Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements


Statement by H.E. Mr. Romano Prodi, President of the Council of Ministers

One of the most important acts of the democratic Italy that emerged from the catastrophe of the Second World War was the signature, in the autumn of 1947, of the Havana Charter.

Statement by H.E. Mr. Romano Prodi, President of the Council of Ministers

One of the most important acts of the democratic Italy that emerged from the catastrophe of the Second World War was the signature, in the autumn of 1947, of the Havana Charter.

Participation in the new multilateral system that was taking shape in those years was decisive for the reconstruction and the future prosperity of Italy. This choice was based on the political conviction that the creation of a multilateral trade system was fundamental, as its inventors conceived it, to an international architecture of peace. We were certain also that trade liberalization would favour Italian economic growth.

A few years later Italy gave a decisive contribution to the process leading to the European integration. The process embarked upon in the aftermath of war has led to the creation of a single market and now of a single currency, with the ambition of accomplishing political integration in the future. In the World Trade Organization, the European Community now speaks daily with a single voice.

I am grateful to President Santer and Prime Minister Blair, President in exercise of the European Council, for their participation at today's celebrations. Their presence here carries the message of a Europe profoundly convinced of the fundamental importance of the world trade system.

From the Italian and European standpoint, these two processes - the development of a multilateral system and that of regional integration - have never been at conflict: their parallel advance represents an opportunity for global growth. At the moment of the birth of the euro, which required a strenuous effort on the part of our countries and as we embark upon a new enlargement of the European Union to truly continental scale, I feel it especially important to underscore our hearty endorsement of the view that regional integration can and must help to strengthen the multilateral world trade system and to enhance world prosperity.

There is much talk these days of the “proliferation” of regional agreements, no longer in Europe alone. Examining all these pacts, we find that within not so many years nearly all the world's regions and countries will be linked by agreements or will have already realized customs unions or free-trade areas. By that time we will be nearing the "global single market", provided these developments are channelled and harmonized within a multilateral system, not set one against another in a revived and enlarged version of economic nationalism carried to the macro-regional scale. A further step has to be taken shortly, with the round of talks opening in 2000, and with admission to WTO of the countries which for various reasons have so far remained outside.

The philosophy of the founders of the multilateral system was the building of a world order of peace, prosperity and freedom. Today we must carry on their legacy by taking full account of the political and human dimension alongside the advance of technology, the spread of knowledge, the expansion of investment; in a word, the great transformation that we call “globalization”.

We need to strengthen and renovate the foundations of the current international system, leaving intact the fundamental, universal purposes we have always sought to serve. In order to achieve this goal we must take in due consideration the exigencies of social solidarity. The outcome of the present effort will depend on our ability to renew the "founding pact" of half a century ago. The challenge raises four main problems: first, the cultural, social and environmental concerns of a substantial part of the population, especially the least protected strata; second, the need to foster economic development in the disadvantaged areas of the world and to respond to the plague of poverty; third, the changing of the concept of national sovereignty in a time of increasing integration but also of resurgent nationalisms (especially in regions in crisis) and processes of fragmentation; finally, the promotion and “governance” of technological progress.

Italy, so close to many developing countries and countries in transition, is particularly aware of the human dimension of globalization. We must see how social, environmental and cultural concerns can be integrated into the multilateral system, enhancing the consistency of international cooperation and promoting the integration of the developing countries in the global economic system. Satisfactory results require setting in motion mechanisms of endogenous, self-sustained growth.

Italy has already adopted national measures to protect children against abuse and would welcome an enhanced cooperation between WTO and ILO.

As to the impact of globalization on the exercise of national sovereignty, for a country like Italy which is part of a well advanced process of continental integration, the answer appears simple: integration pays. For that matter, it is universally agreed that global problems demand global responses and global rules. As we advance further in the shaping of the multilateral rules that we need to govern globalization, we cannot fail to take this aspect into account and therefore to stimulate the participation of society and social institutions in the process.

Turning to the new technologies, I note that the WTO is dealing just now with electronic trade. This is a perfect example of what needs to be done, in other fora and on other questions biotechnologies, for instance - to foster the development and spread of technology and prevent it from becoming an area of conflict rather than a new source of correct competition. This constructive approach is the only way to foster the spread of knowledge, so responding to the fears that are inevitably provoked by change.

These questions have been dealt with for years now in a variety of institutional settings; however much still remains to be done. The WTO is a crucial forum for working out solutions though, given its limits of action, it should not be overburdened. The organization is charged with the critical, difficult task of ensuring the development and the functioning of the international trade system. And these tasks are being accomplished in a fully satisfactory way.

I fully agree with those in the political and academic communities who talk about a time-frame of 20 to 25 years for completing the rules of the global market on the basis of the renewed founding pact.

Italy, within the European Union, is prepared to do fully its part: the Italian contribution will not be limited to the institutional aspects but involves also the businessmen, managers, technicians and workers who have produced decades of economic growth and development.

Concluding, I would like to express my conviction that WTO, under the impulse given by the Director-General Renato Ruggiero, to whom we express our truly thanks for his remarkable activity, has played and will continue to play a crucial role to spread multilateral trade as a precondition for a wealthier and freer world.