years — were a significant step forward. However, one could do better and do more. For this reason, in accordance with the General Council’s 1996 guidelines, the Secretariat was now planning, first, to undertake regular briefings for NGOs along the lines of the briefings already offered to the media, but tailored to the NGO community’s particular interests and perspectives. Second, the External Relations Division would now compile a monthly list of NGO documents received by the Secretariat which would be made available to all Members that were interested. Interested delegations would now be able to access all of this material easily and systematically. Third, a separate “NGO forum” would soon appear on the existing WTO website. This section, easily accessible to all visitors to the website, would contain information of particular interest to NGOs, such as the announcement of future symposia, publications, and contact people within the Secretariat. Fourth, he would be meeting the following day with a number of representatives of NGOs. This would be the first in a series of informal meetings between himself and different NGO representatives — all with the goal of improving and enhancing the present mutual understanding. All of these initiatives would fully complement the efforts that had already been made, and he had every confidence that immediate progress could be made in implementing them. He would keep Members fully informed, in the coming months, of the Secretariat’s continued efforts in fulfilling the mandate given by the General Council. He hoped that all Members would likewise intensify their efforts to improve public understanding of the value of the multilateral trading system, so that all could share in these efforts and experience.

Issuing proposed agendas as unrestricted documents would facilitate Member governments’ preparation for WTO meetings by allowing them to use the proposed agendas in prior consultations with their private sectors

United States

The representative of the United States said that her delegation was very encouraged by the serious efforts that the Secretariat was undertaking on this issue. It seemed only right that since the WTO was created to lift the lives of ordinary citizens that all work together to ensure that their work took into account their views and interests. The United States shared the view that this could be done while preserving the essential government-to-government character of the WTO. Indeed, such efforts would be essential to build the necessary public support for the global economy. She recalled that at the General Council meeting in February, her delegation had drawn Members’ attention to the fact that the 1996 Decision on the circulation and derestriction of WTO documents was up for review this year. The United States had proposed informal consultations to consider how the 1996 Decision might be modified so as to improve circulation and derestriction procedures. The proposal by the United States that Members had before them outlined the principal areas where it believed the existing Decision could be improved. Her delegation hoped that after reflecting on the points covered in this proposal, Members could decide already at the present meeting to amend the 1996 Decision in the ways that had been suggested. The most significant change that was proposed concerned the circulation and the derestriction of panel reports. All were aware of the serious problem now posed by the fact that parties to a dispute received final panel reports months ahead of other Members. The delay was largely due, as all knew, to translation and it had the effect of depriving Members of important information which could bear on their rights and obligations in the system. In its original proposal, the United States had proposed that panel reports should be issued as unrestricted documents and made available to all Members as soon as the report was finalized in a single WTO official language. However, in talking with different delegations further, this proposal had proved to be difficult for many. The proposal was therefore now changed to provide that no Member, including the parties to the dispute, would receive a panel report until the operative portion of the report — the findings and conclusions section – was available in all three WTO languages. The panel report then would be given at the same time to all the parties of the dispute and all other Members in unrestricted form. All Members would then know the result at the same time, and none would be disadvantaged by the current lack of transparency. Moreover, this proposal would enable the parties to the dispute to consult immediately with their domestic stakeholders. Under the current system, reports were frequently leaked but were technically still restricted documents. This had sometimes resulted in misinformation, misunderstanding and miscommunication about panel reports. The proposed change was not one that should be discussed in the DSU review. It in no way affected the operation of the DSU or changed DSU rules. To be very clear, the proposal related only to the final report of the panel and not to the interim report. She noted that nothing in the DSU required panel reports to be issued as restricted documents. It was just a customary practice of the GATT, independent of the DSU, and current practice was based on the 1996 derestriction decision. The proper venue for the decision was therefore the General Council, and not the DSB. Panel reports would still be considered as “circulated” for the purposes of the DSU only when the entire panel report had been translated into all three WTO languages. The United States was not asking any Member to agree to a report’s adoption until it had read the whole report in the official language that it chose to use.

With regard to other suggested changes, the United States believed that issuing proposed agendas as unrestricted documents would facilitate Member governments’ preparation for WTO meetings by allowing them to use the proposed agendas in prior consultations with their private sectors. Working papers now being produced by Members in a variety of fora were similarly of great interest to private sector operators and, in most cases, were not of a sensitivity that justified their being issued as restricted documents. Finally, with regard to minutes of meetings, under the existing rules they were first circulated in restricted form about a month after a meeting. Five months later, they were then derestricted. She asked what purpose was served by keeping the documents restricted for five additional months, and why minutes should not be circulated as unrestricted documents when they were first finalized. A number of delegations had indicated in consultations that they were in favour of continuing restrictions on minutes of negotiating sessions. Her delegation did not believe that all minutes of meetings related to negotiating sessions. She hoped that other delegations would reflect on the points she had made and give their support to the proposal by the United States.

Transparency should [be] seen as part of a wider communication strategy to convey the benefits of an open multilateral trading system

European Union

The representative of the European Communities said the Community considered that the WTO needed to take further decisive steps in order to enhance transparency of its operations. Following the political mandate given by Ministers, this should be acted on as a matter of urgency. Enhanced transparency would reinforce the WTO as an institution and strengthen support for the multilateral trading system. Transparency should, however, been seen as part of a wider communication strategy to convey the benefits of an open multilateral trading system, explaining the functioning and the role of the WTO as well as the interaction between trade policy and broader concerns in the global economy. The Community further considered that organizations of civil society were key stakeholders in the domestic process of trade policy formulation. WTO Members had a primary responsibility to develop at the domestic level procedures for consultations and cooperation with organizations of civil society, and he noted the Director-General’s observations on that very point. At the same time, the WTO as an organization should itself contribute to greater openness through a comprehensive policy of access to information and greater and more systematic use of opportunities for consultation and cooperation with organizations of civil society.

The Community considered that improvements in transparency in the WTO were required on three broad fronts. First, a broader policy for the immediate derestriction of most WTO documents, on which the Community had presented specific proposals. Second, the Community also believed strongly in the need for improved transparency in the area of dispute settlement. However, while it shared a lot with the United States on this issue, the Community believed that this matter should more properly be reviewed within the context of the review of the DSU. Third, the Community believed there should be further work to promote greater and more systematic use of the existing avenues for interaction with organizations of civil society. It therefore proposed that the General Council fully support the ongoing efforts being made by the Director-General and his colleagues, and that the adequacy of the current means of interaction be reviewed in the WTO in order to enhance consultation and cooperation with organizations of civil society. The Community intended to present further ideas on this matter in a future submission. It was willing to work and to cooperate with the United States and other delegations in pursuing this issue and seeking consensus on it.

