World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/67

    11 December 1996

Organization    

    (96-5238)




    Original: English

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE

Singapore, 9-13 December 1996

ISRAEL

Statement by Mr. Zohar Peri

Director, Foreign Trade Administration

Ministry of Industry and Trade

    On behalf of the Government of the State of Israel, I would like to express our appreciation to you, Mr. Chairman, to the Director-General and the Secretariat of the WTO as a whole who have laboured for the success of this Conference. I would also like to thank our Singapore hosts for their warm hospitality and superb organization of this meeting.

    Every nation, be it developing or developed, small or large, brings to this forum unique strengths, needs, and expectations. What binds us together is our common interest in developing and flourishing within an agreed multilateral trading system.

    The success of the WTO stems from the fact that it transcends geographic and political borders, and focuses on our shared pursuit - expanding international trade in order to enhance economic development to the benefit of all Member countries.

    As a small country with few natural resources, Israel is highly dependent on its foreign trade which represents 80 per cent of its GDP. For us, the expansion of international trade is a top priority and we attach great importance to the well functioning of the World Trade Organization.

    We have demonstrated our commitment to the concept of an open economic system by unilaterally implementing a policy of import liberalization, abolishing non-tariff barriers and reducing tariff duties even beyond our commitments and obligations within the framework of the Uruguay Round.

    We have also liberalized trade in agricultural products beyond the obligations undertaken in the Uruguay Round Agreement. But we still feel that prudence is advisable in dealing with this sensitive sector.

    Our goal of enhanced import liberalization has been facilitated by the free-trade agreements concluded with our major trading partners, within the framework of Article XXIV of the GATT. Indeed, exposure to foreign competition through bilateral free-trade area agreements has paved the way to the extension of greater liberalization and wider exposure also vis-à-vis the other WTO Members countries.

    We view free-trade agreements as a means to greater integration into the global economy, and we regard regional agreements as complementary to the multilateral trade system and consistent with its rules. We are now preparing ourselves to the realization of this valuable lesson closer to home, namely, we are ready to lay the foundations for growing trade and economic relations with our neighbours in the Middle East.

    In this context, I would add that only last month, we participated together with representatives of our business community, in the Third Middle East/North Africa Economic Conference in Cairo, within the framework of the Middle Eastern Peace Process. This Conference gave us the opportunity to hear first hand the importance which participating countries attach to regional trade agreements, and the contribution such agreements can make to the economic progress and the well-being of the peoples in the region.

    The political changes in Eastern Europe have had a marked impact on our trade with Central and Eastern European countries as well as with countries in Asia. With some of these countries, we have concluded or we are in the process of concluding free-trade agreements. With other countries which are not WTO Members, we have signed trade agreements incorporating the MFN concept. Exchanges with these new trading partners have substantially contributed to the trade growth in the last few years.

    At the same time, imports have expanded to the extent that Israel's most acute economic problem is today its balance-of-payments deficit. For a small country like Israel, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue for any length of time. However, it is our firm intention to solve this kind of problem, as far as possible, by creating new export opportunities, rather than by restricting imports.

    Israel regards most favourably the proposal to develop an information exchange programme to assist the negotiations on services commitments scheduled to begin by the year 2000. We believe that such a programme will contribute to further transparency and will assist Member countries in the achievement of further liberalization. Israel's specific commitments reflect an open and liberal overall regime in trade in services. Israel regards favourably the presence of foreign financial service suppliers within its borders and we look forward to productive negotiations in this field in April 1997.

    With regard to telecommunication services, Israel's offer and its further opening of international telecommunication services reflect Israel's intention to achieve greater liberalization in this field; we are now examining the possibility of introducing further improvements in our offer.

    In the field of information technology too, Israel already maintains a very low level of duties with a large product coverage.

    Israel recognizes the growing importance of the existing link between investment and trade in the international economy. In this regard, Israel's inward and outward investment regime is open, stable and liberal. In recent years it has served as a motor for economic growth.

    In regard to public procurement, Israel favours the expansion of transparency in all relevant procedures. All nations stand to gain from greater access to public tenders. Here, I would like to stress that Israel is a party to the plurilateral Government Procurement Agreement, and has already taken upon itself substantial obligations to open its public tenders.

    We believe that it is essential that large developed nations also commit themselves to removing restrictions and enhancing national treatment also towards small foreign enterprises.

    Regarding accession, we welcome the accession of new Members to the WTO, and note that due consideration may be given to small and developing countries, in view of their limitations to adopting WTO obligations immediately upon accession. However, we would like to stress that it is essential that acceding countries when taking up their new WTO commitments, undertake to comply with the basic principle of non-discrimination.

    There are still many important issues which deserve our attention - topics that should be rule-based and brought into the framework of the WTO for our mutual benefit.

    Our work is not over by any means, but we remain firm in our commitment to the multilateral trading system, motivated by the confident knowledge that economic growth is achieved by consensus for everyone's advantage.