World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/58
10 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
Let me first thank most warmly the Governments of Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore and the European Union, whose generosity has made our participation at this Conference possible.
And let me also express our profound appreciation to the Government and people of Singapore for their warm hospitality and for the excellent facilities they have provided for this Conference.
When Solomon Islands ratified the WTO Agreement in April of this year we had one and one fond hope only - that trade would take us right into the international trading framework and thereby exploit the opportunities offered by the Uruguay Round.
At no time did we envisage that trade would be a means for further marginalization and impoverishment. We already were and still are.
So if there is going to be a bottom line to the final outcome of our deliberations, it is this - to declare that our quest for trade liberalization must not further marginalize the developing countries and in particular the LDCs. On the contrary, these countries must be offered a helping hand in their painful journey to where the harvest is and will be. Herein lies one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time. And herein lies on of the vital roles of the WTO.
So where do we start?
I am sure we all agree that an economy only exporting agricultural products will fare very differently to one capable of trading in high technology. Furthermore, the different capacities these economies have in responding to what free trade has to offer do not help narrow that gap.
Accordingly there are no level playing fields in the world trading system. It is a system comprising of very different players which in practice has been dominated by the fit and strong.
We must therefore accept the fact that the playing fields are not level. Otherwise globalization in its present form will push all developing countries and most certainly LDCs over the margins and into oblivion.
Market access for products from LDCs is an obvious condition for their economic development. We are therefore grateful to Director-General Ruggiero for pressing home this point at the G7 Summit in Lyon earlier this year.
But market access is just one side of the same coin called economic development. And how helpful is it for the LDCs if our products cannot find their way into these markets because we lack the competitive edge.
We all know that the narrow export base of most LDCs limits their freedom of choice in multilateral trade and hence their capacity to exploit the benefits offered in the Uruguay Round.
But there are also other limitations - the lack of institutional and human resources capacity, poor infrastructure, limited natural resources, and in some cases and particularly in small island countries, vulnerability to natural disasters and the tyranny of distance to major markets.
All these makes it extremely difficult for these economies to play a significant role in a globalized and liberalized multilateral trade environment. And until we prescribe an effective medicine to at least ease these pressing problems I do not see any real prospect for a level playing field in international trade.
For while the general lowering of tariffs and other barriers provide new trading opportunities, the most gains will go to countries which have acquired the technological capacity, industrial base and economic infrastructure and developed their human resources.
But for countries like Solomon Islands which still rely on import duties for the bulk of their budgetary resources, lowering of tariffs before becoming competitive is a lost opportunity. Hence, our long-term policy to reduce dependence on revenues from import duties, as this cannot be achieved in the short term and will require a long enough period to make the necessary adjustment.
The same must be said on trade preferences. While most ACP countries had not made full use of the preferences granted under the Lomé Convention, it is still essential nevertheless to preserve them while attempts to diversify and improve the supply side are pursued.
In this context, we consider the plan of action of the WTO Committee on Trade and Development and which is submitted for our approval to be a very useful instrument for initiating further efforts in these areas.
The development of least developed countries is in many ways the ultimate test of the world's social and economic health. We therefore have shared interests, shared responsibilities, and a shared purpose to ensure this objective is realized.