should like to thank you for inviting me to address the closing
session of this important Forum. The Arab world has played a highly
visible role in the lifetime of the multilateral trading system;
hosting two of our most successful Ministerial meetings. On April 12th
1994 in Marrakesh, the contracting parties of the GATT, concluded the
Uruguay Round of trade negotiations and turned the GATT, an ad hoc
agreement into the permanent legal body we know today; the World Trade
Organization. Addressing Ministers on this momentous occasion, the
then Director-General called this “the greatest trade agreement in
history”, “a priceless cargo”. And that was no exaggeration. The
Uruguay Round built upon nearly fifty years of work by further
slashing tariffs which impede economic growth, it strengthened the
trading system's dispute settlement mechanism making it more automatic
and binding, it tackled non-tariff barriers, it brought agriculture
and textiles firmly within the scope of multilateral rules and it
extended rules to important new areas of trade such as services and
intellectual property rights.
November last year in Doha, Qatar, WTO Members successfully launched a
new round of trade negotiations; the Doha Development Agenda. And it
is on the work programme that is underway and the opportunities for
economic growth flowing from negotiations that I should like to focus
my brief comments today. I will be touching upon the participation of
Arab countries in the multilateral trading system – with the strong
message that even greater engagement is necessary. And I will give an
overview of the WTO Secretariat's efforts to reach out to our Arab
agenda for negotiations is extensive and coming to closure by 1
January 2005 – our target deadline, is a big challenge. We have 144
Members participating in this negotiation and three-quarters of these
countries are developing countries. So success will be conditional
upon the development principle - which explicitly underlies these
negotiations – being translated into concrete, tangible results.
This will require flexibility on the part of all countries and it will
also require enlightened leadership from the bigger players.
am, however, encouraged by the concern being shown by international
community to the fundamental goals of poverty reduction and
sustainable development. I have just returned from South Africa, after
participating in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
There is a greater realisation and – I believe – a global
consensus to focus on the implementation of the results of major
summits and meetings; the Millennium Declaration and its targets in
2000, the Doha Development Agenda in 2001, the Monterrey Consensus in
2002 and the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable
Development. At all of these meetings trade policy has been identified
as an important component in promoting development and poverty
reduction. Although, I must add, not the only ingredient. Trade
liberalisation would be most fruitful if placed in the context of a
coherent domestic reform agenda, including good governance and the
rule of law.
let me now turn to the state of play of negotiations. The negotiating
groups, councils and committees are up-and-running and we have moved
from discussions on procedure to discussions on substance. This time
next year Trade Ministers will meet in Cancun, Mexico to take stock of
progress and take key decisions about the final phase of negotiations.
negotiations on agriculture have been progressing relatively well.
However views on reform put forward by participants still differ
widely. One camp pushes for very ambitious liberalization on the part
of all countries. Other Members have more limited ambitions, in part
reflecting their non-trade concerns.
is a sector that is central to the overall success of the
negotiations, and liberalisation offers big potential gains. The World
Bank, for example, has estimated that if subsidies and tariffs were
halved, it would boost the economies of developing countries by US$
150 billion a year. Expanded market access for agricultural products
is of vital importance to the livelihoods of so many of the world's
Services negotiations have likewise been given a new impetus by Doha.
Members have already started the phase of exchanging requests and
offers. Here too there is great potential for all participants to
benefit. The World Bank has estimated that welfare gains from a 50%
cut in protection in the services sector would be five times larger
than for non-services sector trade liberalisation. The services sector
is becoming increasingly important in determining the overall
competitiveness of Arab economies. And services have become the
biggest creator of employment in most of the Arab world.
a generally encouraging start has been made in negotiations on the
rules for anti-dumping, subsidies and safeguards, hard questions
remain ahead. One of the most sensitive topics is perhaps the rules on
anti-dumping. These rules provide the instrument to address the
distortions caused by imports that are below cost price. For many
participants, though not all, significant reforms are a sine qua non
for a successful round. Export subsidies will be another difficult
topic; here, many developing countries are looking for greater
flexibility. Other difficult topics include export credits and
investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement
and trade facilitation, the current focus of work is to clarify issues
to ensure that all countries have an informed basis for taking
decisions on modalities for possible negotiations at Cancun. It is
only at that point that real negotiations could start.
