World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/18
9 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
I would like to start by thanking the Government of Singapore as host of this first Ministerial Conference of the WTO for its warm and kind hospitality.
The conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations and the signature of the Final Agreement in Marrakesh in April 1994 have played a major role in providing onward stable conditions for developing trade at international level.
We are now, in this first Conference, in a position to confirm that the creation of the WTO was of crucial importance to assure economic development and the maintenance of peace.
The WTO embodies the establishment of a new world economic system, based on the principle of multilateral agreed rules for international trade.
For these reasons we consider today that the key word is implementation.
Ensuring that all WTO Members will continue to implement, in a correct way, all the commitments accepted in Marrakesh should be our major priority for this first Ministerial Conference.
I would like to state that my country, in global terms, evaluates positively the present level of implementation.
Nevertheless, we should not hide that in some sectors, namely textiles, some parties have not yet fully met their obligations in terms of market access.
I recall that the progressive integration of textiles in the WTO requires, as a major condition, that all WTO Members open their markets.
It should not be forgotten that the evaluation of this commitment is one of the major goals of this Ministerial Conference.
The textile sector specificity and its political relevance was clearly acknowledged by all the participating countries in the Uruguay Round, through an Agreement that specifies different modalities and time-frames for the progressive phase-out of the Multifibre Agreement.
In this sense, I stress that the European Union is already the most open trade space in the world, and will integrate, on 1 January 1998, a set of textiles and clothing products representing, for the second stage, a broader opening than it is required under the Agreement.
This effort should provide an impulse leading all WTO Members to commit themselves into an effective market opening and into the strengthening of fair trade rules.
For all the reasons I have pointed out, implementation of the Uruguay Round commitments should be pursued, since the credibility of WTO depends on it and on the capacity to materialize the built-in agenda.
I would also like to stress that Portugal considers that this Ministerial Conference should clearly demonstrate a particular solidarity towards least developed countries and should also recognize the need for special measures in order to facilitate their integration into world trade.
We should create new trade opportunities for these countries and provide the necessary conditions so that they can also fully benefit from the advantages of the Uruguay Round results.
The Action Plan and the organization of a multilateral meeting, in 1997, with the participation of aid agencies and financial institutions are important initiatives for this purpose.
We truly hope that all WTO Members, with no exception, will be able to give a real contribution to support the least developed countries.
Within the EU, Portugal will favour initiatives aiming at adapting existing policies to ensure a better integration of LLDCs in the multilateral system.
We are also ready to consider further improvements regarding market access, on an autonomous basis.
Finally, I would like to point out some aspects regarding the future WTO agenda.
The credibility of WTO will depend on its ability to promote new debates and, if necessary, to launch negotiations on issues that prove to be relevant for international trade in fair conditions.
In our opinion, this is clearly the case of social rights and, more generally, the respect for internationally recognized human rights.
The WTO will miss future challenges if it cannot adjust to changing realities and fails to address the main concerns of citizens. Present international trade development is seen by many as affecting job opportunities at the expense of unjust labour conditions.
For this reason, it is crucial that all Members show the necessary political determination to start a debate on the issue of social rights and their relevance for free and fair trade.
The best way to avoid unilateral measures in this and other areas is to bring the debate to the multilateral system, namely the WTO.
We are aware that some Members fear that this topic might raise protectionist pressures.
It must be crystal clear that Portugal excludes this kind of approach.
In this respect, we agree that ILO should continue to be the central forum to develop the core work on social rights.
However, ILO and WTO should develop a creative form of cooperation so that they can benefit from each others experience.
My country hopes that this meeting will give an impulse to enable our Organization to better face present future challenges.
For this reason, I think we cannot miss the opportunity to have a collective reflection about some of the most essential issues on the international trade agenda, however divisive or polemic they may be.
We need to have the courage to face our differences and to show the political will to bridge those differences through dialogue.