Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD on behalf of the
Secretary-General of the United Nations Tuesday, 19 May
I speak today on behalf of Mr. Kofi Annan,
Secretary-General of the United Nations.
It is very appropriate that the UN should address
this Conference on the fiftieth anniversary of the GATT. For the UN is not just one among
many observers. It is the major source of legitimacy in the international system, and the
cornerstone of the system of international organizations.
Moreover, it should be recalled that the United
Nations was the political and legal framework within which the event we are commemorating
today took place. The GATT was an agreement drafted and negotiated within a UN Committee.
And it was concluded as an annexe to the International Trade Organization (ITO) approved
at the Havana Conference in 1947. To be precise, that conference was known as the United
Nations Conference on Trade and Employment. Even though the ITO never came into being, it
is worth recalling that it was the UN which convened the Havana Conference, provided it
with preparatory support, and later provided staff who went on to form the first GATT
Secretariat. The GATT became the cornerstone around which the multilateral trading system
The interface of trade and development was first
articulated by the Latin American countries, at the Havana Conference. Later, the
achievement of independence by the developing countries of Africa and Asia gave further
impetus to a global initiative to create an international trading system consistent with
the promotion of economic and social development. UNCTAD was established in 1964 with the
mandate to pursue this objective.
As the logical successor to the GATT, the WTO
represents a new order in multilateral trade. It intensifies multilateral trade
disciplines and extends them into new areas. And it provides the improved, and more
secure, access to markets that is a prerequisite for successful export- oriented
development strategies. On the other hand, it imposes stricter constraints on the scope of
policy options open to developing countries in pursuing their development strategies.
Developing countries are now attempting to
participate effectively within this system. This implies having the ability to exploit
export opportunities, meet their obligations to defend their acquired rights, formulate
development-oriented trade policies and pursue these policy objectives in the course of
trade negotiations. Building what we at UNCTAD call a positive trade agenda is
a prerequisite for developing countries, if they are to participate in future negotiations
on a more equal footing and to defend their interests.
As its first Ministerial Conference demonstrated,
the WTO has become a forum for continuous multilateral negotiations. Many countries find
themselves simultaneously engaged in trade negotiations at the regional and sub-regional
levels. Thus, the building of developing countries' capacity to defend their interests
effectively in trade negotiations, and to establish the universality of the WTO, is an
As we all agree, the trade liberalization process
must maintain its momentum. But, priority should be given to trade barriers targeting the
exports of developing countries in both goods and services. Tariff peaks should be reduced
and so-called trade remedies further disciplined. Access for the temporary movement of
natural persons should also be facilitated.
The concept of special and differential treatment in
favour of developing countries should be adapted so as to aim at improving their ability
to compete in a globalized world. Sub-regional integration among developing countries is
providing them with a training ground for competing in the global market, thus
facilitating their participation in trade negotiations.
Meanwhile, the search for greater coherence between
the trade and financial system should be pursued. As is so clearly demonstrated by the
current Asian crisis, the trade system bears the burden of adjustment to inadequacies in
the financial system. At this Conference the international trading community is being
called upon to demonstrate solidarity in the trade field, so as to assist Asian countries
in remedying their situation.
A word of caution is required at this juncture on
the extension of the frontiers of the trading system into new areas. The use of the trade
rules as a mechanism for imposing disciplines in non-trade areas would create heavy
strains on the system. The WTO must be seen as a partner in the overall international
effort -- carried out by the UN and its various agencies -- aimed at the promotion of
sustainable development and human rights, and pursuit of the goals of the UN Charter.
We are all caught up in the fast current of
globalization. But this does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be carried
aimlessly along the tide. The challenges of globalization, particularly that of avoiding
the marginalization of the weaker members of the international community must be addressed
by the WTO, as by all other international organizations.
As Mr. Annan stressed in his message to the last
weekend's meeting of the G-8, and as has been reemphasized by Mr. Renato Ruggiero,
Director-General of the WTO, trade barriers facing the least developed countries should be
immediately abolished. In addition, they should obtain international support to support
their competitiveness and their ability to attract investment. Building their capacity to
compete effectively, and on equal terms, is a moral and practical challenge of the highest
order to us all. In cooperation with the WTO and other agencies, UNCTAD is fully engaged
in this task.
Looking back to the Havana Conference, we should
recall that it tried to deal with two major goals -- trade and employment. Those
were the days when statesmen and economists still believed in the possibility of full
employment. Nowadays, in practice this goal has been virtually abandoned. In OECD
countries alone, there are 35 million jobless. In the developing world, the number runs
into the hundreds of millions. Inequality inside, and among, nations has not been reduced.
Trade is certainly not to blame for the failure of
the twentieth century to solve this burning problem. But, at a time of global trade
liberalization, the existence of mass unemployment, job insecurity and acute inequality
undoubtedly has had something to do with the malaise -- even backlash, in places --
against trade and investment liberalization that we have noted in various quarters. Such
preoccupations have shown their face in such diverse fora as the US Congress' debate on
fast track, the OECD negotiations on a plurilateral investment agreement, and
the protests and demonstrations of recent days here in Geneva.
No one should be fooled by the festive atmosphere of
these celebrations. Outside there is anguish and fear, insecurity about jobs and what
Thoreau described as a life of quiet desperation. That is also part of the
reality as much as the impressive achievements of global liberalization. It is the sacred
duty of the United Nations system, WTO and the Bretton Woods Institutions to create
reasons to believe in the future and to give people back sound reasons to hope.