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

GENEVA WTO MINISTERIAL 1998: STATEMENT

NORWAY
 
Statement by H.E. Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik,
 Prime Minister  

Half a century ago forward-looking representatives from 23 countries - including my own -adopted a system of basic rules for international trade.  The recent experience of these founding fathers had been a vicious circle of increased protectionism, economic stagnation, chaos and war - in that order.  Against this backdrop, and to prevent history from repeating itself, they were determined to stimulate growth by creating a new order based on rights and obligations between States.

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NORWAY  
Statement by H.E. Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik,
 Prime Minister  

Half a century ago forward-looking representatives from 23 countries - including my own -adopted a system of basic rules for international trade.  The recent experience of these founding fathers had been a vicious circle of increased protectionism, economic stagnation, chaos and war - in that order.  Against this backdrop, and to prevent history from repeating itself, they were determined to stimulate growth by creating a new order based on rights and obligations between States.  The framework has since been further developed, both in scope and substance.  But the core principles have remained the same:  gradual and mutually agreed market opening, non-discrimination, predictability, transparency and consensus.

No one can tell what a different system - or indeed what an absence of multilateral trade rules - might have led to.  Looking back, I believe it is fair to say that the provisions and principles of the GATT - and later of the WTO - have made a decisive contribution to the progress large parts of the world have witnessed during the latter part of this century.  I am not speaking of economic growth alone, but just as much of the social achievements, employment and political stability which prosperity generates.  These are fundamental values.  The multilateral trading system of today thus constitutes an important part of a global framework that fosters stability and peaceful relations.

The viability of this system is proven by the fact that it has increased its membership from 23 to 132 countries.  In addition 31 applicants are in the process of acceding, with major players like China and Russia among them.  I welcome them to join on agreed terms, to obtain the rights and to take on the obligations in line with other Members.  I am confident that in the near future we will be able to call the WTO a truly global organization.  The political significance of this will be major.  
 As we approach universal WTO-Membership it is increasingly difficult, and important, to find a balance of Members' interests.  In particular I am concerned about the current situation of the least-developed countries.  Together these 48 countries account for a mere 0.4 per cent of world trade.  Half of them are not members of WTO.  Their exportable products often meet market access barriers.  This marginalization of the poorest countries must be countered.  Trade-related technical assistance programmes should be further developed and international coordination of such activities should be improved.  Market access should be widened.  WTO's ability to bring the benefits of increased trade to all the peoples of the world will be a fundamental criterion for future assessment of its success.

Globalization has become a frequently used expression.  The process of globalization is transforming our world and economic structures in an unprecedented manner and speed.  It is a revolutionary process.  For some this is seen as a positive development, creating closer ties and interdependence between countries and peoples around the globe.  Others have a different and more sceptical perception of the globalization: They question the effects of trade and investment liberalization and free capital flows.  They fear that our democratic institutions are losing control of the international economic forces and that environmental and social costs will be high.  These are legitimate concerns related to fundamental issues regarding the well being of mankind.  If globalization cannot answer these concerns, many people will not see it as a positive development.

Globalization is a complex issue.  What we have seen so far is only the beginning.  Yet it sends a strong message.  As globalization accelerates, its impact will be far-reaching - on world trade, and on the development of our societies in the wider sense.  It is, therefore, important that we have the best possible understanding of the consequences of these processes - of the opportunities which they open, and the dilemmas that they pose.

On this background my Government has decided to organize in Norway early next year, an international symposium on the effects of globalization.  It is our ambition that such a conference can provide us not only with a better understanding of the issues at hand, but, also contribute to building a consensus on how we should address them.  Important issues for the conference will be trends and prospects for the development of the world economy - consequences for democratic governance, the environment, and for the developing countries.  I have noted with interest that former Director-General of this Organization, Peter Sutherland, has advocated the need for a broad international debate on these issues.  The purpose of our symposium is to contribute to that end.

With regard to the WTO, I also see a need to discuss how qualitative aspects - such as health, consumer protection, food safety and environment - could be brought more into focus.  Although ILO has the main responsibility, labour standards should also be an issue for the WTO.  By working towards continued improvements, in the rules concerning these issues, we will strengthen the credibility of the system and demonstrate the need for international cooperation in these areas.

Although increased regional cooperation continues to be a necessary and welcome development in addressing common problems between countries, the global character of some of our most pressing challenges must be met through improved and expanded multilateral cooperation.  Representing a small country, with a high degree of dependence on international trade and investment, I cannot over-emphasize this.

The multilateral trading system has always responded in a pragmatic way to the challenges it has come up against, largely due to the principle of consensus in decision-making.  This is a valuable feature that should be safeguarded as we enter a new era in the history of the multilateral trading system.  Further improvements and fine-tuning of the trade rules will undoubtedly be felt necessary.  Increased openness is important, Let us walk this path together, in the positive spirit of cooperation that has been present so far.

I congratulate all the Members, the Director-General and the Secretariat of the WTO on these first 50 years, and pledge that Norway will continue to contribute constructively to the system's continued success.