commitment to negotiate on trade and the environment is a significant
development. It is important for the trading system to continue to
advance understanding of the complex linkages between trade and
11 countries of the Arab world are Members of the WTO and five
countries; Algeria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, are in the
process of accession. However I believe that most of these countries
are not fulfilling their trade potential. Some countries have rather
low trade to GDP ratios – like Egypt whose trade-in-goods-to-GDP
ratio is 9%, and Algeria’s which stands at 14%. These figures do not
compare well with other countries of similar population size like
Turkey which has a trade-in-goods-to-GDP ratio of 40%. Many other Arab
countries who are highly export-orientated, are very dependent on oil
and gas exports. These are vulnerable sectors in an interdependent
world. With fast-growing populations Arab countries need to find ways
of creating more, and better paid jobs. These can’t be found in the
energy sectors alone, so more attention should be paid to developing
export industries in the services and manufacturing sectors.
current negotiations offer a unique window of opportunity for Arab
countries to integrate more fully into the multilateral trading system
– and expand and diversify their exports. And of course, consumers
and import businesses would benefit from the lowering of the
relatively high bound tariffs that many Arab Members still have in
place. We often forget that the impact of tariffs is borne by domestic
consumers as well as user industries in the form of more expensive
goods and services. The poorest of consumers tend to be the hardest
hit and user industries become less competitive.
am very encouraged, however, by the trend towards greater engagement
in the WTO. I know Trade Ministers of Arab Countries, under the
auspices of the Arab League, are meeting annually to co-ordinate their
positions and responses in the WTO. No doubt this is a reflection of
Arab governments increasing tendency to place trade policy at the
forefront of their development agendas. This is a really important
development, for two reasons. Firstly, coalition-building in the
multilateral trading system has been extremely effective in pushing
for mutual interests. There is strength in numbers, and I am reminded
of the CAIRNS group of agriculture exporting developed and developing
countries who clubbed together and successfully put agriculture on the
WTO map. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it suggests to me
that Arab governments have had the foresight to coordinate their
efforts to liberalise trade both regionally and multilaterally.
is absolutely crucial that regional and multilateral initiatives are
mutually supportive in building a more open world economy, rather than
a world divided into protectionist trading blocks. And this is one of
the most important challenges facing trade policy makers today.
me be clear, regional trade agreements can be a good thing, and
besides they are a reality of the international trading scene. I can
understand the attraction – both political and economic - of
securing deeper economic ties with neighbours and important trading
partners. I can understand governments feeling more comfortable in
initially exposing their domestic industries to limited rather than
global foreign competition. I know that business demands for better
market access can be delivered more quickly through regional deals
rather than through relatively slower multilateral processes.
the context of the Doha Development Agenda, the WTO has taken on an
unprecedented level of commitment in providing technical assistance
and capacity building to developing countries. And we are focusing our
efforts to meet the specific needs of different regions. Until 2001
the WTO relationship with Arab countries collectively received little
attention. It was a weakness that needed to be addressed, as there was
a clear need for a more structured approach towards trade policy and
enhancing information flows on WTO issues.
the first time we are dealing with Arab Members and Observers as a
group. We have started organising regional seminars for Arab Members
and Observers. This year alone we organised eleven regional activities
in addition to 29 national activities. We will be looking to increase
this number in 2003 through co-operation and joint activities with
regional partners like the Arab Monetary Fund, the United Nations
Economic Commission for Western Asia and the Islamic Development Bank,
with whom we have signed memoranda of understanding.
new unit has been set up in the Technical Cooperation Division
dedicated to the Arab and Middle East countries. This provides an
institutional focal point for advisory services to Arab delegations.
And we are also advising and supporting the five Arab countries
currently in the process of acceding to the WTO. While this process is
based upon negotiations between the acceding country and all other WTO
Members, the Secretariat is providing technical assistance to help
these countries join as speedily as possible.
will be working to ensure that this kind of support is continued
beyond the conclusion of negotiations. It is also my priority to work
more closely with other international agencies - so we can better
co-ordinate the different kinds of assistance we offer to developing
while the Secretariat can offer support, all of the hard decisions
need to be taken in capitols. For those of you here today representing
the business and NGO communities, I urge you to feed your governments
with the inputs they need to develop policy positions. And at the same
time I would call upon governments to develop and strengthen their
consultative mechanisms with the private sector and civil society.
was once said that “Opportunity is missed by most people because it
is dressed in overalls and looks like work”.
There is no question that reaching a successful result to these
negotiations will be tough. But this is an opportunity the world
cannot afford to miss. Thank you.