World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/59

    10 December 1996

Organization    

    (96-5220)




    Original: English

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE

Singapore, 9-13 December 1996

SIERRA LEONE

Statement by the Honourable George Banda-Thomas

Minister for Trade, Industry and State Enterprises

    I bring you greetings from His Excellency Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabba, the Government and people of Sierra Leone. I also take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the Government and people of Singapore for the hospitality extended to me and my delegation. Let me also express my unreserved thanks to those countries who have contributed towards the funding of Sierra Leone's participation at this auspicious gathering.

    After two decades of political misrule, Sierra Leone now has a democratically elected government which has succeeded in bringing an end to the five-year rebel war by the conclusion of a peace accord. Let me use this forum to thank all those who have contributed towards achieving our objective of peace and security. We plan to set aside this ugly episode in our history, and move forward in a spirit of reconciliation on the new path of democracy, with emphasis on stability, transparency and good governance - principles which my Government holds dear and which have been institutionalized to give them purpose and meaning.

    We acknowledge that the conclusion of the Uruguay Round Agreements was a major step by the international community towards the expansion of a rules-based international trading system, and has prescribed enhanced prospects for trade liberalization, creating a more secure trading environment. In particular, the improved dispute settlement mechanism, which gives access to an Appellate Body, provides the opportunity for equality before the law, and the requisite technical support during the process for poorer countries.

    As a country, we are still grappling with the impact of the WTO rules on our fragile economy and determining how we can utilize the opportunities offered so as to take our place in the new competitive environment.

    We are aware of the many constraints militating against our efforts, such as the low production base; the lack of technical capacity and economic infrastructure; the incidence of poverty; the limitation on our markets; the lack of developed human resource base; the problem of product diversification; the impact of structural adjustment programmes; the problem of commodity dependency and lack of value added on our principal products; and domestic and external instabilities, to name a few.

    Against this backdrop, we still have to contend with some negative implications of trade liberalization.

    Firstly, as a least developed country, we are amongst those who are least integrated into the trading system. Our present preoccupation is how to become fully integrated into the framework of the existing issues, a process for which we are looking forward to the support of the international community. Consequently, whilst we consider the new issues as part of the future work programme of the WTO, at the same time, consideration of these new issues should be limited to studies or preparatory work, bearing in mind the need for consensus and the national interest of various Members.

    Secondly, the coming into existence of the new system prescribes the loss of preferences we currently enjoy, particularly with our major trading partners. Of course, we look forward to a revised relationship, bearing in mind that our relationship is based on long tradition which has entailed mutual benefits. We also look forward to forging new relationships with other partners in the trading community. It should be borne in mind that as we go through the process of democratization and development, we require patience and understanding as we do not have the tools to take advantage of the new trading opportunities.

    Thirdly, over the years, policy failures in agriculture combined with other factors have weakened the production base and our capability for food self-sufficiency. As an agricultural economy in which 70 per cent of the population is engaged, we have been seriously affected by the impact of the Agreement on Agriculture. Sierra Leone is today a net food-importing country, with a very high food import bill. Whilst we have embarked on reforms in agricultural policies incorporating food security measures to alter this situation, it will take some time before these produce results. In this respect, we would urge our trading partners to speedily implement the Marrakesh Decision on Measures concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries.

    Fourthly, our legal framework needs to be reformed in order to adapt to the regulations in the WTO Agreements, so that we can take full advantage of the benefits conferred by world trade liberalization. We note in this regard, the burden of notification and review requirements. At this point, we wish to join others in expressing the need for the simplification of the formula for compliance, in accordance with the Marrakesh Declaration.

    Fifthly, the advances which have been made in regional integration have been confined largely to the economic front. Efforts are being made to obtain sovereign commitments, however, we continue to look forward to support to enable us to move towards further integration, in our bid to diversify our tradable commodities.

    Six, we acknowledge and appreciate the special and differential treatment provided under the rules; but as a least developed country, we have not been able to take maximum advantage of the various provisions. Our mere size is a limitation, coupled with the lack of technological capability and skilled manpower, and poverty - conditions that constrain our ability to compete, but which we are striving to overcome.

    Seventh, the stringent standards imposed, for example, sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, on our exports, particularly fish and fish products, militates against our capacity to fully exploit our comparative advantage.

    Eight, the opening up of previously closed economies in Eastern Europe, while presenting new opportunities for trade, has stiffened market competition and will likely benefit only those which already have the institutional capacity to exploit them. This also erodes our ability to compete.

    Every conceivable effort is being made by the Government of Sierra Leone to overcome some of these inequities, by undertaking measures to foster economic growth. The Government is presently focusing on private sector development through consensus building, the provision of trade support services and technical assistance, and institutional capacity-building. Among the series of further measures undertaken are trade liberalization, steps to improve productive methods and efficiency, and the adoption of strategies geared towards making optimum use of the natural resource base for overall sustainable development. The process of full privatization is on-going with increasing rapidity. Economic diversification, export development and promotion; expansion of the infrastructure, are all measures leading towards the establishment of a base for take-off.

    The development of human and institutional capacity for enhancing and promoting investment has been embarked upon with the aim of increasing the flow of investment finance and providing training in areas of industrial development and services. Complementary measures such as the conclusion of an Investment Code, the establishment of free ports and export processing zones are also under way. In particular, the development of the infrastructure, such as transport, communications and services, together with steps for regional integration and cooperation is being undertaken. These measures should facilitate development.

    At the same time, we expect that considerable efforts will be made to complement our actions by the adherence to commitments expressed at various fora particularly those relating to:

    (1)    The speedy compliance with provisions relating to the special and differential measures applicable to least developed countries, including most-favoured-nation concessions on tariffs and non-tariff measures on export products of interest to us.

    (2)    The request for flexible application of the WTO Agreements as well as the transitional provisions.

    (3)    The provision of technical assistance for developing and strengthening production and export, including trade promotion and human resource development.

    Permit me to end on a note of concern. This concern relates to our disappointment that very little attempt has been made since the coming into existence of the WTO to resolve issues of particular interest to developing countries, particularly highlighted at Marrakesh, relating to the relationship between trade and immigration, trade and regionalism, trade and company law and the establishment of a mechanism in the WTO for compensation for the erosion of preferences, to name a few.

    Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again, and to say we expect a fruitful outcome from these deliberations.