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Reports on Meetings
1. At the Fourth Session of the Ministerial Conference of the WTO at Doha, Qatar, representatives of the less-advantaged [Note 1] and industrial countries met to attend the signing ceremony of the AITIC Initiative on Trade-Related Capacity Building and Greater Participation in the International Trading System. This initiative was the outcome of several discussions of a group of Geneva-based representatives interested in AITIC's development.
2. Previous meetings of the working group on AITIC's development [Note 2] had concentrated on how best to guide its development - including the expansion of its financial base and structure - to cope with the increasing demand for its services from the less-advantaged country representatives present in Geneva, as well as the non-residents.
3. The AITIC Initiative aims to explore options for the expansion and improvement of AITIC's financial basis and structure by, inter alia, exploring the feasibility of its transformation into an inter-governmental organisation. Consultations began at the working group meeting and continued in the run up and at Doha itself. The agreed text is attached (Annex 1).
4. The meeting was chaired by the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, Mr. J-D Bélisle. It started off with introductory remarks by the Swiss Minister of the Economy, Mr. Pascal Couchepin, who welcomed participants and noted the importance attached by Switzerland to increasing the participation of the LACs in the multilateral trading system. Switzerland, aware of the limitations these countries face in terms of capacity and resources, had sought new ways to assist them to have a more active trade diplomacy. It had thus created AITIC in 1998. Although a Swiss initiative, AITIC was an independent agency that focused on giving personalised assistance to LAC representatives. He also remarked that, to give specific support to those members and observers of the WTO with insufficient resources to have a permanent presence in Geneva for the time being, AITIC had established a "Non-Residents' Unit" in October 2000. Finally, he said that the initiative that was to be signed, thanks to the collaboration and support of those present, was another building bloc to the "participatory and all-inclusive system we all aspire to construct".
5. The next speaker was the UK's Secretary of State for International Development, Ms. Clare Short, who remarked on the priority assigned by the UK to poverty alleviation and sustainable development and to a greater participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system. The world's poorest countries could benefit from existing and new trade rules. But they needed to strengthen their capacity to be able to exert their influence effectively and draw benefits from the globalisation process. The UK has been at the forefront in addressing capacity constraints. Aware of AITIC's contribution to this aim, and to support the tailored assistance the Agency offered in particular to those countries under-represented in Geneva, she was pleased to announce a contribution of £1 million to assist the possible transformation of AITIC.
6. UNCTAD's Secretary General, Mr. Rubens Ricupero, addressed the meeting focusing on the importance of the "networking" which took place among the trade-related agencies in Geneva. He underscored the importance of coordination and collaboration among agencies to make the delivery of technical assistance and capacity building more effective. In this regard, he stressed his positive assessment of the way AITIC and UNCTAD have worked together to their mutual benefit and that of their target countries, which he said provides a concrete example of the kind of collaboration that is possible and needed. Mr. Mac Harb, MP, a representative from the Canadian Parliament, took the floor to draw attention to the value of capacity building in enhancing the participation of developing countries in the multilateral trading system. He praised the Swiss initiative that had established AITIC. He also stressed the value of supporting resource-constrained. Finally, a representative of Cambodia - a non-resident, least-developed country in the process of accession to the WTO - Secretary of State Sok Siphana, gave a vivid account of the difficulties faced by a less-advantaged country to follow the WTO from afar. He highlighted the importance to his country of accession to the WTO, and the variety of national official actors involved in a complex web of subjects negotiated in the WTO. He thus greatly appreciated the establishment of AITIC's Non-Residents' Unit, of which his country was to be a prime beneficiary, as Cambodia's Ambassador, not resident in Geneva, planned to be making of the Non-Residents' Unit more frequently in the future.
7. The Chairman concluded the meeting with a brief statement wishing AITIC well on the new phase it was initiating and recalling his involvement at the outset of the establishment of AITIC. He requested the Director of AITIC to make a few remarks on what she saw as the future work programme for AITIC.
8. AITIC's Director thanked all those attending the meeting. She expressed her appreciation to them for taking time from a very busy schedule and particularly at this important juncture for the future of the multilateral trading system. She mentioned the tall order ahead in satisfying the demands of an increasingly active trade-related agenda. But she stressed that AITIC, under the Development Plan that has been prepared with the support and involvement of the current and prospective donors and of beneficiaries, will strive hard to meet their expectations. A prime concern for the future was to strengthen the Non-Residents' Unit and to continue providing the personalised assistance that had become AITIC's hallmark. She highlighted the importance the Agency attached to providing this support in the three official languages of the WTO. She concluded her remarks by inviting those participants who were able and willing to sign the Initiative to do so there and then. However, those who were short of time would be able to do so at their convenience in the few days to come. At the ceremony itself, 27 participants signed. By the end of the Ministerial Conference, a total of 63 signatories had supported the Initiative, including seven intergovernmental organisations (Annex 2).
AITIC INITIATIVE ON TRADE-RELATED CAPACITY BUILDING AND GREATER PARTICIPATION IN THE INTERNATIONAL TRADING SYSTEM
We, the undersigned Ministers,
Re-affirming our commitment to a fairer and inclusive multilateral trading system;
Recognising the urgency and importance of strengthening the capacity of certain developing countries and economies in transition and, in particular, least-developed countries to participate effectively in the WTO and the international trading system;
Recognising also the difficulty faced by these Members and Observers in participating effectively in the WTO when they have only a small, resource-constrained mission in Geneva or no resident representation at all there;
Sharing the aspiration that all Members and Observers be appropriately represented in Geneva as soon as possible in order to participate effectively in the WTO;
Acknowledging the effectiveness of the assistance provided to such Members and Observers in the meantime by the Swiss-funded Agency for International Trade Information and Cooperation (AITIC), the growing demand for such assistance and the efforts made to meet this demand, inter alia through the setting up of a Non-Residents Unit and the preparation of a Development Plan;
Recognising that this demand may best be met by a broadening of the funding base, and of the governance structure of the agency, with the full collaboration of other trade-related organisations;
Decide to set up immediately a Task Force, to consider the feasibility of transforming AITIC into an Intergovernmental Organisation or by any other means to improve the financial and functional basis of AITIC taking into account other organisations and their mandates;
Invite the Task Force to make a progress report on the occasion of the UN International Conference on Financing for Development;
Members and Observers of WTO
· African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP)
Note 1: The less-advantaged countries (LACs) are the 49 least-developed countries as defined by the United Nations and some low income and resource constrained developing countries and economies in transition. These countries face structural and institutional limitations and have not been active so far in the multilateral trading system. This is not a WTO category now or in the future. It is only used for the practical purpose of describing in three words what would otherwise take many more. (return to text)
Note 2: Meetings of 15 February 2001, 11 July 2001, 18 September 2001 and 24 October 2001. (return to text)