World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/108
12 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: English
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
I am particularly happy to address this Ministerial Meeting, the first since the signing at Marrakesh of the Final Act of the Uruguay Round and the establishment of the World Trade Organization.
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you and the other members of the Bureau for your well-deserved election to the Chair. We are confident Mr. Chairman that with your wise guidance our deliberations will be crowned with success.
Allow me also to congratulate the Singapore Government for their hard work and commitment in organizing this Conference and thank them for their generous hospitality.
It is only natural to hold our meeting in this enchanted island which has always stood for trade liberalization and has become a well-established international trade and business centre.
I avail myself of this opportunity to extend my Government's appreciation to the Director-General of WTO Mr. Renato Ruggiero for his untiring efforts and able manner with which he steers our Organization.
We have all gathered here to evaluate the progress made so far in the implementation of the decisions of the Uruguay Round and chart our future action, giving priority to the "built-in" agenda agreed at that Round.
The presence on this important occasion of so many high political personalities offers a unique opportunity to promote further the goal of global trade liberalization in the next few years through an agreed course of action ensuring that the system continues to move forward on the basis of consensus.
The emergence of the WTO has articulated and imparted substance to a vision of the new world trade order from which many nations have benefited during the last few years. Recent international experience confirms that trade has consistently been the leading edge of the world economy.
In 1995, world trade expanded significantly and the volume of world merchandise exports grew by 8 per cent while the combined value of cross-border trade in goods and services broke the US$6,000 billion mark. Volume growth in 1996, for merchandise exports is expected to maintain around 7 per cent.
Trade liberalization brought new dynamism through improved trading opportunities and it is expected to bring more stability through the reinforcement of the rule of law in international trade matters. Nonetheless, we should not overlook the tremendous problems faced by the small and the least developed countries in the new international environment.
The difficulties of the net food-importing developing countries in particular, command our urgent consideration and compassion. International stability cannot be cemented unless it is based on justice and mutual respect.
We are convinced that our efforts towards international understanding and cooperation will not make much headway unless parallel action is taken to improve living standards in the developing countries, unless ignorance, poverty and squalor are eradicated, and unless conditions which are consistent with human dignity are created. After all economic and social development is an essential path to peace and stability.
The immense advances in science and technology present us now with a new opportunity to embark on a rapid development of our human and material resources and through concerted international action to promote progress and prosperity on a global basis. The World Trade Organization is in a unique position to play a leading role in this historic mission. Not only does it provide the forum and the machinery for this purpose, but it also possesses those characteristics and operates on those principles which are so vitally important in an increasingly interdependent world.
Cyprus is committed to trade liberalization. My country has put a lot of effort in implementing the changes stemming from the new order. Despite the difficulties in adjusting to the new trade rules and market opening commitments, teething problems have been overcome. The bureaucratic and inefficient regulations of trade through import licensing and quantitative restrictions have been abolished. The prospective accession of Cyprus to the European Union and our ongoing harmonization policy, create a web of relations which go beyond free trade.
It encompasses at the same time economic cooperation, approximation of legislation, competition policy and political dialogue. We believe that this convergence is compatible with the commitment to multilateral trade liberalization, and is in line with the MFN (Most Favoured Nation) principle and the WTO's rules.
The message we must send out from Singapore must be clear: we cannot afford to go back to national or regional protectionism. The world markets are no longer separated by political borders. They are now wide open to competition and globalization. Interdependence between economies strengthens the integration process, which is the driving force of the global economy, taking many forms e.g. global market, international competition, openness and liberal trade regimes. In turn, they ensure open and secure markets, stimulate trade, help realize benefits and opportunities, and increase our prospects for growth and more jobs.
We must also ensure that as a result of global integration, benefits accrue to the developing and the least developed countries as well as to economies in transition, bearing in mind that these countries have been pursing economic reforms at a great sacrifice; hence the need for concerted action to ensure that these countries are not marginalized.
The Marrakesh Decisions in favour of the least developed and net food-importing developing countries should be implemented if we are to safeguard progress and achieve the integration of the poorest countries into the world economy and their sharing of the accrued benefits.
Special attention should be given to the needs of countries facing economic difficulties by helping them solve their debt problems and develop the right environment through the provision of technical assistance and other aid, including food aid, for the rehabilitation of their infrastructure and for strengthening their institutional capacities and human capabilities.
It is essential that the WTO should continue its programme of close collaboration and exchange of views with other international organizations such as UNCTAD, the World Bank and the IMF. Improved relationships and coordination among these institutions is essential if we are to have an efficient and coherent global economic policy and avoid unnecessary duplication.
In conclusion, my delegation believes that we must not substitute the termination of the Cold War with increased antagonism between the North and the South. It is now an era of conciliation and collaboration for the common good of mankind. We must work, in real partnership, to promote the economic and social development of all countries, as enunciated by the UN Charter.