WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO


27 September 1999

Development Committee of the World Bank

Mr Chairman,

This meeting could not be more timely. It gives me an opportunity to pay my respects to our sister organizations, to report to Finance and Development Ministers, share our ambitions and seek Ministerial assistance in capitals.

Two months from now, in Seattle, the United States Government will host the Third Ministerial Conference of the WTO. Trade Ministers will launch new multilateral trade negotiations, and set the WTO's work programme and priorities for the next few years. Development must be – and will be - at the very centre of this agenda: we must use it to bring developing countries into the mainstream of the world economy so they can share more fairly in its benefits. In this we will need the active support of finance and development ministers, and of the World Bank and the IMF, as well as UNCTAD and UNDP not only to make Seattle a success, but to help keep trade on the agenda in the months ahead and to ensure nations can engage throughout the round.

We have an opportunity at Seattle to put practical substance to the instructions of our leaders and ministers who want us to act in a more coherent manner and who have told us development can’t wait.

We will be judged at the launch of the new round, not by what we say, but by what we do. After years of analysis, the very poor and indebted nations want more than reports. We have suffered from a paralysis of analysis.

What would be the real cost to the wealthiest nations if all barriers to exports from the poorest nations were lifted? That would represent just 0.5 per cent of world trade. For example, Africa has seen major declines in its share of trade since the launch of the Uruguay Round. This is not entirely the fault of the trading system. Sovereign governments have responsibilities here, but when they develop export potential based on the advice and exhortations of people like us, the door is slammed firmly shut.

Improved market access gives the gift of opportunity. Reductions in tariffs in sectors such as textiles, clothing, and agricultural products are of primary interest to developing countries, and a key to achieving a balanced outcome in Seattle. Put this alongside action on debt relief, extending the benefits of E-commerce, more on good governance including ‘win-win’ agreements on transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation - then we see the makings of a coherent package that means something. We could do this at Seattle then move to wider needs.

Developing countries need better access to modern technology and services, such as telecommunications, financial services, information technologies, and electronic commerce. Some have portrayed these as developed country trade issues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Liberalization in these sectors is about access to the building blocks of modern economies. Instead of seeing technology as a barrier between North and South, we should see it as a bridge – and we must work together, not only in the name of social justice, but because we are all, in the end, each other’s customers.

Developing countries, and particularly the poorest among them, need access to the trading system itself, and to the WTO's institutional machinery. We don’t have a world trade system until the 30 developing countries and transition economies seeking accession are inside the system.

We need to make the system work for them. We need to improve participation in the WTO, particularly for the least developed countries who currently feel marginalized and lack a sense of ownership of the system. They need assistance in implementing existing commitments, dispute settlement, and developing trade policy expertise, the better to promote their legitimate self-interest. A Seattle achievable will be to enhance and improve the delivery of technical assistance, especially through the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance for Least-Developed Countries.

We need to make explicit the link between demand and supply – between access to markets and the capacity to benefit from this access. I believe Jim Wolfensohn's Comprehensive Development Framework is an ideal vehicle for integrating trade-related capacity building more closely into development, and helping to make trade work for human development and poverty alleviation. We need to see the WTO's technical assistance and World Bank capacity building as two sides of the same coin - an integrated strategy to give developing countries the productive resources they need to be full partners in the global economy.

Our work with the Bank on a new coordinated programme of trade support and capacity building for developing countries is advancing well, and I am in a position to report in Seattle that developing countries have the full backing of the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF as they engage in new trade negotiations. I thank the Bank and the Fund for renewing that pledge at recent meetings. We know this requires new resources. No-one wants the trade agenda competing for funds with other development priorities, but we cannot advance in Seattle with an unfunded mandate for development assistance.

I will be asking Trade Ministers in Seattle to find the funds we need to support more effective trade-related technical assistance for developing countries, particularly to help them meet their resource needs for financing implementation of their WTO obligations. It is in the interests of all that agreements are better understood, and therefore more quickly implemented.

A new round is an opportunity to encourage developing countries themselves to continue using openness and liberalization as tools for their own economic growth. This means engaging confidently and readily in further liberalization of their own trade regimes, correcting structural weaknesses and market distortions in their own economies, and locking in their reforms under WTO rules. Good governance, which can be improved through trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, can also play an important role in securing the right environment for growth by reassuring investors and taxpayers.

Our task in the WTO this year is to secure a successful Seattle Conference and to launch a balanced new round of trade negotiations. But our goal is not freer trade for trade's sake. It is about better living standards for all countries – developing and developed alike. Because only with higher living standards can we achieve better health care and education, the eradication of hunger, a cleaner environment, a more peaceful and just world. This is our common objective. I’m looking forward to working with you. You will have my total co-operation.

Thank you