Members needed to demonstrate that they as Members working within the context of the WTO had no secrets to hide

Canada

The representative of Canada said that her delegation had been particularly pleased to hear of the Director-General’s plans for further outreach with civil society. As Canada’s Minister for International Trade had made clear in his statement at the May Ministerial Conference, greater transparency in WTO activities was central to building and reinforcing public support for the multilateral trading system. As part of the preparatory process for the third Ministerial Conference, all governments had the responsibility to develop national positions in close consultation with their national stakeholders. They therefore needed to have the necessary tools at their disposal to facilitate the task of developing national positions. Greater transparency, while preserving the contractual intergovernmental nature of the WTO, was one means of doing so. Public concern in many Member countries could reflect a lack of understanding of the nature of the WTO. As a way of rebuilding confidence in the objectives of the preamble of the WTO Agreement, Members needed to demonstrate that they as Members working within the context of the WTO had no secrets to hide. As governments, Members increasingly needed to engage in open and well-informed public debate at the national level as a means of rebuilding such confidence. Her delegation believed it was useful to distinguish among three separate elements of transparency as a way to taking immediate and practical steps towards the shared goal of greater public support for trade liberalization in general and the WTO in particular. The three elements were document derestriction, outreach to civil society, and transparency issues related to the DSU. Canada believed that Members should move quickly on both document derestriction and outreach. Certain issues related to the DSU were different and should be considered in the context of the DSU review.

With respect to document derestriction, Canada had some specific, practical suggestions. First, that proposed agendas be issued as unrestricted documents. Second, given the concerns of some delegations about the derestriction of minutes of meetings, that minutes be derestricted one month after circulation, rather than after six months. Canada was also open to the suggestions from the United States and the European Communities regarding circulation of working documents by the Secretariat and delegations as unrestricted documents. It was also open to the suggestion by the United States that the findings and conclusions of panel reports should be released as soon as they were translated into all three official WTO languages and the body of the report was available in one language.

With respect to Secretariat outreach to civil society, her would welcome further Secretariat efforts. One took for granted that outreach should be aimed at the full range of public interests, rather than only those groups which had expressed particular concerns. Canada would support more regular outreach, in the form of symposia and workshops, as a means to improve understanding regarding the WTO and trade liberalization. However, these cost money. While some funds in this regard had been able to be provided in the past, and there might well be a role for grant funding for special activities by the Secretariat, her delegation would rather that the Secretariat concentrate its efforts on the substance rather than be tasked with fund raising. Regular budget funded outreach would ensure best use of Secretariat resources and, more importantly, would preclude undue influence by donors in terms of the specific activity or event funded. Regular budget funding would provide the confidence among all Members that the Secretariat’s outreach programme reflected the views of the full spectrum of Members. Such an outreach programme should not, of course, be developed at the extent of ongoing work, but should be funded either from within the current WTO budget surplus or through an increase in the WTO’s budget. In the medium term, one would need to consider building the funding of outreach into the regular WTO budget. In closing, she stressed that it was the very success of the GATT and the WTO over the past 50 years that had led to public awareness of the linkages between trade policy and domestic interests. As Members prepared for the third Ministerial Conference and further negotiations, informed debate was crucial. Enhanced transparency, through more liberal document derestriction and outreach, were key elements in informed debate and were essential to the development of public policy.

His delegation […] sympathized with most of the proposals on the table, in particular the issues relating to working documents and minutes of meetings

Egypt

The representative of Egypt said that his delegation looked upon transparency as one of the most important cornerstones of the WTO, enabling Members to better participate in its work. The principle of transparency was reflected in almost all WTO Agreements. In this context, his delegation welcomed the remarks by the Director-General. The 1998 Ministerial Declaration had recognized the importance of enhancing public understanding of the benefits of the multilateral trading system with a view to building support for that system, and emphasized the consideration of improving the transparency of the WTO Agreements and operations. His delegation was ready to consider with an open mind and flexibility any proposal aiming at enhancing transparency, taking into consideration the following elements: preservation of the rights and obligations of Members under WTO Agreements; achieving a balance of rights and obligations, as well as interests, of all Members without adding new conditionalities, additional obligations or burdens, in particular as regards the developing countries; any decision in this connection should be reached by consensus. His delegation had noted the proposals by the United States and the European Community and, as a preliminary reaction, sympathized with most of the proposals on the table, in particular the issues relating to working documents and minutes of meetings. Regarding reports of panels, Egypt was willing to consider this issue in a constructive and positive manner, in the framework of the consultations taking place within the review of the DSU.

The ASEAN Members also attached importance to the improvement of transparency in the consultations and negotiations conducted within the WTO itself, and noted that a number of WTO Members had complained that they were being excluded from some important processes of consultations that led to substantive decisions

Indonesia for ASEAN

The representative of Indonesia, speaking on behalf of the ASEAN Members, expressed appreciation for the statement by the Director-General, and indicated their support for efforts to improve transparency and to enhance public understanding of the WTO. By transparency, they understood access to information without violating confidentiality obligations and the contractual integrity of the WTO. The issue of transparency was therefore not simply an issue of derestriction of documents. The timing of derestriction of the documents was perhaps only symptomatic of the more fundamental issues before all. Regarding derestriction, although the ASEAN Members recognized that the current rules provided for a review and modification if necessary of such rules, they believed that the present procedures should be maintained, since they still served their purpose. However, their position was flexible with regard to minutes and agendas of meetings. If Members deemed that there were important documents that the public should be aware of, then a decision to derestrict the documents on case-by-case basis would have to be taken without having to change the rules. Regarding the proposal by the United States on panel reports, he asked what was really meant by panel reports being made publicly available and who were the targeted recipients, and, second, whether it would it be conceivable to be in a situation where the public, at least in the territories of the parties to the dispute, would have access to panel reports even before other WTO Members. One problem that had to be addressed in this context was the question of violation of confidentiality obligations, in other words, how to balance the efforts to improve transparency and to preserve and respect the confidentiality obligations agreed upon by parties to the dispute. The rules on the derestriction of panel reports were quite clear, and footnote 10 to document WT/L/160/Rev.1 also made it clear as to the forum in which this matter could be taken up.

The ASEAN Members also wished to reiterate their view that the WTO was a contractual institution, and that it was the responsibility of individual governments to involve various sectors in their society before entering into agreements in the WTO. It was also the responsibility of governments to increase public understanding and awareness of the various agreements that they had entered into. The ASEAN Members had serious doubts about the advisability of establishing rules that would allow the participation of non-Members in the WTO, which was an organization of governments. While governments could, and should, extend to civil society the respect it deserved, Members were not solely accountable to special interest groups, no matter how legitimate their concerns. To promote transparency, it would be sufficient for each Member to take into account the views and positions of its civil society and, if it so decided, to promote and defend such positions in the WTO on its own responsibility as a Member. The ASEAN Members also attached importance to the improvement of transparency in the consultations and negotiations conducted within the WTO itself, and noted that a number of WTO Members had complained that they were being excluded from some important processes of consultations that led to substantive decisions. In order to enhance transparency in WTO operations, all consultations within the WTO process should be open-ended and Members should be made aware of such consultations in advance.

