World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/11
9 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: French
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
The fact that the first WTO Ministerial Conference is taking place in Singapore is not without significance. It illustrates the economic and political vitality of Asia. It also illustrates the success achieved by the development model, adopted by Singapore, based on an opening to the world within an open multilateral framework. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Singapore on its success, and to thank the Government for the arrangements it has made for this Ministerial Conference.
During this Conference, we will be pursuing four objectives, which I shall come to in a moment, but first, may I point out that we have embarked upon our negotiations in a spirit of determination to work towards the development of the multilateral trading system.
An open multilateral system is the raison d'être of the WTO, and I would remind you that France sought and strongly supported the creation of the Organization. We must reinforce and consolidate this system, primarily through a strong, credible and impartial WTO to which we are all committed and which could welcome 28 new candidates for membership, including such major countries as China and Russia, on the understanding, of course, that they adhere and adapt to WTO disciplines. The commitment of each and every one of us to multilateralism obviously implies our rejection of unilateralism and hence all forms of extraterritorial legislation.
I now come to our four objectives:
I. Firstly, scrupulous respect for the content and timetable of the Marrakesh Agreements
We would like to implement the Marrakesh Agreements, in their entirety and unreservedly. We must adhere scrupulously to our commitments and agreed timetables, particularly with regard to tariffs and agriculture.
The monitoring of disciplines and commitments is one of the main tasks facing the WTO. It is also a priority for the French Government, indeed, a political priority of paramount importance because stability in this area is the first indication of the firm establishment of a credible multilateral system. Without strict respect for obligations, there can be no rendezvous with the millennium.
This implies determination on all our parts and we shall be very vigilant in that regard. We shall pay close attention to market access; you will have noted that the European Union has been exemplary in its application of the Marrakesh Agreements, including in the sensitive textiles sector. We shall also be attentive to the operation of the dispute settlement mechanism.
II. Our second objective is the conclusion of unfinished negotiations
The implementation of the Marrakesh Agreements, in their entirety, also requires the successful conclusion, without further delay, of the unfinished negotiations on basic telecommunications and financial services.
The deadline for basic telecommunications, 15 February 1997, is fast approaching. By that date, we must forge a global agreement, including international and satellite services, firmly based on the most-favoured-nation clause. The European Union and the United States have led the way by making improved and extremely ambitious offers. I encourage other Members to follow that lead and urge those who have not yet submitted offers to do so before the end of the negotiations.
France would like negotiations in the area of financial services to resume at the beginning of 1997 so that a multilateral agreement, grouping as many signatories as possible and ensuring a high level of liberalization, can be reached by 31 December at the latest.
III. The pursuit of trade liberalization is our third objective
The pursuit of trade liberalization involves, first and foremost, the liberalization of trade in information technology. We would like the Agreement on Information Technology to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade between the main European, American and Asian producers, including trade in optical fibres and passive electronic components.
The pursuit of trade liberalization also involves the establishment, within the WTO, of an environment conducive to the development of investment. Investment has become a fundamental dimension of economic globalization. As the excellent report produced by the WTO Secretariat has shown, the distinction between trade and investment is nowadays becoming increasingly tenuous.
All of us need to move in this direction and I know that many developing countries would not understand if only the OECD countries were to make their voices heard on this question. Our next Ministerial Meeting in two years' time is in fact too far away for investment to be tackled before the OECD concludes its work in that area.
This is why we firmly believe that the WTO should begin discussing investment and that the Ministerial Conference should decide on the establishment of a working group on that subject. This is the only way to ensure that discussion is not restricted to the industrialized countries, and that all countries are able to participate and to make their concerns known on this crucial issue.
Finally, as you know, the European Union would like the WTO to reflect on anti-competitive business practices (controls, cartels, abuse of market power) which constitute a barrier to market access.
IV. Finally, France believes the process of globalization will falter unless it has public support
We are all convinced that globalization constitutes an opportunity for our businesses and our economies in so far as it stimulates innovation, growth and job creation everywhere.
Nevertheless, globalization is also a source of concern to the public, because it juxtaposes countries with differing levels of development and widely-varying standards of living and environmental standards and imposes adjustments which can often be very painful.
Globalization is therefore a fragile asset, whose legitimacy we must always be prepared to justify, lest we provoke protectionist reaction.
This is why we cannot avoid the question of basic social standards. On this and other issues, what we have in common is much more important than that which divides us: I believe we are all agreed that the ILO has a fundamental role to play in this area. We are all agreed that this issue should in no way lead to concealed protectionism. We are all agreed that trade liberalization will help to promote basic social standards, as proved by the industrial and social history of the developed countries.
In these circumstances and on that basis, we should begin, at the WTO and here in Singapore, a process of reflection on the crucial and indisputable issues. Here, too, we are all agreed that forced labour should not exist. We are all agreed that child slavery, a subject and terminology which appear in a report issued by the European Parliament, is intolerable. We are all agreed that child labour should be ended as soon as possible. France and the European Union, along with all those who are firmly committed to that goal, wish to assist this movement by participating in a concerted approach to educational and training reform.
On these questions, it is true that differences in approach exist between us. It was most unfortunate that we were not unanimous about inviting Mr. Hansenne, Director-General of the ILO, with his wealth of experience and competence, to come to address us.
Indeed, in all these areas, the WTO provides a framework within which all countries, developed and developing, may state their positions and, I stress this point, do so on good terms with the ILO, about whose role and competence there can be no question.
How could we explain to the world that the World Trade Organization was not qualified to deal with these basic issues relating to human rights in the workplace?
The environment is another area in which the public has high expectations. The balance sheet of the WTO's activities so far is unfortunately considered disappointing by the European Union. These activities should now lead to concrete proposals.
The work of the WTO to achieve greater liberalization of trade and improve the well-being of the people would not be complete without guaranteed access for all, more particularly in the poorest countries, to the paths of sustainable development. Nevertheless, these countries represent only 0.3 per cent of world trade and still do not benefit enough from globalization.
This is why Jacques Chirac, President of France and current President of the G7, has stressed the need to pursue an active development policy. That policy involves the maintenance of worldwide official development assistance flows. France, as you know, allocates 0.55 per cent of its GNP or 42 billion francs, to development assistance, which makes France the second largest bilateral donor, after Japan.
An active development policy also entails further opening of the markets of the developed and middle-income countries to the least developed countries. We strongly urge that discussions on this point should quickly lead to firm measures. France has already made certain proposals within the European Union to that effect. As always, France stands ready to fight for solidarity, which is diametrically opposed to protectionism.