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GENEVA WTO MINISTERIAL 1998: STATEMENT

UNITED KINGDOM
Statement by The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Prime Minister

Britain has been a whole-hearted supporter of free trade since the GATT's establishment. We remain an unashamed champion of free trade today. The GATT's system of trade rules and agreements has contributed massively to global prosperity. It is not something we should take for granted. It has helped to increase world trade 16 times in half a century.

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UNITED KINGDOM
Statement by The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP, Prime Minister

Britain has been a whole-hearted supporter of free trade since the GATT's establishment. We remain an unashamed champion of free trade today. The GATT's system of trade rules and agreements has contributed massively to global prosperity. It is not something we should take for granted. It has helped to increase world trade 16 times in half a century.

It is hard to over-estimate the effect increasing trade and investment can have. In three days the people of Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland, will vote in referendums on an agreement that I hope will bring political stability and peace. I believe there will be a “yes” vote; that this will lead to an end to violence for good, and that this in turn can provide a surge in investment and trade. This prospect may not in itself be a reason for voting yes. The issues at stake are different. But it is a simple fact that more investment is likely to follow a yes vote.

So I hope that, when you return home, you will all encourage your companies to look at the new opportunities for trade and investment in Northern Ireland the agreement will bring. That you will help us bring the economic prosperity needed to underpin peace. We must not let pass by the best chance for many years for real peace in Northern Ireland.

Let that then be a signal for peace throughout the troubled parts of the world.

The world is opening up with freer travel, common mass media, open communication systems. Free trade is a vital part of this movement. The emergence of Mercosur, NAFTA, ASEAN and of course the EU shows how strongly the tide is turning in favour of free trade.

It may be regional for now, but it all strengthens the move to wider free trade - as long as we keep these trading areas open to the rest of the world, as the EU is and must remain.

So the question now is not so much whether there should be free trade, but how best to manage what I believe is an irreversible and irresistible trend so that all countries and all peoples can benefit. That is the millennium challenge - for us and for the WTO.

Everywhere, on all fronts of human existence, all people face the challenge of change. Technology transforms their workplaces. Globalization alters the structures in which they work. Financial markets that with the push of a button move sums of money beyond contemplation across international frontiers with stunning rapidity, can move whole economies. These are powerful impulses of economic change that leave people feeling powerless and insecure about their future. And in the wake of economic change, social change. Communities disintegrating, families destabilized, crime and drugs and social exclusion. The possibilities of our new world may be infinite but for many millions of our citizens, it is the dangers that are more real.

Our choice is clear. To resist change, let it happen or act together to manage its consequences so that our people are equipped for change and given the chances and security they need. Resistance is easy to demand, but won't work and will spoil the good that globalization can bring. Laissez-faire will leave us divided and bitter. Working together to maximize the good and minimize the bad is the only realistic option. Nowhere is that clearer than in the way we trade with each other.

I believe that there are five key tasks:

First we must spread the benefits, of globalization.

The global economy is a fact. The expansion of world trade - with exports up over 50 per cent since 1990 - has created millions of new jobs and offered many the chance to move from poverty towards prosperity. Foreign direct investment has grown by 14 per cent a year. Ten developing countries, comprising a third of the world's population, have more than doubled their income per head since 1980.

But its benefits have not been felt evenly. In some developing countries trade and investment are lagging.

The G8 Summit this weekend underlined the need to help developing countries integrate into the global economy and thereby benefit from the opportunities of globalization.

I am pleased to announce that the UK is setting aside $10 million for technical assistance for these countries to help prepare for liberalization over this year and next. The Least-Developed Countries in particular need special attention. We must all commit to zero tariffs for their exports.

At the same time, individual governments must also play their part by: maintaining stable macro economic policies, adopting transparent financial systems, encouraging savings and investment in economic infrastructure, promoting competition and investing in education.

Second, we must keep markets open and fair.

It is hard to conceive of a return to the full-blown protectionism and strangulation of trade which disfigured the 1930s. That lesson has surely been learned.

But subtle forms of protectionism remain and pressures rise in a crisis. We must ensure that the current financial difficulties in Asia do not lead to a retreat into protectionism.

I was therefore delighted that at the Asia Europe Meeting in London, leaders of 25 countries, representing half the world's GDP, pledged themselves to resist protectionism, keep markets open, and press ahead with multilateral liberalization. In Birmingham last weekend, the G8 resolved to keep its markets open in response to the Asian crisis and called on others to do likewise.

And at the EU/US Summit in London yesterday we moved to reduce further obstacles to trade between the US and Europe and found an effective way to deal with US sanctions on our trade with Cuba, Libya and Iran.

Third, we need to extend trade liberalization.

I know that implementing the Uruguay Round has not been easy, particularly for developing countries. But it is vital for us all to live up to our commitments.

We must also press onwards. The negotiations on agriculture and services, starting in the year 2000, will require great efforts. But the potential gains are huge. Existing levels of agricultural support are expensive and inefficient. I do not believe they serve the needs of the environment or wider rural community. We need to prepare for these negotiations now, by taking a comprehensive approach and injecting a sense of urgency, if we are to bring them to a successful and early conclusion.

But fourth, as we look to expand world trade, we must also ensure that this is not done at any cost. I believe protecting the world's environment is perhaps the major challenge we face as we head towards the next century. Governments need to consider the environmental impact of everything they do, including in the trade sphere. Trade rules should not be used to impose unfair standards on developing countries, nor to discriminate against their exports. I believe that by building new partnerships increased economic prosperity and trade can go hand-in-hand with environmental protection.

At the same time, we must work, in the ILO and elsewhere, for the world-wide observance of core-labour standards for all workers. Again, not as a barrier to trade, or a block on exports from developing countries. But because all workers deserve decent conditions in their workplace, wherever they live. We must also avoid the exploitation of children.

Finally, we must maximize the benefits of the electronic age and the borderless economy.

The electronic revolution challenges each one of us. The G8 has just put forward a set of principles for a coherent international environment in which electronic commerce can flourish under private sector leadership, while respecting consumer and public interests. Through its Telecomms and IT Agreements, the WTO has already made a contribution. But regulating and developing electronic commerce will require much more attention in the future.

Mr. President, the GATT, and now the WTO have a proud record of achievement. I have set out the tasks ahead. But to carry them through, we need popular, public support for the work of the WTO.

We must send this clear message:

-    That protectionism does not bring prosperity;

-    that 50 years of trade liberalization have generated unprecedented growth; the global economy and electronic revolution can help to spread prosperity more widely;

-    that we, the members of the WTO, will settle our differences on the basis of rules, not of power; oppose damaging discrimination; and respect agreements reached freely by consensus;

-    that we will work for the further expansion of world trade in a responsible way, sensitive to the needs of all, so as to raise living standards, combat poverty, promote sustainable development and protection of the environment and contribute to international security;

-    and, above all that more open markets and more trade mean growth and new jobs for the benefit of all our people.

That is the message we at this meeting should be sending to all our peoples as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the GATT and took forward to the next 50 years of the multilateral trading system.