World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/78
11 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your appointment as Chairman of today's plenary session, which you have conducted with utmost ability and competence.
On behalf of the Government and the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho, I wish to express our sincere gratitude to the Government and people of Singapore for their warm hospitality and excellent setting of facilities for the First Ministerial Meeting Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It is indeed a great honour to be here.
Lesotho is also indebted to the Director-General of the WTO, the Governments of Norway, the Republic of Korea, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Singapore and all other partners and organizations such as UNCTAD, who supported, in particular, the least developed countries in preparing for this Conference as well as our presence here in Singapore. This is one of the testaments of commitment to ensuring that the least empowered Members of the WTO are brought into the main stream of the multilateral trading system. It is this spirit of shared responsibility that will enable the least developed countries to realize the fruits of interdependence and international connection of the countries of the world.
The Uruguay Round conclusions have some of the principal tenets as the new order of improved multilateral trade rules, improved market access, transparency of trade policies among Members and binding settlement of trade disputes. These guiding principles of WTO presented optimism and confidence after a cloud of scepticism that prevailed prior to the Marrakesh Ministerial Meeting of the Uruguay Round. Such scepticism was a result of the disparity in development levels between the developed, developing and least developed countries. When the conclusions of the Uruguay Round that were made in the spirit of compromise took into account the special problems faced by the least developed countries such as prevailing structural rigidities and underdeveloped export capacities, trust prevailed in our working.
However, the commitments made by the industrialized partners including more favourable market access and increasing official development aid flow to the least developed countries with the purpose of developing their human resources, health and physical infrastructure in order to create a conducive investment environment have not been fully realized. The efforts of the least developed countries to restructure their economies through sound macroeconomic policies and structural adjustment programmes in order to develop competitive urge have not been equally matched by support measures from cooperating partners.
It is our considered view that while we are grasping the mastering of the new WTO mechanism, instruments and commitments as well as applying our minds to the unfinished business or built-in agenda of WTO, issues on which consensus has not yet been reached should be subjected to further analysis and dialogue before they can be brought to formal negotiations fora. We refer in this case to the issues of extending the coverage of WTO into areas of competition policy, investment and social dimension.
We are aware that there is no real consensus on whether or not the WTO should initiate any discussions on competition laws. We also recognize that not many SADC and other African countries, Lesotho included, have domestic laws on competition. However, the need for such laws is becoming increasingly important as a result of trade liberalization and investment regimes accompanied by rapid privatization of state owned enterprises. There is need therefore to have international obligations to share and exchange information on anti-competition practices by international firms, and clear multilateral rules to deal with anti-competition practices. But, a process of consultation on elements and principles of consideration must first be agreed upon and the realities of national economic development should be taken into account.
We in Lesotho recognize that one of the most important ingredients of development of Lesotho's economy is an export-led strategy. The development of our manufacturing sector into being internationally competitive not only in terms of generating export earnings but also in curbing the alarming unemployment situation is the key to our success. In this context, more preferential access to the markets of our trading partners is of critical importance. It is in the same vein that the threats pertaining to the erosion of the preferential margins in our traditional markets are of great worry to us.
The issue of bringing the disciplines of investment into the multilateral regime requires a comprehensive understanding, and that should be enhanced through dialogue among partners before resorting to formal negotiations, lest we find ourselves jumping onto an express train aimlessly without a sense of destination.
With regard to fair labour rights, Lesotho has a tripartite arrangement that involves the Labour Unions, the Association of Employers and Government to address labour matters. We have a new labour code fair to all key players. However, we feel that the issue of labour standards can best be handled by the International Labour Organization.