World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/48
10 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
The Netherlands is a country which for many centuries has built its prosperity on foreign trade and investment. Traders and investors need an open, predictable and rule-based international environment. The multilateral trading system provides just that. This explains why we always staunchly supported GATT and why we are an even more ardent fan of WTO.
This first Ministerial Conference is crucial. The WTO is still young and needs to be consolidated. We must therefore ensure that commitments made are fully implemented. Abiding by its rules for dispute settlement and not resorting to unilateralism are fundamental in this respect.
This Conference, however, must do more than reaffirm. First, to maintain its credibility, the WTO must demonstrate its ability to further liberalize trade. We should not give in to negotiation fatigue. There is a clear gap in the built-in agenda for industrial tariffs negotiations and still ample room for further action. The Netherlands stands ready to discuss any new initiative to eliminate or diminish barriers to trade in goods and services. In particular I want to highlight the need for a success in the coming negotiations on basic telecom and financial services. I also hope that agreement can soon be reached on a balanced ITA that addresses all market barriers. Results in these three areas are important for the global information society.
Second, the WTO and this Conference must boldly confront new challenges that are many and varied.
The rapid proliferation of preferential regional trade agreements is one of these challenges. Regional economic integration is, of course, a positive phenomenon, but should not result in trade-diverting discrimination. The WTO must therefore closely monitor such trade agreements on their full compatibility with WTO rules and assess their systemic effects on the multilateral trading system. If not, there is a risk that the world will be divided into inward-looking trading blocks with the WTO Members, whose poverty makes them unattractive economic partners, the big losers. Key goals are to ensure that most-favoured-nation treatment does not become least favoured-nation treatment and that regional and multilateral trade liberalization ultimately converge in free trade worldwide!
The next challenge concerns the relationship with environment, to which we already agreed in Marrakesh and which remains a high priority. An open trading system and protection of the environment are mutually supportive in the pursuit of sustainable development. We must make this policy statement a reality in practice. If not, we will get rich on the road to extinction. I am satisfied that the Committee on Trade and Environment has produced some valuable conclusions. However, I would be very disappointed if we are not able to adopt some concrete results.
Core labour standards also rank high on the international agenda nowadays. These standards are crucially important to the well-being of all workers in the world. Better instruments to promote the observance of these standards should be developed. Strengthening the ILO's position and responsibilities in this regard is fundamental. Does this mean that there is no task for this Conference? No, it does not. The WTO cannot simply forget about those who produce the trade flows it endeavours to expand. Avoiding an ongoing dialogue on this sensitive issue does not help to gain a better understanding of each other's views and to dispel fears about hidden agendas.
I firmly believe that export-driven economic growth opens new opportunities for social progress. Observing core labour standards does not weaken a country's competitive advantage in international trade. On the contrary, it is much more likely to strengthen it. There is, therefore, no valid reason why governments should not do their utmost to ensure that core labour standards are observed. At the same time, however, we should realise that developing countries cannot accomplish this without further market access and assistance.
This brings me to a final challenge; the need to promote the full participation of developing countries in the WTO system so that they too can reap the fruits of membership. In my view, two things should be done.
First, as Sir Leon Brittan stated yesterday, developed countries and emerging economies should provide improved market access, especially for the least developed countries. Referring to the statements of my colleagues from Bangladesh and Germany, the Netherlands is willing to go all the way and remove all remaining trade barriers, both tariff and non-tariff, for the least developed countries. I call upon other major trading nations to take concrete and meaningful steps, so that the WTO Action Plan will have real substance in the area of market access.
Second, there is a need for technical assistance to enable developing countries to better understand and implement WTO disciplines and obligations. This will not only assist them to integrate more fully into the multilateral system, it will also create opportunities for business. The WTO Secretariat should play a key role in this assistance. I am pleased to formally announce today that the Netherlands' Government will contribute 4 million Dutch guilders - about US$2.5 million - for a trust fund within the WTO to finance technical assistance. This trust fund will be open to both developing countries and economies in transition. I appeal to other, more advanced, WTO Members to make similar contributions. Through such initiatives, we can express our solidarity and our shared responsibility for creating a strong and global multilateral trading system for the benefit of all nations.
Finally, a word about the relationship of the WTO with the outside world, the ordinary citizen, businessman, farmer, worker and the unemployed, whose continuing support we need. We must make a major effort to be an open and transparent organization. We should explain better to our societies at large, why free trade can make such an important contribution for more economic growth and prosperity worldwide. The WTO started with an appealing vision of the future. That vision needs to be nurtured. We therefore wholeheartedly support Mr. Ruggiero's proposal to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the multilateral trading system in 1998 at the highest political level. At that time we should formulate a clear message what the WTO is all about and which important issues are at stake in the next century. But let us already do our utmost during this Conference to make this vision a reality!