The notion of transparency as used in the WTO seemed to have in it certain inherent conflicts

Norway

The representative of Norway said that the notion of transparency as used in the WTO seemed to have in it certain inherent conflicts. Those working in and with the organization seemed to think that the organization was run basically in a transparent way. However, quite a number of those who observed the WTO from the outside did not necessarily share this view. This conflict should be taken seriously by the organization. Norway saw four aspects in connection with the transparency issue. These were: information and communication as one unit, the derestriction of documents, all questions related to panel reports, and the notion of always open-ended participation in the process. His delegation was willing to participate in any work on these issues. Either through normal, what you might call WTO consultations or through special procedures that might be establish for this very purpose. The present politically sensitive situation needed to be improved if the WTO was to get into a good working relation with the outside world, and in particular the media on which it depended in its future work. To bring about such an improvement, a combined effort by the Organization and the Member States was necessary, both in the WTO and in the respective countries. The ideas and the proposals put forward both by the United States and the European Communities were very valid contributions in this direction.

It was also important for governments to understand their responsibility in explaining to their public what the WTO meant and what its goals were

Turkey

The representative of Turkey expressed support for improving transparency within the WTO. However, in order to do this, one had to agree on the understanding of what was meant by transparency. In the 1998 Ministerial Declaration, two different concepts had been referred to. The first was the importance of explaining to public opinion the benefits of the multilateral trading system, and in this regard Turkey welcomed the efforts undertaken by the Director-General, in particular as regards the information policy vis-à-vis NGOs. It was also important for governments to understand their responsibility in explaining to their public what the WTO meant and what its goals were. The Ministerial Declaration had also referred to the transparency of WTO operations. In this area, the proposals by the United States and the European Communities constituted good bases for further reflection and discussion. His delegation had no problem in giving its support to the suggestions relating to derestriction of documents circulated by Members and minutes of meetings. However, it wished to look at the question of panel reports more closely during the review of the DSU. Nevertheless, if a consensus emerged with regard to the derestriction of the conclusions of the panels, his delegation would join therein.

The circulation of temporarily restricted documents within the WTO did not mean absence of transparency

Peru

The representative of Peru shared the concern of achieving greater transparency within the WTO. However, it was essential to distinguish three aspects. First, the work of the WTO should be made better known to ensure that the public better understood the benefits of the multilateral trading system. The Secretariat had carried out a tremendous effort in this area, and his delegation urged it to continue in its endeavours. However, it was also for Members themselves to ensure that their public opinion was aware of how their government participated in the WTO and how their interests were defended in the system. Each Member was therefore responsible for the information, consultation and coordination with its private sector which led to the adoption of national positions. In the course of this process, the intergovernmental nature of the WTO should be respected. Second, with regard to the proposals made concerning the circulation and derestriction of documents, his delegation wished to note that the circulation of temporarily restricted documents within the WTO did not mean absence of transparency. His delegation was ready to consider changes to the existing rules in order to give a greater openness to WTO work while respecting the interests of Members. However, any possible amendments should not have a direct or indirect impact on the principle of equality of all Members. In this context, his delegation welcomed the proposal by the United States and could go along with some of the elements therein. However, a clarification had to be made as to how the procedure would be adopted in lifting the restrictive character of a document, depending on the type of document involved. Any amendment to procedures for panel reports should be considered within the revision of the DSU. In the case of the agendas of meeting’s, his delegation did not have any difficulty in accepting the proposals. Regarding working documents that were national submissions for a negotiation or discussion under way, these could be circulated unrestricted unless a Member did not request restricted circulation. Regarding minutes of meetings, his delegation believed they could be circulated as unrestricted documents as soon as the final official version translated into the three official languages was available. Finally, Peru believed it essential to stress the importance of the greatest possible transparency in the course of the negotiations and decision‑making within the WTO, since this was an Organization in which all Members had the same rights and obligations. In this regard, Peru reiterated the importance of the equality of participation of all Members.

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The representative of the United States said it appeared that the US proposal regarding panel reports was still unclear to some Members. She wished to clarify that in talking about panel reports, the United States was talking about their circulation. The United States was not proposing that panel reports should be derestricted earlier than the current practice, but rather that the final reports be issued as unrestricted documents. All it was proposing was a change in the circulation procedures, and that Members agree to an accelerated approach to circulation. It was not proposing that something that was presently confidential or restricted should henceforth be unrestricted. The United States wished to ensure that all parties in the WTO received the report at the same time, including the parties to the dispute. They would receive the report once the findings and conclusions section was available in all three WTO languages, and then the Panel report would be circulated at the same time to all parties.

The strong presumption should be that all documents submitted by Members were unrestricted unless a Member intentionally expressed at the time that they be restricted

New Zealand

The representative of New Zealand said there was no question about the need to enhance public understanding of the WTO and its work. There was clearly a role for the Secretariat to play and, bearing in mind the Director-General’s opening remarks, his delegation believed the latter and his team were already doing a good job in enlarging the outreach of the WTO as an institution. At the same time, all accepted that national governments had a crucial role to play in establishing good public understanding of the objectives they pursue in the WTO, and they could continue usefully to share their experiences in this respect. But the efforts of individual Members in explaining the benefits of the WTO and its work at home could not be divorced from what they did within this Organization. There was definitely scope for enhancing transparency in the work of the WTO without impeding or prejudicing its effectiveness as first and foremost an inter-governmental negotiating body. Members did not need to be opaque when they did not need to be, and where being transparent would not detract in any way from their effective discharge of the WTO’s mandate. Against this background, New Zealand fully agreed that review of the 1996 Decision on circulation and derestriction of documents was timely and necessary. It was also a way for Members to take prompt action to demonstrate to the world outside that the WTO was responsive to legitimate concerns.

His delegation fully supported the practical suggestions put forward by the United States and the European Communities. First, it supported removal of the six-month delay of the derestriction of agendas and minutes. Second, it believed there would be great utility in reversing the current rule whereby delegations were required to indicate that any document submitted by them for circulation should be unrestricted. The strong presumption should be that all documents submitted by Members were unrestricted unless a Member intentionally expressed at the time that they be restricted. Third, it looked favourably at the Community’s suggestion that all working documents be issued unrestricted documents other than in exceptional cases. The exceptions approach provided the mechanism needed to take into account the concerns of some delegations about the possibility of revealing sensitive negotiating positions. New Zealand would take a similar approach on Secretariat background notes. Some had expressed concern that these moves might undermine the contractual nature of the WTO and the relationship between Members. With the exception of perhaps negotiating positions, for which one would need to make continuing provisions, New Zealand did not see how the nature of the WTO would in any way be compromised by these well‑defined moves. After all, many of the documents concerned were derestricted after six months in any case. Fourth, and most importantly, was are the possibility of circulating final dispute settlement panel reports widely as early as possible, and New Zealand strongly supported the WTO actively considering this move. Such a practice would enhance the panel process and be an important contribution to fulfilment of the 1988 Ministerial Declaration. The ideas advanced by the United States on panel reports presented viable and practical means of delivering quick results without, as some had suggested, needing to be folded into the review of the DSU. He did not believe that what was proposed would affect other aspects of the DSU’s operation or encroach in any way on the rules or on the rights of Members. As the United States stressed earlier, the proposed action was very much within the competence of the General Council in the context of its review of the 1996 Decision on circulation and derestriction of documents. Early circulation of panel reports with the conclusions in all three WTO languages was a sensible way of ensuring that WTO languages were respected, and it would help ensure all Members were conversant with the outcomes of panels much sooner. Members would then be placed in a far better position than at present. His delegation wished to see a decision taken in all these areas as soon as possible so that new arrangements could be put in place with a minimum of delay.

