WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

12 May 1997

“Implementing the WTO Singapore Declaration in 1997 and beyond”

WTO Director-General Renato Ruggiero's address to APEC Trade Ministers, Montréal, 10 May 1997
First there was the success of the Singapore Ministerial Conference, which built on the achievements of the WTO's first two years, and laid a firm political foundation for future progress. Understanding the reasons why Singapore was such a success can help us to see what is needed to ensure similar success on future occasions.

First of all, skilful chairmanship of the conference played a very important rôle. Furthermore the preparatory work that was done before we reached Singapore was of critical importance. This underlines the value of using to the full the possibilities of a combination of formal and informal processes in order to reach a working consensus on many issues before the start of the meeting. The success of this process was demonstrated by the fact that we went to Singapore with only two major political problems - the question of labour standards and the so-called "new issues". These may have been complicated in political terms, but by the time they arrived in Singapore, the issues involved had been usefully clarified and all the elements for a political agreement were already on the table.

But all this would have been insufficient without the flexibility and commitment to the multilateral system that all WTO members demonstrated in Singapore. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the very significant and positive rôle played by many developing countries. They have been the real key to success. This leadership rôle has gone a long way to reinforce the sense of partnership and shared responsibility that has replaced the old North-South division.

Furthermore, the success of the Information Technology Agreement added a concrete liberalizing dimension to the Singapore achievement - one which was confirmed in March this year. And no one should underestimate the rôle played by APEC in shaping the outcome of this Agreement.

As we all know, the ITA was closely followed by the historic agreement to liberalize basic telecommunications services. These sectors involve the raw materials of the future - knowledge and communication. By establishing liberalizing commitments and rules in these areas, we are truly extending the positive impact of the trading system into the 21st Century. Industrialized and developing countries alike have joined in these agreements knowing that by doing so, they are investing in the basis of future global growth.

These agreements have underlined and confirmed the success of the WTO's first two years. The effectiveness of the dispute settlement procedure, for example, was clear from the beginning, and it continues to be reinforced as sensitive and significant cases are either ruled on or - preferably - encouraged to find an "out-of-court" settlement. The greatly increased use of the system by developing countries is further strong testimony to its credibility.

The WTO's record of success has given a powerful boost to what was already a very ambitious agenda. The most immediate single priority is the negotiations on financial services. The key point I would like to make is that we have reached a very important point in the liberalization of goods and services, and that a success in financial services is essential to help ensure each of you - industrialized and developing countries alike - the necessary infrastructure for growth.

My message is: do not see this negotiation in North/South terms. Developing countries, whatever their economic position, have an even stronger need for competitive financial institutions.

Only in liberalizing this sector can you be in a position to ensure that capital is used efficiently to promote the growth of domestic industry, and only in this way can you be in a position to compete in the tough financial world of the future, where capital markets will be under very heavy pressure.

This is why we must conclude an agreement on a fully m.f.n. basis this year. To do so will require an extra effort on all sides - but not to do so should be as unthinkable as it would be short-sighted.

Another very high priority is the accession negotiations. The 28 candidates range from giants like China and Russia to small island States - all are developing countries or economies in transition. I have just returned from China, and I came away with a very positive impression of the Chinese Government's commitment to becoming a WTO member. Now, as we approach the final stage of the Chinese accession process, there is a need for flexibility on all sides and a determination to resolve the crucial outstanding issues in the negotiations. The success of this negotiation is a shared responsibility, and it can be assured only if we keep up the momentum established earlier this year. In concrete terms, this means making substantive progress on both the rules issues and market access in the near future.

Another element of great importance in our agenda for this year is the High-Level Conference on the Least-Developed Countries which is to be held in the end of October. This is a commitment from Singapore which we should all take with the utmost seriousness. A global trading system worthy of the name must also embrace the poorest countries. This Conference will offer some genuinely new approaches in the effort against marginalization of the least-developed countries. It will promote a more thorough integration of technical assistance in the field of trade among various agencies concerned that we have seen before. It will give a further boost to the already promising cooperation between the WTO and other agencies - particularly the World Bank - in using new technologies to extend the reach and the effectiveness of our technical assistance. It will also provide a focus for renewed efforts to improve access to export markets for the products of least-developed countries.

Last but not least, our agenda includes the preparation of the 50th Anniversary of the multilateral system and the next Ministerial Conference. It appears to be generally accepted that these two events should be held in conjunction in the first half of 1998. There is now an urgent need to agree on the date. There is also a need to send a clear and positive message from political leaders about the importance of this Organization's rôle in the era of globalization.

We hear a good deal about the costs of global economic integration. But the message about the opportunities of globalization is not coming through so clearly. The 50th Anniversary will be an unparalleled opportunity for Governments to underline the immense opportunities for progress, growth and peace represented by global economic integration.

The Ministerial Conference might also discuss how to improve the functioning of the WTO, taking into account its widening and deepening scope. It should also take stock of the continuing progress in implementing our liberalizing commitments, and look forward to the renewed negotiations in important sectors such as agriculture and services which are on the near horizon.

The liberalization process is moving forward continuously at the multilateral level, because of the implementation of Uruguay Round commitments, because of accession negotiations and with the input of regional liberalization, not least through APEC. It may also prove possible to turn our attention to other ideas which could extend the frontier of liberalization, especially in the area of new technology.

In all of these important tasks ahead of us, APEC is well placed to play a leading and creative part. As a new configuration in international economic relations, APEC has played a very valuable energizing rôle, at the multilateral level as well as regional. As the Asia-Pacific region becomes more and more important in the world economy, so the impact of what you decide in APEC assumes a greater global significance. I see your invitation to me to join you here in Montréal as a further sign of the complementarity that can and must link regional initiatives and multilateral trading system. I am sure that this complementarity will continue as governments move forward to take up the opportunities of freer trade and a more integrated world economy at both the regional and multilateral levels.