World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/121
12 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
I should like to begin by expressing to you our most sincere congratulations. From our experience in recent days, we can fully confirm that the work of this very important event has been most ably and wisely conducted.
Our profound gratitude also goes to the people and Government of Singapore for their generous hospitality and tokens of warm consideration.
After a long and difficult process, the armed conflict in Guatemala, which has lasted more than 35 years, is drawing to a close through political negotiation and commitment, and this has involved virtually all sectors of Guatemala's society. The firm and lasting peace agreement will be signed on 29 December in Guatemala City, thus putting an end to the last of the three armed conflicts which have shaken Central America.
Since the beginning of his mandate, President Alvaro Arzú has taken decisions and given impetus to action that have set the country on the right course. In this regard, I should like to emphasize three fundamental points.
Firstly, what is happening in Guatemala is a response to a deliberate plan for change and transformation towards thorough democratization of our society. These are not isolated, fortuitous or arbitrary acts, nor are they the outcome of chance. They are consistent efforts to give substance to the principal aspirations of Guatemalan society: to complete the peace negotiations, thereby bringing security to the population, to engage in a vigorous campaign against impunity and discrimination, and to foster the modernization of the country - all for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life of all Guatemalans.
The second part is that this is an ongoing search to share the burden in a highly diverse society that is trying to overcome its special features and differences and so open the way to national reconstruction is an endeavour that is based on the most profound unity within that very same diversity.
The third point is that a global effort has been undertaken by all sectors of society, not only the Government, since the aim is to shape the new relations and roles that will be played by society and the State, and also the most viable and concrete paths for coexistence in a reconciled country.
It is also important to emphasize yet again the valuable backing of the international community, and especially the encouragement given to the negotiations by the group of friendly countries (the United States, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Colombia and Venezuela), support for which the people and Government of Guatemala are grateful and on which they set great store.
In short, conditions now are such that headway can be made in fields where previously it seemed impossible. There is increasing room for organized popular participation, because now the Government not only commands the political legitimacy that is nurtured by peace but it also has the proven will to move forward on the basis of concrete achievements. The whole of Guatemala now faces the enormous challenge of domestic reconciliation and is called on to mature as a country and as a society.
Two years ago we met in Marrakesh to complete an important stage in the economic life of our nations, mindful that the interdependence of the new world economic order demanded a generalized effort at liberalization and an effective contribution to the multilateral system. Guatemala accepted the results of the Uruguay Round as a bridge to the future, as a means of securing just and equitable terms of trade to set the country on the path towards prosperity and development.
This Conference is the appropriate framework for engaging in a critical assessment of the first two years in the life of our Organization and to renew the political will of all Members to comply with the commitments already entered into. Guatemala, for its part, has come to this forum precisely in this spirit.
Although my country made major efforts to develop its economy, including, of course, implementation of the commitments to open up trade that stem from its multilateral obligations, the armed conflict unquestionably added a heavy burden to this task and was ultimately an obstacle to attaining levels of growth equal to the efforts of the people.
This experience has strengthened Guatemala's determination to support the integration process in Central America, a region which can now be seen by the world as a region of peace and reconciliation, committed to strengthening democracy. The world knows that the peace is fragile and has aroused great expectations in our peoples. For this reason, the partners in trade who provide us with trade opportunities will also be Central America's partners in peace.
With a view to achieving full integration into international economy and trade, the Central American countries have brought the region's trade rules into line with the requirements of the World Trade Organization. The Central American integration process is entirely in keeping with the multilateral commitment to opening up trade, because far from being a barrier to third countries, integration means an expanded and more attractive market for our trade partners. This is evidenced by the fact that, in the period 1990-1995, imports from third countries almost doubled.
To foster effective Central American integration as a mechanism to promote the growth of the region so that it can fully develop its potential, Central America needs to improve market access for the export products in which we are efficient and competitive, and to move into new areas that are critical for our economic development.
With the establishment of the new world trade order, we sought to strengthen, develop and broaden GATT rules and disciplines, introducing clearer and more transparent rules. For developing countries, implementation is undoubtedly one of the most relevant points on the agenda, perhaps the most important, and we therefore regret the failure to implement the WTO Agreements in sectors vital to the economies of Central America. It is disturbing to find that protectionism is still alive, and the process of eliminating it is slow and particularly costly for developing countries.
In agriculture, we still see no positive effects. In this regard, we urge the more developed countries to initiate, as soon as possible, further worldwide agricultural reform and to put an end to their domestic policies for production support and export subsidies in this sector, which definitely make us less competitive than domestic producers and, what is more, distort and unbalance world trade.
Nor have the effects been satisfactory in textiles and clothing. The main importers must include in the initial stages of their integration with WTO rules the categories of textiles and clothing that are a special interest to Central American countries. It is also disturbing that transitional safeguards are applied without restraint and, worse still, in such a way as to be inconsistent with the Agreement's provisions and procedures. Members must fulfil the undertaking to grant significant access increases to products from small suppliers and to develop opportunities in markets that are commercially important for new entrants.
It is appropriate to emphasize the significant advance represented by the new dispute settlement system, which now has more clear and transparent rules. For all Members, above all developing countries, it is a suitable means of resolving trade disputes, especially when they manage to make their claims heard during the consultation phase. We also consider that the multilateral system will be strengthened as all Members faithfully abide by panel reports.
A source of serious concern for developing countries lies in the initiatives to link trade to unrelated issues as a way of imposing conditions on market access, thereby invalidating the advances in removing non-tariff barriers, when some of those issues fall within the jurisdiction of other forums.
In particular, I wish to refer to the labour standards issue. Guatemala is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a member of the International Labour Organization. As a nation, we have undertaken to secure participation by the labour sector in the benefits of economic growth fostered by increased trade. However, we consider that this issue should be discussed in the only qualified forum, which is the International Labour Organization. We definitely reject any initiative to tie the labour issue to trade or to utilize labour standards as arguments for negotiation and for trade pressures.
We also wish to mention other issues raised in this Conference. In the case of the environment, Central America has included it in its regional agenda, in the context of our Alliance for Sustainable Development. In our view, environmental considerations cannot be used as barriers to trade.
With reference to government procurement, my country does not object to the aim of making the procedures transparent and free of discrimination between suppliers. Guatemala's domestic legislation contains rules intended precisely to guarantee these goals, in keeping with the country's overall legal system.
A matter of vital importance to Guatemala is the promotion of investment as a means of creating jobs, generating foreign exchange, and transferring technology. Guatemala supports the establishment of a group to study this topic, without prejudging its findings, for it affords an opportunity to express our concerns and goals. We need stable, real and effective foreign investment that respects our legal system and meets the objective of creating economic well-being for the country.
Guatemala is pursuing and going further with an open, transparent policy of trade in both goods and services, in strict observance of WTO rules and disciplines. Our hope is that our trade partners will do the same, in keeping with the principle of solidarity among nations, which is the foundation and ultimate justification of any multilateral system.
This policy is widely supported by all sectors of Guatemalan society and enables us to reiterate our commitment to active and responsible participation in the WTO.