While Brazil could accept that minutes of meeting be made immediately available to the general public, it believed that as a result it would be forced to speak for the record at every meeting on every subject of interest to Brazil

Brazil

The representative of Brazil said that Brazil was perfectly aware of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration and of the importance that Ministers attached to enhancing public understanding of the benefits of the multilateral trading system. Brazil recognized too that the General Council had a mandate before it. However, as a first step in fulfilling this mandate, one needed to have a common understanding of what was meant by improved transparency. One should also be ready to anticipate the consequences of any actions or decisions that might be taken. The issue of derestriction of documents, for example, could have important implications for the work of the WTO. The European Communities’ paper rightly recognized that the WTO was a negotiating forum of an inter-governmental nature. Members negotiated tariffs and market access and, more importantly, what was included and not included in the multilateral trade agenda. This second task was extremely complex and delicate. Agenda setting was a very critical issue and what went into the agenda or what didn’t was a critical event. If, by means of an automatic and immediate derestriction of certain documents, Members made available to the general public the records of the WTO’s day-to-day negotiations, they would find themselves in a new WTO with results that might not lead to the aim of improved transparency. For example, while Brazil could accept that minutes of meeting be made immediately available to the general public, it believed that as a result it would be forced to speak for the record at every meeting on every subject of interest to Brazil. His delegation would be addressing not only those in the present audience, but also a completely different kind of audience. The nature of its statements would of course also change because it would not only be negotiating but also addressing Brazilian public opinion. Members would not want an unexpected negative consequence resulting from a valid search for increased transparency. Brazil did not want the WTO to become a rigid and static Organization in which form replaced substance. It did not believe that the negotiating objectives of this Organization as enshrined in the WTO Agreement would benefit from a process that increased the rigidity of the positions Members had to take. He was aware that many other delegations shared these concerns. He wished to stress that Brazil would approach this issue with a commitment to comply with what was mandated by Ministers in its consideration of the proposals that had been made in this regard. However, it would also stress consideration of the results of a process in which transparency, instead of helping the work of the Organization, might make it more rigid and more complicated.

The concept of transparency seemed to mean different things to different Members

Australia

The representative of Australia thanked the Director-General for his report and for the important efforts that the Secretariat was making to improve public understanding of the WTO. His delegation was concerned that the concept of transparency seemed to mean different things to different Members. There were also big differences over what was meant by “civil society”. It was important to ensure that Members’ understanding of it was in the widest possible sense and not just limited to some particularly active environmental or developmental NGOs. Australia, for example, would regard its National Farmers Federation or Minerals Council as being important groups interested in the internal workings of the WTO. He wished to highlight, as others, that it was ultimately the responsibility of national governments to develop national positions to take into the WTO. Others had also stressed that the WTO was an intergovernmental organization and that, whatever measures were taken on this particular subject, one needed to be careful that the fundamental nature of the Organization was not weakened or undermined. His delegation supported wholeheartedly the general thrust of the United States and the European Community proposals with regard to document circulation and derestriction, although it had noted the comments just made by Brazil. Beyond the issue of how one managed the circulation and derestriction of documents, his delegation urged caution about the way one approached other proposals. The European Community had raised some other issues in its communication, and while his delegation welcome proposals on the WTO’s future activities as one means of building support for the Organization, it noted Canada’s comments on this point with respect to resources. However, in terms of changes to the practices and operations of the Organization, it would be necessary to think hard and long about some of the other issues or proposals including those in the Community’s communication. In concluding, he noted that paragraph 4 of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration talked about explaining to Members’ publics the benefits of the multilateral system, and believed that was an important. Australia had embarked on an exercise of active public diplomacy within Australia to explain the benefits of the multilateral trading system, and its activities in this regard had been commented on favourably at the recent trade policy review of Australia. For Australia, this domestic activity of explaining the benefits of the multilateral system was a major political priority, and urged others to look at what it was doing and to similarly take up the issue with their domestic publics.

In circulating unrestricted the agendas for upcoming meetings the WTO would not be addressing itself to the man in the street, but rather to the lobbyists, pressure groups and others that had an interest in trying to influence its work

Mexico

The representative of Mexico said that one had never denied that pursuant to paragraph 7 of procedures for the circulation and derestriction of documents , the procedures had to be reviewed in the light of experience and modified if necessary. While Mexico was willing to begin this exercise as soon as possible, this was not a simple matter where hasty decisions could be taken lightly. Mexico had a number of concerns in this respect, one of which was that in circulating unrestricted the agendas for upcoming meetings the WTO would not be addressing itself to the man in the street, but rather to the lobbyists, pressure groups and others that had an interest in trying to influence its work. As regards the proposals concerning minutes of meetings, Mexico believed, like Brazil, that instead of discussing substance in WTO meetings, delegations would be concerned about how the record would be read in their countries and would want to see fully reflected in the record everything that had been stated. They would perhaps also wish to have fewer informal meetings, so that everything could be on the record for public opinion. If that were indeed the wish of delegations, one could work towards it. In any case, when the procedures were reviewed in the context of paragraph 7 thereof, Mexico would refer to universal transparency, i.e., that documents should not be derestricted until they had been made available in all the three official WTO languages. When this matter was addressed subsequently, he would ask the Secretariat to inform delegations in what language – English, French or Spanish – most of the documents were issued originally, and what percentage were issued initially in English, French and Spanish.

Turning to panel reports, he said that the proposal by the United States appeared to refer to panel reports at the time they were issued to the parties to the dispute and not when they were circulated to all Members, thereby implying that one was referring to interim reports since only final reports were circulated to all Members. This appeared to be a drafting problem more than one of emphasis, and the proposal would in any case have to be looked at within the broader review of the DSU. In looking into these issues Members would have to strengthen the procedures so that they were complied with. Turning to the first sentence of paragraph 4 of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration, he said that the WTO was losing the public opinion battle and had to do something about it. The Secretariat could perhaps be asked to provide a detailed report on what had been done, what was being done and what it was seeking to do in the future to increase the communication with the public. The report on what had been done should be immediately derestricted so that the public could be aware of it. On the basis of this report, Members would have to design a public information policy directed towards civil society at large, and not lobbyists or NGOs. He believed that broadcast media such as the television should be taken advantage of, with specialized WTO staff being able to explain to the man in the street the costs of protectionism and the benefits of the multilateral trading system. There was a need for an ongoing proactive campaign of communication with the public. That being said, his delegation believed, like Canada, that if activities in this area were to be increased, one would have to look into the costs, and whether the costs corresponded with the Organization’s priorities. The WTO had to avoid having to depend economically on voluntary contributions to fund certain activities, which should be funded from the overall budget.

