Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements


SOUTH AFRICA   Statement by H.E. Mr. Nelson Mandela,  President  

Today's auspicious occasion is rich with the ironies of the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

As the international community painstakingly assembled a new order amidst the devastation of a war fought for universal principles of freedom, there were just two countries of Africa that signed the original GATT Agreement.

Statement by H.E. Mr. Nelson Mandela,

Today's auspicious occasion is rich with the ironies of the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

As the international community painstakingly assembled a new order amidst the devastation of a war fought for universal principles of freedom, there were just two countries of Africa that signed the original GATT Agreement.

They were Southern Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa, today Zimbabwe and the Republic of South Africa.

At that time both were components of the British Empire in differing stages of colonial rule.

We need not dwell on why they in particular entered the GATT.  We do know that the peoples of Africa were not consulted.
I and the vast majority of South Africans had no vote and were completely excluded from any such decisions.

The then Government in South Africa expressed itself as party to a collective recognition, in the introduction to the 1947 agreement, that, “relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, developing the full use of the resources of the world and expanding the production and exchange of goods.”.

These noble sentiments would have had our agreement then, as they do now.

What is so painful is that they were not realised in my country - nor for our continent or indeed for most of humanity.

In South Africa's case it took another 47 years of struggle before there was a democratic election.

In those 47 years South Africa traded extensively, and provided an object lesson, if such were needed, that trade does not of itself and in itself bring a better world.

Yet over those same 47 years the international community came to insist with increasing vigour that freedom is indivisible.

They identified with our aspirations and helped us achieve them.  Together we were able to struggle for a greater and just cause.

Today, I am proud to be able to address you as the President of a free and democratic Republic of South Africa, and as the representative of one of many African members of the WTO.

Freedom has brought South Africa the chance to achieve a better life for all our people, through our Reconstruction and Development Programme.

As a part of this Programme we are strengthening our engagement with the WTO because of its importance to our economy and that of Southern Africa.

 In commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the GATT, therefore, South Africa chooses to look forward rather than deal with the imperfections of the past.

But in seeking to build a better future we ignore the lessons of the past at our peril.

Though international trade and investment have always been an integral part of the world economy, the extent to which all parties have benefited has depended on the circumstances in which they have taken place.

The current process of globalization is no exception.

The extent to which all countries benefit will depend on how we, the Member States act in concert to shape the processes.

In the 50 years of the GATT we have surely learnt enough - despite the de facto exclusion of many, many developing countries - to vastly improve on the management of the world trading system to the mutual benefit of all nations and people.

We are firmly of the belief that the existence of the GATT, and now the World Trade Organization, as a rules-based system, provides the foundation on which our deliberations can build in order to improve.

However, to realize the aspirations of all requires wise work to be done.

The WTO came into existence precisely as a response to the need for a more effective regulatory, supervisory and enforcement environment for world trade and investment than the GATT could then provide.

But now we can see that the success of the system agreed to in Marrakesh in 1994 will depend on the wisdom with which it is implemented and taken forward.

In making a complex point it is natural to fall back on one's own experience, and I hope you will permit me to do so.

South Africans fought a horrifying abuse of power and were determined that it should never happen again.

We therefore elected to be governed by a constitution - in effect a rules based system - that must protect all in equal measure.

But we could not forget that the injustice and discrimination that we fought against has had deep-seated structural effects.

If our constitution was blind to the reality of inequality and historical imbalances that prevent equal access to opportunity; then it would become a source of both actual and perceived injustice.

Rules must be applied without fear or favour, but if they contain prescriptions that cannot be complied with by all, or if the results benefit too few, then injustice will emerge.

Then it is prudent to remember that no amount of rules or their enforcement will defeat those who struggle with justice on their side.

That too is part of our experience and the experience of people everywhere.

Where there are manifest inequalities when the rules are introduced then special and thoughtful measures have to be applied.

This care at the beginning will promote the conditions that will sustain and nurture a rules-based system.

We must be frank in our assessment of the outcome of the Uruguay Round.

The developing countries were not able to ensure that the rules accommodated their realities.

For understandable reasons it was mainly the preoccupations and problems of the advanced industrial economies that shaped the agreement.

The sections dealing with the developing countries and the least-developed countries were not adequately thought through.

Nor have they been fully implemented.

We already have the elements of an answer to the problem: in the mechanism of an extension of time for developing countries to comply; and in recent improvements in the capacity of the WTO to give technical assistance in cooperation with other multilateral agencies.

But this is not yet the full answer.

What exactly can be done ?

We must start by a reaffirmation that the building of a multilateral rules-based system is fundamentally correct.

Powerful economies must stop applying unilateral measures and the developing countries must negotiate their specific needs within this framework.

Rules are respected when they are above expediency, in perception and in practice.

The developing countries should now give leadership to the development of a positive agenda that fully addresses their needs.

In doing so they can build on work done since the Singapore Conference to integrate the work of the multilateral institutions.

They need to define precisely those areas that are obstacles to their progress in the world trading system.

Free market access for the LDCs should no longer be the issue debated.  It is rather the practical effects of implementing this that need to be incorporated into the multilateral system.

If the WTO is used to defend the current patterns of production it will fail.
Many developing countries have a clear comparative advantage in agriculture and textiles.

New competitive advantages in manufactured products are being developed.

These advantages will be the basis for development.

The WTO must be able to facilitate these changes in world production and not be used as a means to revert to protection.

The pace of events is rapid and reality requires us to address the so--called new issues, particularly as new pressing matters will emerge and are emerging.

But only if there is confidence in the system will all parties feel comfortable doing so.

It is therefore imperative that we build confidence in the system.

It would be unwise to ignore the increased frustration of ordinary people, or to confuse patience which is exercised in order to ensure an advance, with reluctance to comply.

These are complex matters, and in dealing with such matters there are no easy solutions.

But where there is a determination to find joint, negotiated solutions then there is a way.

South Africa is prepared to play its part in helping develop a positive and detailed agenda for the next Ministerial Meeting so that the challenge of eradicating and defeating underdevelopment is fully addressed.

We believe that cooperation with the WTO, UNCTAD, ILO, UNDP, the World Bank and the IMF is essential.

We must have an open and frank dialogue to define the separate and combined roles of these very important multilateral institutions.

There can be no refusal to discuss matters such as labour standards, social issues and the environment, but equally all must be prepared to listen carefully before judgements are made.

If developing countries feel that there is nothing to gain except further burdens, then it will prove difficult to deal with these crucial matters.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Fifty years ago, when the founders of the GATT evoked the link between trade, growth and a better life, few could have foreseen such poverty, homelessness and unemployment as the world now knows.

Few would have imagined that the exploitation of the world's abundant resources and a prodigious growth in world trade would have seen the gap between rich and poor widening.

And few could have anticipated the burden of debt on many poor nations.

As we celebrate what has been achieved in shaping the world trading system, let us resolve to leave no stone unturned in working together to ensure that our shared principles are everywhere translated into reality.

As we enter the new millennium, let us forge a partnership for development through trade and investment.