WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


18 November 1997

Leading into the third millennium

Attached is the speech being given today (18 November) by Renato Ruggiero, Director-General of the World Trade Organization to the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.

It has always seemed to me that the strength of any democracy - especially a great democracy like the United States - rests fundamentally on open, free, and informed debate. The Brookings Institution has consistently played a central role in this process - bringing academics, politicians, journalists and officials together to discuss the great issues of the day. Your role has become more important than ever as America debates its new place in a world defined, not by Cold War divisions, but by economic integration. For this reason I thank you for inviting me here today, and especially for launching this important and timely initiative.

This year we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the multilateral trading system. I doubt whether even the most optimistic of its founding fathers could have predicted the system's remarkable success. World trade has expanded fourteen fold since 1950, compared to a five-fold increase in global output. Direct investment flows have expanded even more rapidly - from US$60 billion to US$350 billion in the last decade alone. In 1950, only 7 per cent of world output was trade related; today it's 23 per cent, and by 2020 it could be 50 per cent. I'm not suggesting that the multilateral trading system is alone responsible for this remarkable phase of global opening and integration. What I am suggesting its that today's globalized world would have been inconceivable without the rules, stability and guiding philosophy which multilateralism has provided for the last fifty years.

Behind the system's achievements lies a constant theme - American leadership. The United States, working with its transatlantic partners, was instrumental in shaping the multilateral system that arose out of the ruins of the Second World War. America has been a main driving force behind no less that eight rounds of postwar world trade negotiations, including the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round and the establishment of the WTO. Likewise, recent multilateral agreements to free trade in information technologies and telecommunications - the value of which is equivalent to world trade in autos, textiles and agriculture combined - were a direct result of the imagination, the tenacity, and the leadership of the United States.

What explains the United States's pivotal role? One reason is economic power. For five decades the United States has been the single largest economy in the world - an economy, moreover, which finds itself at the epicentre of world woven ever more tightly together by trade, investment, and technology. Simply put, US economic gravity has been the "glue" holding the multilateral system together.

A second point is that the United States has generally led by example. The openness of the US economy has been a key factor behind its economic strength. Today the U.S. economy reflects an enviable mix of rising employment, low inflation, and steady growth - which in turn reflects an underlying economic creativity and flexibility that goes hand-in-glove with openness. What's more, the United States is strongest in the very sectors that increasingly drive the global economy forwards - sectors like telecommunications, financial services, computer programming, and biotechnology.

The other main source of America's leadership has been intellectual - the central place that freer multilateral trade has played in American foreign policy since the end of the Second World. Trade, in a rules-based system, would bind national economies inextricably together, making another war unthinkable. The principle of non-discrimination would prevent the kind of exclusionary deals and blocs which had done so much to fuel interwar rivalries, competition, and protection. Underpinning all this was a fundamental belief that the free exchange of ideas and capital, the open exchange of goods and services, and the security of multilaterally agreed rules was the basis of civilized intercourse among nations. America's vision, in the words of Cordell Hull, was to "avoid the dangerous possibilities of economic warfare and to promote fair and friendly trade relations among all nations of the world".

It is a vision which has emerged preeminent in the post-Cold War era. Almost every country in the world is moving towards a model of openness, deregulation and free markets. The vast developing world is being lifted up on a wave of technology and trade. And the dream of a universal, rules-based economic system is now within our reach. If America now faces the challenge of defining its role in an interdependent world, it is not because U.S. leadership failed, but because it succeeded beyond all expectations.

The question now is where does the multilateral trading system go over the next fifty years? One certainty is that U.S. leadership will again be central to answering this question - perhaps more than ever before. The argument, sometimes heard, that a post-Cold War, multipolar world makes US leadership less necessary is belied by the current trade agenda.

Let me just outline three priorities facing the WTO where US leadership is crucial to success. First there are the current financial services negotiations due to conclude on 12 December - negotiations which have been a clear US trade objective since the early 1980s. The goal is to achieve real improvements in access to markets for one of the most dynamic sectors of the US and the global economy. Essentially, this means the right for foreign investors to operate on equal competitive terms with national companies in national markets. It also means the removal of unnecessary restrictions on the cross-border supply of financial services - restrictions which will, in any event, become increasingly anomalous in a world of borderless, electronic commerce. And it means protecting equity rights already achieved in these markets.

I believe that an agreement should now be close at hand but we are not there yet. 97 countries have already made provisional market access commitments on financial services in the two previous negotiations, and in the negotiations which are due to end on 12 December we shall see improvements or new commitments made by something like 46 countries. This is a highly significant harvest. The number and the quality of the commitments negotiated are essential for a positive outcome. But it is equally essential that we firmly anchor the financial services sector in general in the multilateral system of rules and procedures. We cannot afford continuing doubt about the commitment of the major powers to multilateralism in this fundamental services sector. We cannot afford to lose at the last moment what has taken so long and so much energy to attain.

A second priority is to continue the momentum towards universal membership of the system. And this means completing the 32 accession negotiations currently underway without compromising the system's basic rules, rights and obligations. This list includes some of the most dynamic developing economies in the world, notably China. The successful accession of such countries is obviously important to the WTO's ability to manage a trading system of global proportions and scope. But at the same time, their WTO membership is a necessary part of the United States' effort to anchor some of its key economic relationships in a rules-based system - a system which includes a binding dispute settlement mechanism with an enforcement capacity.