All knew that there was both a formal process as well as an informal process in the WTO, and one would have to work to open these areas to the majority or even all of the WTO Members in order to improve transparency

Uruguay

The representative of Uruguay said that the one point all seemed to agree on was the need for greater transparency in the WTO. The problem arose when one began to define the scope and content of this concept. For some transparency meant enhancing the WTO’s image; for others it meant giving greater public access to its activities; for yet others it meant greater publicity or further marketing work which would enhance the Organization’s credibility; some also confused transparency with the word dissemination. Until Members agreed on what they were talking about, there would be a big gap to fill. Some were also giving dramatic overtones to this issue by saying that the lack of transparency was undermining the WTO’s credibility, and saying that the WTO was a secretive organization that was marginalizing civil society. The Director-General’s statement had brought clarity to the subject and had provided certain indications as to the efforts being made in various directions. With regard to information policy, it was clear that it was the responsibility of the Secretariat as well of governments themselves to strengthen public opinion regarding the activities of this Organization. While the Director-General had given an illustration of what the Secretariat was doing in the area of dissemination, he believed these functions had little to do with what one had been talking about regarding transparency. On the derestriction of documents, his delegation had no objection to entering into an exercise along the lines proposed by the United States and the European Communities, although the caution mentioned by some previous speakers would need to kept in mind. In the area of dispute settlement, there was some mix-up between the need to derestrict certain documents and other concepts which went much further and which would imply a change in WTO rules, where one needed to be extremely cautious. He wished to stress here the inter-governmental nature of the WTO. Finally, with regard to transparency in the negotiation process, all knew that there was both a formal process as well as an informal process in the WTO, and one would have to work to open these areas to the majority or even all of the WTO Members in order to improve transparency in this regard.

His delegation was […] not in favour of some proposals that had been received from some NGOs that would wish to participate almost on equal footing with governments

Jamaica

The representative of Jamaica said his delegation was very strongly in favour of the direction of the proposal by the United States. However, Brazil had made a valid point regarding agendas of meetings which should be kept in mind. As regards the proposal concerning working documents submitted by Members, he would propose that the document be circulated unrestricted unless there was a consensus to restrict rather than have the delegation making the submission explicitly request that the document be restricted.      

Turning to the paper by the European Communities, he believed its main thrust concerned essentially public relations, or a communications strategy. This point had to be addressed with caution and one should not go overboard in believing that by a lot of public relations one might overcome the sensitivities as to the consequences of certain agreements as they affect certain Members. While his delegation was strongly in favour of more explanation of what the WTO was about, it was not in favour of some proposals that had been received from some NGOs that would wish to participate almost on equal footing with governments. The Secretariat should exercise caution along the lines and for the reasons given by Canada and Mexico. On the Director-General’s statement, his delegation could agree with mostly everything that had been stated, in particular as regards openness and full participation of the full Membership in the work of the WTO. and I think the Director-General pointed in that direction. The steps taken by both the Director-General and the Chairman had taken all to new levels of transparency and participation of all Members, and his delegation would encourage movement in that direction. In considering the notion of transparency both as a principle and as a practice, one should concentrate not only on the derestriction of documents or interaction with civil society, but look also at the consultation process and the negotiating process to make that open, and to comply with basic, credible rules of procedure and practices.

Chile believed that transparency had its limits, and in the WTO’s case this was due to the contractual nature of the Organization and the special nature of its Members which were customs territories or sovereign States

Chile

The representative of Chile said that the results of debates conducted in the WTO, which in the final analysis did have an impact on society in general, should be communicated to civil society in a way that was actually perceived by civil society in its proper dimension, thus avoiding or minimizing any interpretations by lobbyists regarding the effects of the results or benefits of WTO’s work. Such communication with civil society involved not only the dissemination of the results of WTO’s work, but also the responsibilities that governments themselves had in ensuring that the benefits of the liberalization process were perceived by their publics. New initiatives were required to achieve greater results within the resources available to the Organization. Chile would be willing to consider in this respect the proposal announced by the European Communities. In this area, the cooperation of Members was indispensable. The WTO should also strengthen its efforts towards transparency and the dissemination of relevant information. Her delegation welcomed the initiatives from the United States and the European Community aimed at the speedier circulation of certain kinds of documents to the public. Nevertheless, Chile believed that transparency had its limits, and in the WTO’s case this was due to the contractual nature of the Organization and the special nature of its Members which were customs territories or sovereign States. In this respect, transparency in the Dispute Settlement Understanding should be considered in the framework of the review of that text. At the same time, when transparency concerns decision-making in the various WTO bodies, it should solely and exclusively concern its Members. She believed that the Chairman should continue his consultations and deal with the various elements making up transparency so as to enable Members to take the necessary decisions, perhaps beginning with a review of the procedures for derestriction of documents where there were already two proposals.

If Members were seeking to keep their public opinion informed, then each government could do its own work in improving information on what was happening at the WTO

Cuba

The representative of Cuba said that the transparency issue should be analyzed carefully. All were in favour of transparency, but clearly not all had the same things in mind when referring to the term. One should first therefore define what exactly transparency was, and then see how such a concept could have an impact on the rules and procedures of the WTO. One had to keep in mind that the WTO was an inter-governmental Organization in which Members engaged in contractual negotiations. Cuba would not agree without prior serious study to establish new procedures because of its concern that following a decision regarding derestriction of reports and documents, Members might next move ahead with other more dangerous ideas such as allowing access as observers to others interested in the process such as multinationals, large legal firms, and lobby groups. Having heard Brazil’s statement, he believed that a mishandling of the transparency issue could end up having the opposite results. One of the WTO’s achievements, as compared to GATT, was that developing countries were more actively participating in the dispute settlement procedures, which should be maintained and encouraged. However, there were proposals and ideas which in practice would make procedures more expensive and would benefit developed countries that had greater resources and means to exert their influence in such circumstances. When one referred to transparency and wished to achieve it by means of derestricting documents, the result was, in his view, confusion between the concept of transparency and information. Similarly, the improvement of internal administrative work in the Secretariat such as translation or document distribution on a timely basis had another type of impact. Cuba agreed with those delegations that believed that if Members were seeking to keep their public opinion informed, then each government could do its own work in improving information on what was happening at the WTO. While there was no doubt that steps could be taken to improve information and contacts with civil society, this was something that needed to be worked on very carefully, without hasty decisions. Cuba believed that the presence of elements other than governments in panel proceedings could have a harmful effect on the dispute settlement procedures, and these aspects should be considered in the context of the consultations held in the Dispute Settlement Body. His delegation was willing to work openly in order to achieve these improvements while safeguarding procedures

The basic function of the WTO should not be damaged in the interests of too much transparency

Japan

The representative of Japan said he hoped that further intensive informal consultations would be held on this urgent issue so that the next time it was considered at a formal General Council meeting Members would be able to reach some agreement. While his delegation attached great importance to the improvement of transparency as stated in paragraph 4 of the 1998 Ministerial Declaration, it was very important to keep in mind that the WTO was a forum for negotiation among Member governments. There were clearly different interpretations of transparency. While some referred to more transparency and full participation of Members in the decision-making process, the transparency that his delegation was referring to under the present item was something different, namely, how to improve the public’s understanding of the WTO in Member. At the same time, the basic function of the WTO should not be damaged in the interests of too much transparency and, therefore, in examining what needed to be improved one had to proceed on a case-by-case basis. On the derestriction of panel reports, his delegation fully supported in substance the proposal by the United States, although it believed that the latter part of paragraph 4 of the US proposal was not necessary. In the light of the 1996 Decision on derestriction that this matter should be subject to review as part of the review of the DSU, his delegation believed this matter could be looked at as part of the ongoing review of the DSU. However, on substance, his delegation had no objections.

