World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/50
10 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: English
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
On behalf of the SADC member countries, let me join the previous speakers who expressed their gratitude to the Government and the people of Singapore for the warm and friendly reception accorded to us since our arrival. Allow me also to commend all those who in one way or another participated in the preparations of this very important Conference.
Indeed this Conference should influence the course and pace of the globalization process and the capacity of a rule-based, international trading system, which recognizes strengths and weaknesses of its Members, to benefit all WTO Member States and particularly those in a disadvantaged economic position.
We in SADC are particularly concerned about this aspect, for the SADC is a unique regional economic grouping whose membership comprises countries at varying levels of development including land-locked countries, small island States and least developed countries who are the majority. This widely various group of countries met in Maseru, Lesotho, on 24 August 1996 to sign a Trade Protocol which we consider to be a first but important step in moving towards a free-trade area in Southern Africa.
The SADC Trade Protocol which draws on the provisions of the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community, is an ambitious project which foresees the establishment of a free-trade zone in a period of eight years. One of the primary objectives of the Trade Protocol is to enhance the economic development, diversification and industrialization of the region for it recognizes that an integrated regional market will create new opportunities for a dynamic business sector.
There is no doubt that the Trade Protocol will provide a unique opportunity to strengthen regional and economic cooperation in the SADC region. As stated in the Preamble of the Protocol, this would allow Member States which are at different levels of economic development to share equitably the benefits of regional economic integration. We believe that this would be in keeping with one of the primary objectives of the Marrakesh Declaration which recognizes inter alia that there is need for positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries and especially the least developed among them secure a meaningful share in the growth on international trade, commensurate with needs of their economic development.
We are satisfied to note that the Director-General's report on discussions regarding the Ministerial Declaration recognizes that the trade liberalizing effects of such regional arrangements may assist least developed, developing and economies in various stages of transition to integrate into the multilateral trading system. We therefore urge the WTO, in its application of rules, to be flexible enough to accommodate efforts being made by developing countries to work towards economic integration as is the case with the SADC Trade Protocol.
In the same vein, we must equally recognize the complementary role played by preferential trade arrangements in creating a secure environment conducive to trade expansion in favour of the beneficiaries. Therefore, such arrangements particularly those which affect a large number of developing countries cannot simply be done away with, regardless of the consequences for these countries. We feel it imperative that the various preferential arrangements which currently exist be maintained into the next century in order to guarantee developing countries the security of market access and integration into the international trading system. In this context, we in the SADC region recognize the critical role played by the Lomé Convention in catering for our trade and development needs as well as for the needs of many other developing countries. It is our fervent wish that come year 2000, Lomé trade preferences will remain.
In the two years of WTO existence, SADC member countries have, despite sincere efforts, been struggling with limited success to meet their obligations as provided for under the WTO Agreements. Our capacity therefore to take on new commitments over and above our existing obligations under the built-in agenda would be limited. It is for this reason that we in the SADC region believe that this Ministerial Meeting should focus on implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements. We should take stock of the implementation process and find out if the expectations we had in Marrakesh on the prospects of economic growth and sustainable development and of better international relations that the outcome of the Uruguay Round had promised has, by any degree, been achieved.
It is true that the WTO Agreements have brought several opportunities our way. However, it has not always been possible for us to benefit from this situation because of a number of difficulties besetting us. We note with concern the increasing trend of marginalization of the least developed countries resulting from debt problems, poor terms of trade and supply side constraints in their economies. We urge immediate international action to reverse this trend.
We are glad that some of our concerns have been addressed in the WTO Plan of Action for Least Developed Countries. The guidelines for technical assistance is another example of constructive effort being made to help developing countries meet their obligations under the WTO Agreements. Both of these initiatives need to be commended and we look forward to more positive action of this kind, especially in the context of the Marrakesh Ministerial Decision on measures in favour of least developed countries as well as on measures concerning the possible negative effect of the agricultural reform programme on the least developed and net-food-importing developing countries.
SADC member States believe that it would be inappropriate to expand the negotiating agenda of the WTO, partly in view of their current difficulties in implementing the Uruguay Round of Agreements. We feel that not all Member States are fully prepared to address the complex set of issues which some countries have proposed for the Singapore Ministerial Conference.
Preparations for negotiations on these new issues in the absence of proper understanding of their exact implications and a constructive dialogue on them, would amount to the imposition of rules by the strong upon the weak with a potentially harmful impact on developing countries. Therefore, we are convinced that these issues require more thorough study and positive discussions to be initiated by UNCTAD in collaboration with other relevant international institutions. The SADC Ministers' Meeting in Arusha on 1 November 1996, considered these but recognized that some were premature, others demanded more thorough consideration, whilst some did not have a place in WTO. The issue of investment, which is a highly complex matter, demands more careful study primarily by UNCTAD in consultation with the WTO and other appropriate institutions as we have outlined earlier. Equally we believe it will be premature to address the issues of competition policy and government procurement at this stage. We firmly believe that labour standards can best be addressed in the tripartite forum provided by the International Labour Organization.
Finally, SADC member States welcome the joint initiatives by WTO/UNCTAD/ITC in Africa. We urge that the cooperation of these agencies be strengthened, with a view to maximizing their contribution to the objective of enabling developing countries, and in particular the SADC member States, to participate effectively as equal partners in the multilateral trading system. We wish to place on record our appreciation of the important commitment of the Director-General of the WTO with respect to the least developed countries.