World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/126
12 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
The trade environment is changing rapidly for the small island States of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States of which St. Kitts and Nevis is a member. Trade based on preferential arrangements with Europe and North America is giving way to rules-based agreements that are market-orientated and founded on the principle of reciprocity. Given the small size and openness of the Islands' economies, even if they adapt to the new rules, they risk economic marginalization. Protectionist policies, we are told, are no longer viable options, although they may be in our best interest. We have to make legislative and regulatory changes required to meet obligations under the WTO and to facilitate a competitive response to global trade liberalization.
The legislative and regulatory changes required to meet the Uruguay Round Accords, pose serious problems on the ability and capacity of our country.
Lack of resources and expertise make notification and implementation particularly onerous. The sheer number of notification requirements imposes a heavy burden and has resulted in a low response ratio. Technical assistance is required if we are to adhere in a timely manner to our obligations in the implementation of national legislation. The Ministerial meeting at Marrakesh in 1994 pledged the WTO to assist its poorer Members in developing a capability to meet their obligations under the WTO.
This, we believe, should be the focus of the meeting in Singapore. It should review and take stock on the progress in the implementation of the Uruguay Round commitments; focus on the completion of unfinished business and work related to areas specified in the built-in agenda. It would also be useful if the meeting took the opportunity to assess the impact on the developing countries and note the "winners" and "losers", and if some arrangements could be made to accommodate the "losers".
When the Uruguay Round was negotiated, small countries like St. Kitts and Nevis did not have any negotiators. We feared being left out and there was a lack of knowledge on the issues. We felt we had to join the bandwagon if we were not to be left outside the gates and if we were to protect the interest of our banana producing economies. Only time will tell if we have succeeded in the latter. We need time to examine if the Uruguay Round has helped us.
There is a view that the momentum of universal free trade ushered in by the conclusion of the Uruguay Round should be maintained and to ensure this, the mandate of the WTO should be broadened to included new issues such as:
(a) Multilateral investment rules;
(b) labour standards;
(c) competition policy; and
(d) government procurement.
Some of these issues like investment and labour, are of major concern to St. Kitts and Nevis.
We seek investment to enable us to diversify our economy and lessen our dependence on the traditional exports which have been negatively impacted by the WTO provisions. We have seen the prices of our exports decrease and for our imports increase, which to small island States and net food-importing countries like ours, pose considerable difficulties and limit our ability to participate in the evolving world economy. An investment regime which does not provide for differential treatment of small fragile economies might not be considered appropriate or equitable.
With regard to labour issues, my delegation is fully committed to the pursuit of national policies that protect the rights of workers and enhance labour welfare. We believe it is desirable that there be internationally recognized labour standards that incorporate the freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, prohibition of forced labour and non-discrimination in employment. We do not believe however, that the WTO is the forum to undertake an investigation into the linkage between trade and labour standards. We believe the issue could be better explored in a specialized agency like the International Labour Organization, which has the requisite competence and expertise in the area.
The Government Procurement Agreement should continue to be optional to small island States which should be allowed to decide if the Agreement is likely to be of benefit to them. Much more information is needed before this matter can be resolved.
Finally, the area of competition policy is very complex and needs careful study and analysis. We lack the institutional capacity and resources to undertake the additional commitments which the inclusion of this topic in the WTO would involve.
It is our belief that appropriate institutions already exist where the new issues can be investigated, developed and refined without bringing them under the umbrella of the WTO and by so doing overload its agenda.
Fellow Ministers, we should be careful that the WTO does not march so far in front that it loses contact with the majority of its Members.