Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

GENEVA WTO MINISTERIAL 1998: STATEMENT

Opening address by H.E. Mr. Pascal Couchepin, Minister for Public Economy

It is a very great honour to open this Second Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization.  This honour is a special one for me because I have only recently assumed responsibility for Economic Affairs and International Trade in our Government - recent enough to be awed by this system's remarkable successes, and even more, to be inspired by its enormous potential to help navigate the global transformations we are living through. 

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Opening address by H.E. Mr. Pascal Couchepin, Minister for Public Economy

It is a very great honour to open this Second Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization.  This honour is a special one for me because I have only recently assumed responsibility for Economic Affairs and International Trade in our Government - recent enough to be awed by this system's remarkable successes, and even more, to be inspired by its enormous potential to help navigate the global transformations we are living through.  Like each of you in this room, I am acutely aware that when we discuss the future of the multilateral trading system we are discussing the future of one the most important international economic institutions of our time. 

This Ministerial Meeting comes at a significant moment for the Multilateral Trading System.  It coincides with the commemoration of the system's 50th Anniversary which in itself lends to an historic weight and consequence to our deliberations.  The world will be watching and listening to what we do and say over the next several days.  They will be looking for consensus and cooperation.  But more than this, they will be gauging the strength of our commitment to this system, and our capacity for shared leadership at a time when globalization, in which trade is such an important element, is the subject of intense public debate all over the world. 

This Meeting is also important because it comes at a point of transition - after the First Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, but before the negotiations scheduled at the turn-of-the-century and the decisions that will need to be addressed at our next Ministerial.  This is, in itself, extremely liberating.  It allows us to stretch our collective imagination towards the future direction and purpose of the trading system  -free for once of the constraints of locked-in negotiating positions and timetables.  It encourages us to remove the blinkers of narrow sectoral or national interests and to focus on the greater good of the whole of the trading community.

And this Meeting comes at a time when the challenges - as well as the opportunities - of a globally interdependent economy have never been more apparent.  Recent financial instability in South-East Asia has sent shock waves around the world.  What makes this crisis so significant is that our trade and integration is far more pervasive today than ever before.  It is also significant because it underscores the vital importance of an open Multilateral Trading System to keeping markets open, restoring investor confidence, and preventing contagion from spreading.  But it is significant in another respect - it suggests that unless we continue to strengthen the institutional underpinnings of our global economy we seem destined to revisit such crises in the future, with perhaps even more serious repercussions. 

This is a time for vision and for imagination.  The pace of change in the global economy is not only raising public expectations about our system - it is demanding answers.  Over the past twelve months alone, we have reached agreements in telecommunications, information technologies, and financial services - the significance of which Director-General Renato Ruggiero has rightly compared to a major negotiating Round.  We have also set out, through the High Level Meeting of Least-Developed Countries, on a path which will give an important impetus to the integration of the world's poorest economies into the global trading system.  In the face of economic turbulence and uncertainty, our Members have shown the vision and courage to pursue policies of liberalization which are essential to global stability, growth and development.
  
And yet, despite these advances, the frontiers of our global economy keep racing ahead.  New technologies such as electronic commerce are fast rendering obsolete old policy tools, and are challenging us to find new ways to coordinate our shared interests across a borderless economic space.

We have two basic themes for this Ministerial Meeting:  implementation and future activities.  These subjects are not unrelated.  How successfully we implement our existing commitments and obligations - according to the spirit as well as the letter of our Uruguay Round undertakings - will be the clearest possible signal of the system's capacity for wider and deeper undertakings.  How well-equipped our countries are to participate in the trading system will be the real test of whether we have created a truly global economy - or one where many millions still wait on its margins.  We have all of us every interest in approaching these issues in a focused, constructive and businesslike manner. 

But we also have a responsibility - as well as an opportunity - to lift our sights beyond this Meeting and beyond this century, to set a new course for the trading system in the years ahead.  We are not here to promote liberalization for liberalization's sake.  Rather we share a commitment to freer multilateral trade, not as an end in itself, but as an essential means to far more important ends.  Behind each line of the 20,000 pages of the WTO Agreements are millions of workers and farmers, entrepreneurs and professionals who want greater health and security for their families, freedom from the shadow of unemployment, and a better future for their children.   Behind each accession negotiation are millions of citizens who want to share in what all of us now enjoy - a system dedicated to openness, mutual exchange, and freedom of choice.

With this goal in mind, I declare this Second Ministerial Meeting of the WTO to be opened.