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8 December 1997

WTO secretariat releases 1997 annual report

Secretariat examines recent successes and future challenges

The new “WTO Annual Report 1997”, published today (Friday 19 December), contains a detailed account of the third and, perhaps, busiest year of the World Trade Organization so far. Following the unequivocal vote of confidence given by the WTO's first Ministerial Conference in Singapore last December, the member governments tackled a wide range of issues during 1997 to ensure that the WTO remains a vibrant, relevant and multilateral rules-based system.

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The Report highlights some of the major trends in trade policy during 1997. For example, on 15 February, 69 governments agreed to wide-ranging liberalization measures in basic telecommunications services. On 26 March, forty governments agreed to cut customs duties on information technology products, beginning on 1 July 1997 and with the aim of eliminating all duties on these products by 2000. International trade in information technology products amounts to some US$600 billion annually, while domestic and international revenue generated in the basic telecommunications sector is roughly the same amount.

A whole chapter of the Report is devoted to exploring in depth the interaction between trade policy and competition policy. While it recognizes the adverse effect on competition that government trade measures may have, the chapter focuses on the effects that enterprise practices can have in restricting or distorting trade. It examines the national legal means employed by governments to prevent or remedy such enterprise behaviour and the possible areas where enhanced international co-operation might be explored.

In its review of developments in world trade in 1996, the Report provides a more detailed analysis, confirming and expanding on the findings of the WTO Secretariat's preliminary assessment published in April 1997. The Report examines in greater depth trade flows by region and product, intra-trade of regional integration agreements, and trends in commercial services trade. World trade slowed down markedly in real and nominal terms in 1996. Real merchandise exports grew by 5 per cent - much less than in the two preceeding years - but remained above the sluggish growth rates of the early 1990s. There was also a general slowdown by region, with only Africa on the export side and Latin America on the import side recording higher growth in 1996 than in 1995. The analysis is supported by a full volume of trade statistics and charts.

In its prospective look at 1997, the Report states that world trade and output growth are expected to accelerate in comparison to 1996. The Report's early assessment of trade in 1997 is based on economic indicators available at the time of writing in August 1997. Events during the autumn are not captured in the assessment. Nevertheless, it appears that the forecast of global growth in trade of 7 per cent in real terms for 1997 remains broadly in line with expectations. The effects of developments in Asian financial markets will become apparent in data for 1998. Regarding the South East Asian region, the Report maintains that, while recent developments in the financial sector in a number of these countries will continue to pose policy challenges in the months ahead, most of the economies concerned are expected to grow at rates above the world average in 1997.

The Report summarizes under four main points the trade policy challenges confronting WTO member governments in the months and years ahead:

    -    the "built-in agenda" carried over from the Uruguay Round must be carried forward expeditiously;

    -    the importance of ensuring that regional trade arrangements are compatible with the rules and objectives of the WTO's multilateral trading system;

    -    future negotiations and the continuing WTO work programme must take full account of the needs of all the membership, especially those countries facing risks of marginalization;

    -    the new areas of work identified by Ministers at Singapore in relation to trade and investment, trade and competition policy, transparency in government procurement, and trade facilitation must be effectively addressed under the terms of the relevant mandates.

Reflecting the very broad scope of the WTO, the Report also gives an account of the activities of the institution, highlighting some of the major issues which were debated or negotiated by the member governments in the various councils, committees and working parties. In total, the WTO now has 64 such bodies and 27 legal instruments under its purview, compared with 20 bodies and 10 legal instruments in 1986 under the former GATT.

Notes to Editors:

1.    The Report comprises 2 volumes and covers the period to 31 August 1997. Volume I contains the descriptive commentary and analysis of world trade, developments in trade policy, the work of the WTO, and a special chapter on trade and competition policy. Volume II is devoted exclusively to trade statistics in the form of tables and charts.

2.    Copies of the 2-volume Report are available on sale in English, French and Spanish, priced SFr 75, from WTO Publications, World Trade Organization, Centre William Rappard, 154 rue de Lausanne, CH-1211 Geneva 21 Tel: (41 22) 739 5208 or 5308 Fax: (41 22) 739 5792 Email: publications@wto.org. The WTO Internet site (http://www.wto.org) provides a facility for ordering on-line.

3.    Review copies are available for journalists, one per request, from the Information and Media Relations Division, WTO Secretariat, Centre William Rappard, 154 rue de Lausanne, CH-1211 Geneva 21 (Tel: 022-739-5019, Fax: 022-739-5458).