World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/23
9 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
Speaking on behalf of Colombia at this first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the people and Government of Singapore. I would also like to congratulate Mr. Yeo Cheow Tong, the Minister for Trade and Industry, for his appointment as Chairman of the Conference.
The seriousness and efficiency with which the authorities of Singapore have prepared this event clearly reflect the dynamism and entrepreneurial capacity of a country which stands out as one of the leading actors in international trade and one of the most enthusiastic proponents of multilateralism.
It also gives me great personal satisfaction to lead my country's delegation at this first WTO Ministerial Conference.
Indeed, it has been my responsibility to participate in the entire negotiation process, beginning with the 1982 Ministerial Conference which mapped out the GATT's work programme for the 1980s.
That process, which culminated in the Punta del Este Ministerial Declaration, originated with a document submitted by Switzerland and Colombia with the active participation of a group of countries in which it must be recognized that Singapore played a prominent role.
The tree that we planted at that time is just now beginning to bear fruit.
Two and a half years ago, our Governments signed the Marrakesh Agreements and founded the World Trade Organization, a step which has had a profound impact on international economic relations.
In the short period since the signing of the Agreements administered by the WTO, the benefits of the new multilateral system, which provides Members with a guarantee of predictability and transparency for its trading activities, are already tangible. The cornerstone of the WTO system is the dispute settlement procedure, which places all of the countries on an equal footing in respect of the legal system adopted, and constitutes an appropriate means of curtailing unilateral discriminatory practices.
Colombia is therefore convinced of the importance of ensuring that Members have recourse to institutional mechanisms when conflicts arise in trade relations between them, and that the recommendations issued by the panels and the Appellate Body should be fully and promptly implemented. This is essential to the credibility of the multilateral trade system.
The Uruguay Round was a long and complicated negotiation process which, while it produced results that were beneficial to the international community as a whole, failed to live up to certain hopes, above all in the developing countries, and imposed commitments which call for considerable efforts on our part.
It is clear that while the developed countries have expanded market access for their goods and services, adapted multilateral agricultural subsidy policies to their own needs and substantially increased the protection of their intellectual property rights, the developing countries still face serious restrictions in their access to external markets for products in respect of which they are naturally competitive. This is particularly true for the agriculture, textile and fisheries sectors.
Moreover, our countries continue to encounter export barriers deriving from the application of safeguard mechanisms, anti-dumping measures and sanitary restrictions as well as other unilateral measures, allegedly introduced on such irrefutable grounds as environmental protection.
Finally, we cannot but be concerned at the prospect of the elimination or substantial reduction, within a few years, of the differential treatment currently enjoyed by the developing countries with respect to the application of certain WTO disciplines before the circumstances which gave rise to them have been overcome.
These are the considerations that must be borne in mind when analysing and assessing compliance with the Agreements, the main task of this Conference.
As can be seen from the recent Trade Policy Review for Colombia, our Government, in addition to its own policy of openness, has done its utmost to implement the multilateral agreements properly.
A number of new ideas and proposals emerged during the preparatory work for the Ministerial Conference, aimed at broadening the scope of existing regulations and, in some cases, the terms of reference of the WTO itself.
This has given rise to a number of conflicts, above all where the Agreements already contain an agenda calling for fresh commitments and additional efforts, particularly on the part of the developing countries.
There is clearly a certain momentum and there are clearly a number of realities in the development of international trade which cannot leave us indifferent. But we must be careful in generating new burdens and obligations for which many of us are not yet prepared.
Two new aspects have appeared on the scene which are closely linked to trade and have a strong influence in that area: investment and competition. Given their impact on development and market access, these two aspects cannot be dissociated from our policies and our Agreements. Thus, Colombia considers that the time has come to undertake an analysis in that respect which would enable us to identify possible elements for multilateral negotiation.
The subject of labour standards and their possible inclusion by the WTO in its work programme has been particularly controversial. Many of us have been unable to find legal or institutional grounds for their inclusion in the WTO's disciplines and trade regulations.
Quite apart from the fact that they could give rise to attitudes that could hinder trade and generate new forms of protectionism, with a resulting decrease in our capacity to generate employment, Colombia does not think that it is realistic to link labour rights with trade liberalization programmes.
The one relationship which is deserving of attention is the link between trade and development. To the extent that the most developed countries open up their markets in a commercially significant way to the developing countries, the latter will be able to build up their resources, improve their standard of living, and hence endeavour to reform the labour environment and promote greater social justice at home.
While Colombia is aware of the need to preserve and improve the rights and living conditions of workers, it considers that the examination and discussion of the subject falls outside the scope of the WTO. It should be dealt with exclusively by the International Labour Organization as the Specialized Agency responsible for labour rights.
Before concluding, I would like to pay a tribute to the Director-General of the WTO, Mr. Renato Ruggiero, and to the whole Secretariat, and to congratulate them for their outstanding achievements throughout the two years of the Organization's existence. They form an international team of the highest quality, and one which without any doubt deserves our gratitude and institutional support.
The globalization and liberalization of trade have generated new opportunities and increased hope for the development of peoples, increased wealth and improved living conditions.
Disparity continues to be great, and our duty as the engineers of change is to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor so that prosperity can be more fairly distributed.
Speaking from Singapore, which has itself been the scene of one of the most fantastic economic success stories of this century, Colombia confirms its determination to participate actively and decisively in this multilateral commitment to build a better and fairer world.