Regarding the more general derestriction of documents, his delegation could go along with the proposals by the United States and the European Community. At the same time, in defining which documents were to be derestricted, attention had to be given to the sensitivity of such documents particularly when they dealt with the dispute settlement process or ongoing negotiations. In such cases, the scope of such exceptions from derestriction or the criteria and timing of derestriction had to be carefully examined. Regarding the question of dialogue with civil society, he said that in using the term civil society one should not be thinking only of environmentalists, NGOs and trade unions; while these might be part of civil society, there were also other interested groups without whom one could never make progress in negotiations in the fields of interest to them. Furthermore, while it was very useful to strengthen dialogue with NGOs and other interested groups, one had also to keep in mind the objectives and functions of the WTO. With the limited amount of financial resources available, some of the important WTO activities should not be sacrificed in order to maintain this dialogue. Canada had stated that instead of depending on voluntary contributions for the organization of this dialogue, such activity might be funded from the regular budget. However, while it might be possible to do so if the budget were increasing in real terms, one had to be careful about the kind of resources devoted to this objective when the budget was limited.

To provide information to the public was the task of individual governments and not of the WTO

Pakistan

The representative of Pakistan reiterated that Pakistan attached utmost importance to the notion of transparency in the WTO. However, it believed in following a cautious approach. The WTO dealt with relations among Member governments and not the relationship between Member governments and so-called civil society. To provide information to the public was the task of individual governments and not of the WTO. That being said, his delegation agreed to look into the proposals regarding derestriction of documents on a case-by-case basis, and to some of the proposals advanced by the United States and the European Communities. However, it did have reservations regarding some other proposals which it believed needed to be considered in greater depth.

If the issue of derestriction, particularly of minutes, were not carefully managed, one could end up with Members addressing the gallery in meetings

Uganda

The representative of Uganda said he wished to commend both the Director-General and the Chairman for the efforts they had been making to ensure that all Members were being consulted and were participating in the decision-making process and in the discussions on proposals for action. His delegation attached particular importance to this aspect of transparency, which tended to be lost sight in the discussion. As Canada had stated, as one approached the third Ministerial Conference, all governments had to consult with the stakeholders, which included civil society and the business community. This was the responsibility of governments, and they should not run away from it. As regards derestriction, his delegation welcomed the proposals by the United States and the European Communities. They were constructive, and his delegation could go along with a number of them. However, his delegation agreed with the caution sounded by Brazil that if the issue of derestriction, particularly of minutes, were not carefully managed, one could end up with Members addressing the gallery in meetings. This note of caution should be taken seriously, considering what had happened in other organizations. His delegation agreed that the remit given by Ministers in May was to improve the public perception of the Organization. In this case, one was dealing with the question of a communications strategy. The Director-General had already outlined what he had done, and governments needed to assist him in reaching out to the general public. However, the information function was very costly, so that as one addressed it one needed also to address the budgetary aspects. that one should be looking at. Uganda agreed on the need to interact with civil society, and believed that the symposia held thus far had been useful and should be continued, and that the participation of developing countries represented thereat encouraged.

A little information might not be ideal information, although too much might not be optimal either

Mauritius

The representative of Mauritius said he believed that the proposal by the United States constituted a useful input for discussions on this issue, and believed that an exercise be undertaken to enhance transparency beyond the information already available to all stakeholders. His delegation had also noted the very positive statement by the Director-General, and appreciation for the manner in which the Director-General and the Secretariat had promoted the WTO’s outreach. There were tremendous hopes in the outside world about the benefits to be derived from the WTO, whether among peoples from the developed or developing countries, from LDCs or small countries. However, at a time when communication was so fast in the average citizen’s home a little information might not be ideal information, although too much might not be optimal either. He urged a balanced approach, arrived at by consensus, that could take care of the concerns, interests and sensibilities of all stakeholders. His delegation would work in any mode initiated by the Chairman towards achieving consensus on this issue.

the financial implications of extended interaction with NGOs needed to be taken into consideration

Rep of Korea

The representative of Korea said that his delegation shared the Community’s observation that very few WTO documents could be considered to contain genuinely confidential information that would justify a restriction. It also noted that the Community, in offering detailed suggestions for document derestriction, did not fail to consider the need for special treatment of certain categories of documents for which due care would be necessary. His delegation believed that the Community’s proposal, together with that by the United States, would provide a valuable basis for discussions with a view to achieving greater openness and transparency in WTO activities. His delegation also looked forward to seeing the specific proposals that the Community planned to present regarding consultations and cooperation with NGOs. Korea agreed that extended interaction with NGOs had certain merits in terms of public relations. However, as some previous speakers had noted, the financial implications of extended interaction with NGOs needed to be taken into consideration. One also needed to keep in mind the need to ensure the efficiency of the WTO as an inter-governmental body. In this regard, it was reassuring that the Community had emphasized that Members had a primary responsibility to develop, at the domestic level, procedures for consultation and cooperation with organization of civil society.

He hoped that greater transparency to the general public would not ultimately be the cause of more closed‑door plurilateral meetings because these would be an unexpected negative consequence

Hong Kong, China

The representative of Hong Kong, China, addressing the points referred to by the Director-General, said that information policy and outreach was very important for his delegation, and it was pleased that the Secretariat was doing more in this area. However, there was a limit to how much the Secretariat could be expected to do, for two reasons. The first was, of course, budgetary. Given the emphasis that Members would continue to put on maintaining a lean Organization, it would be unrealistic to expect that the Secretariat would be able to do everything on their behalf. Second, one had to keep in mind the nature of the WTO as a network of inter-governmental rights and obligations, which meant that the Organization was never conceived of as a public relations Organization, and might not be particularly well-equipped in that connection. Therefore, while one would welcome the Secretariat doing as much as it could, the main burden would certainly fall on Members in this regard. With regard to derestriction of documents, his delegation wholeheartedly supported the ideas of the United States, the Community and Canada in principle. As regards the US proposal relating to minutes of meetings where there was a reference to circulating, as unrestricted documents, final Member‑approved versions of minutes, he asked if Members did in fact approve minutes because he was not aware that in this Organization this was so. This query was not, however, intended in any way to detract from the proposal, which his delegation supported. It was not even suggesting that the proposal needed to be changed as long as there was some clarification in this respect.

