World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/15
9 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: English
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
It is my great pleasure to express my gratitude to His Excellency Mr. Goh Chok Tong for the inspiring opening address and for sharing with us his vision to the goals and purposes of this important Ministerial gathering. I also thank you deeply for the hospitality you have shown my delegation. Of course, this is not the first time that I have experienced such generosity and graciousness which one comes to associate with Singapore.
When Singapore was chosen to be the venue of the first political meeting of the WTO, this perhaps cannot better represent the success story of an economy in which trade has always played a leading role.
The fact that this important meeting is being held in one of the ASEAN countries augurs well for the region and is a testimony of the economic progress we have achieved under the umbrella of the multilateral trading system.
When the Uruguay Round Agreement was signed in Marrakesh in April 1994, the WTO established with it a high level of hope and expectation as the first, fully-recognized institutional and legal foundation of the multilateral trading system. Our presence here at Singapore, testifies to the political importance that we attach to the aspirations, the implications and the anxieties that are inherent in this new institution.
In retrospect, so much has happened during the last few years in terms of the development of economic events. We have seen the proliferation of new regional trading arrangements. Already some 100 regional or subregional groupings had been identified by the WTO last year. The continuing applications of extra-territorial measures on sovereign Members. During the period, a slow-down in export growth was experienced by many exporting countries including Thailand. And as a result of the growing economic interdependence, financial constraints were felt in developed and developing countries alike. These global phenomena illustrate the fact that globalization is an evolving reality among nations that pose challenge, opportunity and problem that will have significant bearings on the evolvement and viability of the multilateral trading system.
Yet, despite all these events which have transpired since the inception of this organization, not very substantial results have been achieved in the implementation of the Uruguay Round package. Trade liberalization and implementation are still incomplete in many key areas. Various issues of unfinished business are still on our agenda. It would be an illusion to believe that complete implementation of the Uruguay round results is easy or straightforward. There is plenty on liberalization and implementation to keep us occupied into the next century.
With this in mind, the WTO's immediate concern should be to focus on the implementation and consolidation of the results achieved in the last round of negotiations. These commitments are essential to the proper functioning of the system. Although it is activity that seldom makes the headlines, it should be our common, top priority.
Equally important, another immediate priority of ours is to make sure that the WTO endeavours to strengthen its institutional aspect in order for the organization to remain credible, relevant and truly universal in the changing trading environment. First, WTO must ensure that the new dispute settlement system works in a legally and politically credible manner. During the past two years Members have been making use of it in a way which demonstrate considerable faith in the WTO. However, willingness to abide by the dispute settlement procedures and findings is just important as respecting the rules. Secondly, the WTO must promote the universality of its membership. To be a truly global trade rules-making body, the membership of the WTO must be expanded. Accession should be on fair, equitable and practical terms. Thirdly, the WTO must enhance its primacy role in the global trading system with the complementary support from the regional economic groupings. The WTO needs to lead from the front in order that the global trading system does not disintegrate into regional trading blocs. Finally, the WTO must take care of the less developed Members in order to effectively integrate these Members especially the least developed ones into the global trading system. The WTO must once and for all shake its image of a rich man's club.
Notwithstanding the facts that the current built-in agenda is very extensive, we should like to stress the importance of agriculture and textiles and clothing sectors. Efforts to integrate the developing and least developed countries into the world trading system will not bear fruits unless agriculture and textiles and clothing are accorded rightful attention and overdue political commitments. To our concerns, the implementation in textiles still leaves much to be desired. There is a considerable anxiety among textiles exporting developing countries that the observance of the Agreement has been less than satisfactory. We feel that it is difficult to embark on creating a sense of mutual confidence unless our counterparts are ready to act courageously in this sector. Thailand calls for collective commitment to progressively bring textiles trade into the WTO rules and disciplines in letter and spirit.
In agriculture, we urge that the remaining reform works be carried out by Members without delay. In this connection, Thailand calls for immediate commencement of appropriate work in this area.
The WTO, as an organization, must have a visionary approach in order to maintain effectiveness and credibility of the system well into the future. In other words, we need vision with a priority. While honouring the commitments, we should also move forward. Charting into the future course, the WTO should embark upon new grounds of work on a modest scale while seeking to avoid upsetting the balance of priority.
We are aware of suggestions that new initiatives should be contemplated and studied in the areas of investment and competition policies. Although they may not be new issues to the WTO, the problem is how and where we can proceed in the most appropriate manner. We must not prejudge the outcome of future works undertaken. There is a need for a more horizontal and all-encompassing approach to these issues in the WTO. The works must take into account the interests of all members of the trading system in all strata - developed, developing and least developed alike.
If investment and competition policies are to be truly global and responsive to the changes constantly taking place in the world well into the next millennium, then a broad coverage should be taken into account. At this stage, proposals with regards to the information gathering and educative process should be approached in the most comprehensive manner.
Thailand has always supported the initiative on further liberalization of information technology products. Our success on the ITA will be an achievement of immense value and benefits in terms of advancing the welfare of our peoples. It is very important that ITA be a broad-based agreement taking on board as many participants as possible. We do hope that an eventual agreement will be made on a multilateral basis, to make the most of its benefits both to the global economy and the trading system. At the same time, we must take into account the developing countries' need to develop their industries. Thus, the SMC should not be the deadline for conclusion, but the process should continue after Singapore.
We wish to state categorically that while we are strongly committed to internationally recognized labour standards, we share the views of many Members that this is not an issue over which the WTO has the competence. This issue will be more properly addressed in the International Labour Organization.
No one can deny the importance of core labour standards that have been internationally agreed upon. As a matter of fact, all basic relevant elements of core labour standards mentioned have long been recognized by and witnessed in Thailand. There is clear evidence to support this remark. However, there is no relevancy to force linkages of this issue with trade, unless there is an ulterior motive to bring in the issue as disguised protectionism. For the WTO, the immediate challenge is to build a consensus in order to avoid this becoming a divisive issue.
Thailand would like to emphasize that there must be a proportionate balance in the WTO's future undertaking with the priority in the implementation process. While ensuring that our past commitments are honoured, we can move forward knowing that our future course is firmly based on solid ground. The WTO can embark on a new direction on a modest scale while seeking to avoid overburdening or upsetting the balance of priority currently in place.
For the WTO to remain relevant and to exert primacy in the world trading system, it must take into account the changing environment and seek the way to take the lead, within the bound of possibility and reason. Let us remember that we gather here with our common belief in multilateralism. Let us work together with a sense of harmony so that the Singapore Ministerial Conference will be remembered as the occasion where all nations are unified to show that multilateralism remains the possible means through which economic wellbeing and prosperity can be equitably shared.