World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/21
9 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: English
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
The WTO Ministerial Conference in Singapore is about trade as a vehicle for economic growth -sustainable economic growth. It is about trade liberalization within a rule-based multilateral system. It is about globalization of the world economy and integration of all countries in the multilateral trading system. And it is about WTO's responsiveness to trade-related issues of political importance to its Members.
Trade is a powerful engine for economic growth. History is consistent on the positive role of trade in developing nations' economic welfare. Hence, we must safeguard and enhance trade. However, trade bears no guarantee for people's welfare, nor for sustainable use of resources or the protection of the environment.
In the preamble to the WTO Agreement, sustainable development is the objective against which the contribution of trade must be measured. Our work on the relationship between trade and the environment has underscored the need to clarify the interlinkages between trade and environmental policies and to make those policies mutually supportive.
Trade liberalization is part and parcel of the WTO, as much as it was of the GATT. Former GATT negotiation rounds have brought about a 90 per cent reduction of tariffs. We, Ministers, must make sure that momentum is kept to enhance equity and openness in world trade. We have undertaken to cut tariffs and eliminate quotas within definite time-limits. Implementing the obligations deriving from the WTO Agreements is our first and foremost priority.
In the area of services, there is strong need to reaffirm our commitment to conclude negotiations in important sectors such as maritime services, basic telecommunications and financial services.
Furthermore, there is every reason to welcome and participate in the initiative to abolish tariffs in the area of information technology. Abolition of tariffs in this sector will benefit industries as well as consumers. Applying zero-tariffs on an MFN basis makes a plurilateral initiative truly multilateral, and a consensus on such a plan here in Singapore will be a concrete and strong signal to the effect that the basic mechanisms of WTO are functioning well.
Embarking upon open, multilateral discussions on issues such as trade and investment, and trade and competition will strengthen the WTO, as it will provide a multilateral framework within which to address issues which obviously are related to trade. The WTO must play that role. To ensure a balanced approach which will take the interest of all WTO Members into account, we need to advance carefully and on the basis of comprehensive analysis.
Globalization and integration are key concepts in the era of the World Trade Organization. Close to 30 countries are knocking on the door of the WTO. I advise that we give additional political impetus to the issue of accession with the aim of concluding the ongoing negotiations for as many applicant countries as possible by the next Ministerial Meeting in 1998. The requirement must be that applicant countries accept basic WTO rules and principles upon accession.
A particular challenge is to integrate the least developed Member countries. We must deploy all efforts to reverse their marginalization and make them benefit from participating in the multilateral trading system. Some valuable initiatives have been taken in the WTO and need to be followed up. One is the WTO Fund for Technical Assistance to the LDCs. As the sole contributor to that fund, I hereby extend an invitation to other countries to join us.
Secondly, some very valuable proposals have been outlined in the proposed Action Plan, particularly as regards increased market access. Yes, let us eliminate as many barriers to imports of their products as possible. Singapore should be an important step forward in WTO's efforts to improve the trading opportunities of the LDCs.
Globalization of the world economy also implies that the WTO - and the role of trade - become more exposed to public scrutiny. Norway welcomes that challenge. But, is also implies that the WTO needs to be politically responsive to issues of political importance to Member countries. A more responsive approach in this regard could defuse potentially damaging trade conflicts.
Whether trade and labour standards should be on the international agenda is hardly the issue. We already have an international policy debate. By raising the issue of trade and core labour standards in a WTO framework, Norway wants to secure a multilateral and structured approach which includes all Member countries.
I propose that WTO seeks to establish a better common understanding of the relationships involved. The available evidence suggests that there is a positive and mutually reinforcing relationship between improved core labour standards and trade liberalization. In order to pursue an open, multilateral dialogue on this issue I advocate the establishment of an appropriate body for that purpose.
The WTO Ministerial Conference is an occasion to take stock of our achievements so far, and to set our sights on new horizons. Doing so here in Singapore seems to me particularly appropriate. Trade has been the vehicle for impressive economic development. The multilateral trading system has made it possible.