On dispute settlement procedures, he noted that there was an overlap both with derestriction of documents and also with the question of general participation and openness which the Director‑General had already talked about. His delegation did not have a problem with moving early on some elements under dispute settlement such as derestriction of panel reports where these changes did not upset the balance of rights and obligations, and did not have a problem with the US proposal in this regard. However, where any change in the balance of rights and obligations might be involved, he agreed that any proposals should be considered in the context of the DSU review, and wished to underline, like others, the need not to undermine the inter-governmental nature of the WTO. Finally, on the question of participation, inclusiveness and openness, he hoped that greater transparency to the general public would not ultimately be the cause of more closed‑door plurilateral meetings because these would be an unexpected negative consequence, and this was something all should be aware of as a possible danger. In treating the subject of transparency generally, one should therefore not neglect an effort to think constructively about making some of the WTO’s working procedures more inclusive. He agreed with the ASEAN Members in this regard, and would give further thought to this area and welcome ideas from other delegations.

His delegation had some concerns about certain aspects, such as unrestricted circulation of working documents. Working documents were often submitted in order to elicit comments from other Members, and were often revised before becoming final document

India

The representative of India said that his delegation shared most of the points made by the ASEAN Members, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Uganda and Hong Kong, China. The transparency issue had two broad themes. One broad theme related to the transparency of the WTO decision-making process and the consultation process vis-à-vis the WTO Membership. While this was an important aspect, he would not refer to it at the present meeting since the proposals by the United States and the Community before the General Council dealt with the second aspect which he would describe as transparency of the WTO vis-à-vis the outside world. In this regard, there were three areas that had been touched upon by delegations, namely, (a) improvement of the transparency of the dispute settlement process in the WTO; (b) prompt derestriction of documents; and (c) interaction with civil society.

With regard to improvement in the transparency of the dispute settlement system, he noted the suggestion of many delegations to address it as part of the DSU review. The US proposal addressed one element, namely the derestriction of panel reports. The fundamental point being implied through this proposal, that it should be possible for all Members to get their reports in a derestricted form at the same point in time, perhaps had merit. However, his concern about this proposal was that it picked out one element of improving the transparency in the dispute settlement system, at this particular stage, without taking into account that Members were going to undertake a major review of the DSU itself in the months to come. He believed that there were a lot of operational conveniences and benefits in taking all decisions relating to the functioning of the DSU as part of the overall review. There were two related elements that one might be able to think of as part of the overall DSU review. First, in the case of Appellate Body reports too there was a slight difference between the time the Appellate Body report was made available to the parties and the time it was made available to other Members. One was proposing to take a decision with regard to panel reports without thinking about how to handle the Appellate Body reports. Second, some delegations were likely to suggest during the DSU review that panel reports should basically consist of the findings of the panel to which the submissions of the parties to the dispute could be annexed. The US proposal therefore had some linkages with other elements that one would be looking into as part of the DSU review. His delegation believed therefore that all the elements should be taken together as part of the DSU review. It was not his intention to delay a decision on the derestriction proposals. After all, all were committed to completing the DSU review within the next six months.

As for the other elements in the proposals regarding derestriction of documents, his delegation had some concerns about certain aspects, such as unrestricted circulation of working documents. Working documents were often submitted in order to elicit comments from other Members, and were often revised before becoming final documents. His delegation would prefer that working documents be annexed to the minutes of the meetings to be put in proper context. While his delegation was not yet able to go along with the proposal to derestrict working documents, other Members were free to derestrict their own documents. In fact, those delegations that wished their working documents to be derestricted straight away could give standing instructions to the Secretariat that all their working documents could be straight away derestricted. His delegation found it difficult, however, to go along with the proposal that there should be a consensus if a working document is not to be treated as restricted document. Regarding minutes of meetings, his delegation had a concern regarding the format of such minutes. It was apparent that different parts of the Secretariat had been using different formats to record minutes of meetings. Before proceeding further on this issue, one would need to ensure that there was sufficient transparency in the recording of minutes across the board in the Secretariat.

With regard to interaction with civil society, the Director-General had promised a detailed report, which his delegation looked to receiving. India believed that it was for national governments to deal with this interaction, since NGOs could not represent governments. The WTO could not be a public relations agency, since vital national interests were being debated and decided upon within this Organization. He would endorse the view expressed earlier that the terms “stakeholders” or “civil society” meant different things to different Members. With regard to the United States’ comment that there was no proposal to derestrict any negotiating history, one could not escape from the fact that the WTO was a permanent forum for negotiations and that all documents reflected the nuances involved in negotiations. A balance was therefore needed between the flow of information and the protection of the integrity of the negotiating process. If one was to err, he believed one should do so on the side of the Member delegations, who represented the governments in the WTO.

Too often the work of the WTO was not well understood at all

Switzerland

The representative of Switzerland commended the Director-General and the Secretariat for their efforts to further the relationship with the civil society as well as to further public understanding of the WTO’s work. A lot remained to be done in the relationship with civil society to gain or even maintain support for the multilateral trading system and, too often, the work of the WTO was not well understood at all. Regarding the proposal by the United States, his delegation could agree with most of the aspects contained therein. However, the procedures for working documents and minutes of meetings needed more refinement since they were relevant for the smooth functioning of this Organization.

Members’ efforts at improving transparency might result in the WTO seeming to be an even more secretive Organization than it was already considered to be if, for example, the result was more informal meetings for which no minutes were kept, or if less working documents were submitted because of fear at the way in which the public might react

Panama

The representative of Panama said that Panama was open to considering all the proposals that had been submitted, and to participating in the preparation of a consensus-based decision. There appeared to be a concern among delegations that one had not yet come up with a precise definition of what one considered transparency to be. Panama suggested that one try to put a little more structure and stricter methodology into the discussion and ask the Secretariat whether it could come up with a brief list of the most important aspects of the issue of transparency. This would be sort of check-list, and have subheadings under the four basic headings already mentioned by the Director-General. This would not in any way pre-empt how Members wished to continue to consider the issue. One could make progress step by step on each section, and not necessarily on all the issues at the same time. As regards the expeditious derestriction of certain documents, Panama believed it important that this issue be duly considered. Members perhaps needed a certain period, even though that might be relatively short, to enable them to examine the documents before they were actually made public. That would avoid complications in some of the public relations aspects of the WTO’s work that the Director-General had referred to. If any mistakes were made, for example, within the texts of the documents, it could be awkward and embarrassing if those documents were made public without the mistakes being corrected. Panama wished to underline what had been stated by Brazil and Hong Kong, China. In discussing this issue, consideration should be given to the real possibility that Members’ efforts at improving transparency, particularly with regard to the derestriction of documents, might result in the WTO seeming to be an even more secretive Organization than it was already considered to be if, for example, the result was more informal meetings for which no minutes were kept, or if less working documents were submitted because of fear at the way in which the public might react to and evaluate these documents. Regarding the US proposal on the derestriction of panel reports, it was important that one not try and solve a problem of shortage of translation resources by this means. Although the proposal itself was very useful, Panama would not wish it to be used to avoid dealing with one of the other important problems with regard to documentation, namely translation. Finally, her delegation wished to have a clarification from the United States as to when the panel reports would actually become publicly available under its proposal.

