In preparation for the Singapore Ministerial Conference, two new market access proposals have been tabled in the Committee: a proposal from Canada for the acceleration of Uruguay Round tariff cuts and for increased participation in sectoral initiatives, including new sectoral zero-for-zero or harmonization initiatives; and a proposal from Australia for new industrial tariff negotiations to begin in the year 2000. While some Members expressed support in varying degrees for these proposals, other Members expressed opposition because in their view the WTO's immediate focus should be on implementation of Uruguay Round commitments.
Two other initiatives have also been reported to the Committee: a proposal on an Information Technology Agreement from the United States that would eliminate tariffs on information technology products (e.g. computers, telecommunications, semiconductors, etc.); and a communication from the European Communities on behalf of those Members concerned, on trade in pharmaceutical products that extends duty-free treatment to an additional 465 products. These communications were welcomed by Members as they made a positive contribution to trade liberalization and their results are granted on an MFN basis.
Under the MFN principle of the WTO (most-favoured-nation treatment provided in GATT Article I), a country must extend tariff cuts it has pledged to any one country or countries to all other WTO members. Several countries by themselves may also pursue trade liberalization negotiations or harmonize market access policies in a particular sector, and afterwards apply the results on an MFN basis to all WTO members without counter-concessions from non-participants. This was done in the pharmaceuticals sector during the Uruguay Round by the EC and other members. This kind of negotiations is distinct from WTO plurilateral agreements, such as government procurement, where benefits are enjoyed only by signatories to those agreements.