Thirdly, we have to look towards the next major negotiating rendez-vous, which is now on the near horizon. In addition to the negotiations already scheduled for the new century in agriculture, services and aspects of intellectual property, we are already hearing calls to widen the scope. A increasingly trade dependent economy like the United States cannot afford to stand on the sidelines while others write the rules of the game through regional or bilateral arrangements. An America with growing export interests - especially in emerging markets - cannot afford to pass up the secure and expanding access to global markets which the multilateral system provides. And, perhaps most important, an American economy so linked to technology and innovation cannot afford not to take the lead in charting the new frontiers of globalization -  particularly in sectors like financial services or environmental technologies which will be the key building blocks of the new economy.

If America's leadership is more important than ever to the future of the multilateral trading system, then the multilateral system is also more important than ever to America's economic future. How, then, are we to read the current debate over "fast track"? I have no intention of entering into a discussion on U.S. politics. But I will make one general observation. Globalization is transforming peoples lives around the world - and in changing their lives, it is sparking an intense debate about jobs, incomes, social standards and the environment. Trade issues will continue to moved to the centre of public debate as trade policy continues to move beyond simple border tariffs, to involve deeper issues like investment policy, health standards, environmental regulations, labour standards, and legal structures - issues which raise important questions about how we pursue legitimate economic and social goals in an increasingly integrated world. This debate will inevitably become more intense and complex as it becomes more pivotal. One cannot - and should not - expect any less.

The danger is not from the emerging debate about globalization and trade. The danger is that the debate will be one sided - with the risk of weakening domestic support for free trade, and a weakening of United States' leadership role. We have heard a great deal lately from those who oppose globalization. We need to hear much more from those who not only understand the challenges of globalization but grasp its immense opportunities. We need to here more about the enormous advantages which trade has conferred on the American economy - the many more high-paying jobs that have been created by exports; the inflation-fighting role of imports, the innovative stimulus of global competition. We need to reinforce the inherent logic of multilateralism, and bring this message to the public in a clear and compelling way.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to ask what rational alternative those who oppose further multilateral trade liberalization are offering the American people in a world of ever-deepening interdependence. The reality of the benefits of a multilateral, rules-based trading system are visible and unquestionable. The onus is on those who would arrest our progress to explain what other options exist.

It is true that trade liberalization and technological change pose enormous challenges of adjustment, especially for the most vulnerable sectors of the economy. But it is equally true that the vulnerable are not helped by making the strong and competitive weaker. They are helped through training, education, and adjustment assistance so they too can be successful world competitors and full partners in the global economy. In the United States, exports supported 7 million workers a decade ago; by the year 2000 it is estimated that more than 16 million jobs will be tied to sales abroad. Roughly one-third of all new jobs created in the United States over the last decade were tied to merchandise exports; and these jobs in export-oriented sectors pay 5 to 15 per cent more than the average American wage.

I am convinced that the United States will continue to exercise a leadership role in the multilateral trading system because leadership is so clearly in the U.S. interest. Certainly isolationism is no longer an option - least of all for the most powerful economy in the world. The days are long gone when America could attempt to solve the world's problems and then retreat back to its continental island. Trade is now woven into the fabric of the U.S. economy as never before. The proportion of trade to domestic output more than doubled between 1970 and 1995 - from 10 to 24 per cent - the largest such increase for any developed economy over that period.

Moreover, the United States has an indispensable role to play not only in shaping the new trade agenda - as it already has in services and information technologies - but also in building the necessary consensus to move ahead. Without US leadership it is difficult to see how the multilateral trading system can move forward. A United States which is unable - or unwilling - to play a leadership role, risks watching its friends and allies trying to come to grips with globalization on their own, through regional, bilateral and even unilateral options - options which will make it all the more difficult to develop common approaches to global challenges.

Let me conclude with the observation that global economic integration will not be reversed in the time ahead - it will accelerate. The momentum of borderless technologies, the worldwide conversion to freer markets, the legitimate desire of developing countries to share in growth and modernization - all of these forces are pushing us inexorably towards deeper interdependence and a single world market. As we move towards this new global economy, we are also moving towards a new global community - where economic interdependence is the central reality, and where the rules and structures of the multilateral system will be increasingly central to global stability as well as global prosperity.

What this means is that American leadership in the multilateral system is about much more than trade. It is about foreign policy as well as economic policy. It is about national security, national competitiveness, and advancing national interests in an ever-more interdependent world. What is at issue is America's leadership in shaping the global architecture of the post-Cold War era.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the trading system it is clear that we have not reached the end of a process - rather we stand at the very beginning of a whole new phase of internationalism. Next year we have an opportunity to celebrate a unique - and uniquely valuable - exercise in global economic cooperation. But we also have a window of new opportunity to be as creative in developing an increasingly borderless, global economy as our forefathers were a half a century ago in developing the postwar international system. What is needed is a new vision for the emerging global order. Now, as then, America will be looked upon to help provide that vision and that leadership.