Transparency should be confined to governments and the consensus between each government and its civil society should be managed within the confines of each State

Burundi

The representative of Burundi endorsed the concerns of some delegations regarding transparency vis-à-vis the civil society regarding issues under negotiation. Transparency should be confined to governments and the consensus between each government and its civil society should be managed within the confines of each State. As regards time-periods for the public availability of final reports, Burundi recognized that six months was extremely long, but believed that less than that would probably be a little short. The period should be open, from between one to three months, according to the length of the report to be produced. As regards panel reports subject to the obligation of circulation in all three languages, the period should vary according to the timetable of each panel in question or of any urgent deadlines that had to be met.

To publish this development of positions would mean that they would be constantly subject to the pressure of groups representing specific interests, which would make the task of balancing out interests much more difficult

Argentina

The representative of Argentina said that the report by the Director-General was helpful in providing information about the efforts by the Secretariat to keep public opinion well informed about the targets and activities of the WTO. His delegation believed that the proposals by the Community and the United States deserved careful analysis and greater discussion in due course. Argentina also shared the concerns of Australia and Japan regarding the confusion on the terms being used in this debate. He believed that NGOs were only one part of civil society, and that only government representatives could speak with authority on behalf of their respective civil societies. NGOs were important organizations, and Argentina fully supported the Director-General’s efforts to increase the exchange of information with such NGOs. However, it was important not to lose sight of the fact that the WTO was essentially a Member-driven Organization. With regard to the proposal for the derestriction of minutes, his delegation feared it would have three consequences. First, Members would be obliged to state their positions for the record regarding the matters to be discussed; second, there would be an increasing rigidity in the positions adopted in debates; and, third, in order to avoid these consequences there would be much more frequent recourse to informal meetings and to the circulation of papers, with an end result that would be totally contrary to what Members were trying to achieve with derestriction. Regarding derestriction of working documents, he wished to recall that this was an Organization where Members worked for the liberalization of trade in goods and services and for the observance of multilateral rules governing trade and trade-related matters. To this end, his Government had constantly to balance divergent, and often contradictory, domestic interests, and its negotiating positions in the WTO were the result of this process. These positions were then taken up with other Members’ own negotiating positions, and were often changed as part and parcel of the negotiating processes and as a result of the agreements and consensus reached. To publish this development of positions would mean that they would be constantly subject to the pressure of groups representing specific interests, which would make the task of balancing out interests much more difficult. The final result of all this would once again be to make the positions of delegations much more rigid, and therefore make it much more difficult to negotiate towards a consensus on any matter. In addition, he did not believe one could set any fixed time-limit for the derestriction of documents related to the negotiating process. It was impossible to decide in advance how long a negotiating process would last and, consequently, how long a document stating a negotiating position should continue to remain confidential. He encouraged the Chairman to continue to discuss this matter at meetings at the level of heads of delegations.

The representative of the United States said that the discussion had been very productive, and that further informal consultations on this subject were needed. Many delegations had stressed the inter-governmental nature of the WTO, and she underlined that the United States had no argument with that. However, the continued credibility and viability of the institution depended upon the general public’s confidence in the WTO as an organization that was working to the benefit of those that one called stakeholders. As she had stated earlier, the United States had made a proposal that it believed was simple, and involved steps that Members could take now without impinging on rights and obligations and not requiring anything to be changed in the DSU at the present time.

The Chairman said that the discussion had been very useful and productive. He wished to join the many delegations that had thanked the Director-General for his initial presentation, and noted that there had been a wide measure of support for the activities being undertaken by the Secretariat to try and make the WTO better known in the outside world. There had been many different themes in the discussion, and many delegations had commented on that, namely, the different faces of transparency. With regard to the question of transparency among Members, i.e. trying to make sure that all Members were included in the discussions and processes of this Organization, it seemed that everyone was in favour. There appeared also to be a lot of agreement on the question of looking at further derestriction of documents. Some delegations had said they were open to the idea in principle, but that they needed to be a bit more precise about what exactly was being proposed. The proposal by the United States concerning the circulation of final reports of panels also had a wide measure of support, although some delegations believed it should be done in the context of the DSU review. This was an idea that one could certainly look at further and on which one seemed to be close to an agreement, provided delegations properly understood what the proposal was, and that it did not involve changing any of the rights and obligations in the DSU. On the question of outreach to civil society, there was the very important commitment that Ministers had recognized in their Declaration in May on the importance of enhancing public understanding of the benefits of the multilateral trading system, and it was clear that delegations felt that in the first instance that was a responsibility for Members. There was a lot of appreciation and support for the efforts which the Secretariat and the Director-General were undertaking in this field as well, and recognition that while that was valuable there were obvious limits to how much the Director-General and the Secretariat could do in this regard. On the question of the outreach that Members collectively in the WTO might consider, there was a somewhat greater diversity of views in terms of exactly how much was desirable and how one might go about it. There was also clearly a consensus on the point that the WTO was an inter-governmental body in which negotiations were conducted, and none of the proposals that he had heard had suggested that one should be undermining the nature of this Organization. He sensed from this discussion a strong sense of purpose on the part of Members to continue to address these issues, and to look at how specific progress could be made. He believed that one should aim to see whether or not there were some decisions that might take in this area at the October General Council meeting. In order to assist Members in moving in that direction, the Secretariat would be prepared to make a report on what had been done in the area of information policy on the part of the Secretariat. In the light of the interest expressed in the Director-General’s presentation, such a report, which he understood was nearing completion, would be very useful to delegations both for their own information and perhaps also in terms of thinking of some of the activities which they might wish to conduct domestically in making the benefits of the system better known.

With respect to the issue of derestriction of documents, one might benefit, in terms of trying to come to a decision in October on what might be done in this area, by having a description of exactly what the situation was now with respect to the documents in the Organization. The Director-General had indicated that the Secretariat would be prepared to provide, by early September at the latest, a report on what the situation was now with respect to restriction and derestriction of different categories of WTO documents, and this could help delegations as a tool for trying to come to specific decisions about what might be done with regard to future policy on derestriction. Finally, he had sensed that Members wished him to continue with consultations on these matters with a view to seeing whether these could be brought to the stage where one could have an agreement. He was prepared to do that in as effective a manner as possible.

The representative of Mexico asked if it could be understood that Members were now embarking upon the review as provided for in paragraph 7 of the procedures for the circulation and derestriction of WTO documents.

The Chairman noted that in his introduction he had specifically referred to the provision for review in paragraph 7 of the 1996 Decision, and that one could therefore say that the review of the derestriction procedures was now beginning formally. What he had proposed could be seen as the means to carry forward that review.

The General Council took note of the statements, agreed to proceed in the manner proposed by the Chairman, and further agreed to revert to this matter at its next regular meeting.


Note: the rules on whether WTO documents are public or restricted were updated in 2002 in document WT/L/452. Back to reference

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