World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/7
9 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
First of all I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the Government of Singapore for hosting the first Ministerial Conference of the WTO and to congratulate you on its excellent organization. My sincere thanks are also addressed to the Chairmen of all WTO bodies and to the Director-General, Mr. Ruggiero, and his Secretariat, all of whom have created optimal preconditions for our work.
After two years of experience with the set of rules established in the Marrakesh Agreement we gather here to evaluate what has been achieved so far and to identify areas in which further efforts towards refining the world trade system should be made. It is of symbolic importance that this Ministerial Conference takes place in a country belonging to the most dynamic economic region in the world. From Singapore's example a number of countries could learn about the preconditions and the use of economic competitiveness.
The multilateral trading system emerged strengthened from the Uruguay Round. National implementation of these results poses a considerable challenge to many countries. We believe that by and large this challenge has been positively met. Yet, a clear picture can only be made if sufficient data are available. This is why we consider it indispensable that the notification obligations should be fully implemented.
Facing new challenges of world trade I might refer in this context to the experience of the Austrian economy which was one of the weakest in Europe after the Second World War and is now one of the most efficient.
Those sectors of our economy which were liberalized (against their will) already in the fifties are now the most competitive ones, providing employment and high income. On the other hand the sectors sheltered as long as possible, for example, food processing and certain services like telecom, are now in structural troubles. That is why we think that free market access to foreign competitors was and is the best means to dynamize economies.
Increasing international competition not only promotes structural change but causes of course a lot of complaints, be it from producers, members and organizations of the workforce and increasingly from certain groups of consumers.
In Austria we had and have a very intensive discussion on so-called new issues. Our political parties and the House of Parliament are very sensitive to items like trade and investment, trade and competition, trade and environment and trade and core labour standards.
The Standing Committee of the Austrian Parliament passed last week a Resolution, which obliges me by law to suggest and insist, that this Conference should set up a working committee on core labour standards as defined by the ILO and to ask for a mandate to continue and to intensify the work in the Committee for Trade and Environment. From my own experience as an economist I know that the realization of these core standards will not influence negatively the existing comparative advantages of developing countries.
Increasingly organized groups of consumers are focusing their efforts on voluntary positive labelling. In Austria as in other countries products produced under certain best practices are preferred by consumers while others are refused: first effects can be seen already. If this development will continue we may see a new non-tariff barrier emerge.
Therefore an open dialogue on sensitive new items may remove obstacles to further enhancement of international trade and to meet the increasing criticism towards globalization. Some, at least in Europe, regard the so-called "social model" of Europe as the most endangered species.
As competition increases worldwide we have to pay adequate attention to the situation of the least developed countries. Our efforts should therefore be focused on a better market access for their products and to provide them with more technical assistance. Austria welcomes therefore the Action Plan elaborated for LLDCs.
I should add another observation from the Austrian experience: we know that we are a high-cost country and competitiveness has to rely on permanent technological innovation.
That is the reason why we are sensitive to the worldwide implementation of intellectual property rights. There is a saying in Austria: the term "Copyright" does not per se include the right to copy.
While a great number of countries are gathered here in Singapore, some important countries like Russia and China and some others are still waiting to join the WTO. Their membership - provided that they are prepared to accept the rules - would be an important push for trade.
WTO was founded as an organization with outstanding goals, let us use this Conference to prove that it is already an outstanding organization.