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Libreville, 13 November 2000

Libreville 2000 — Meeting of African trade ministers

Libreville, 13-15 November 2000

Your Excellency, the President of the Gabonese Republic,
Your Excellencies, the Presidents of Institutions,
Your Excellencies, the Ministers,
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors and Representatives of Inter-African and International Organizations,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, first of all, to express to His Excellency, El Haj Omar Bongo, President of the Gabonese Republic, and to the Government and people of Gabon, my deep gratitude and sincere thanks for the warm welcome and for the hospitality received since our arrival here in this African city of Libreville.

Mr. President,

The fact that we are meeting here today in Libreville to discuss trade development issues must be credited to your political vision and your universally recognized personal commitment to the emancipation of Africa, and to enhancing its prosperity, its development and its influence on the international scene. Your decision to organize this Meeting of African Trade Ministers, with the support of the Secretariat of the World Trade Organization (WTO), is yet another illustration of your commitment to serve Africa and provide it with the leadership needed to reaffirm its place and its active and effective role in the management of the world's affairs. Anything else would have been difficult to understand, Mr. President, as we all know how actively and successfully you fulfil your role as the longest-serving Head of State in Africa.

I should also like to congratulate your Government, mentioning in particular Mr. Alfred Mabika, your dynamic and dedicated Minister for Trade, Tourism, Industrial Development and Handicrafts, and through him convey my gratitude to all his team, especially the Minister Delegate, Mrs. Ursule Ekié, for the hard work carried out in preparation for this important Ministerial Meeting in Libreville today. I should also like to express my gratitude to Her Excellency, Mrs. Yolande Biké, your Ambassador in Geneva and Permanent Representative of Gabon to the World Trade Organization, who is also chairperson of the Committee on Trade and Environment, without whose energy and sound and wise advice we would certainly have encountered insurmountable obstacles in the lead-up to this Ministerial Meeting.

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

If this meeting is being held today with the participation of all Africa's least-developed countries, it is also thanks to the financial support of donors who are keen to see your continent become integrated into the multilateral trading system and play an active role in globalization, and particularly to see it able to participate actively and effectively in the WTO's activities. I should like to take this opportunity to renew my thanks to the Governments of Belgium, Chinese Taipei, Egypt, France, Gabon, Great Britain, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Morocco and South Africa as well as the African Development Bank Group, the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie, the International Development Research Centre, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the United Nations Development Programme, and the European Union, which spontaneously and in a spirit of solidarity agreed to make available to Gabon and the WTO Secretariat the financial and material resources for the successful organization of this meeting in Libreville.

I should also like to express my satisfaction to the international organizations which have agreed to collaborate by contributing their expertise to the 24 workshops that will underpin our meeting. These workshops will be organized around ten themes covering the GATT/WTO Agreements and Rules.

The core objective of this Meeting of African Trade Ministers in Libreville, the first such meeting in Africa in the history of the GATT and the WTO, is to make leaders and decision-makers in African countries aware of the essential need to participate actively in strengthening the multilateral trading system and in the WTO's activities, as well as to build their capacity and competence in order to make more effective use of the existing rules and Agreements, and take a bigger part not only in the ongoing negotiations in Geneva but also in future ones.

The Meeting of African Trade Ministers in Libreville is in line with the commitment I made, when I took up my post as Director-General just over a year ago, to support the efforts of developing countries in the multilateral trading system so that trade liberalization continues in a way that benefits all countries, rich or poor, large or small.

As I said at the Summit of Heads of State or Government of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) held in Mauritius last May, the WTO must do more for Africa, but Africa needs to focus more on the WTO as well. I read recently trade liberalization in agriculture alone would be worth more than three times all the O.D.A. put together.

Since taking up my post I have made every effort to listen to Africans and to include their legitimate concerns among the WTO's priorities.

To cite some of these efforts: an African was appointed to the post of Deputy Director-General, for the first time in over 50 years of existence of the GATT/WTO. I refer to my friend and dedicated colleague Ablassé Ouedraogo, without whose political vision, know-how, courage and perseverance we would no doubt not be holding this meeting in Libreville today. Thank you, Ablassé, for the excellent work you are doing on my team at the WTO.

To the extent allowed by my timetable, I have made every effort personally to attend some important meetings in Africa and listen to the problems of African countries in order to understand them better. For example, I was the first Director-General of the GATT/WTO to address the Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77 in Marrakesh in September 1999 and to participate in your second conference organized under the auspices of the OAU in Algiers, also in September 1999. I went to Ethiopia and visited the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa. I took part in the Summit of Heads of State of COMESA in Mauritius in May 2000 before going on a working visit to Lesotho and South Africa last June and to Togo for the 37th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the OAU, held in Lomé last July.

Among the WTO's activities and actions to strengthen the multilateral trading system that are of particular interest to African countries, I would mention the following: the negotiations on agriculture and trade in services, the establishment of an appropriate mechanism to consider implementation problems, capacity-building in developing countries through expanded technical cooperation programmes. Also, over 25 countries have made commitments to improve market access. I wish to congratulate the European Union and Pascal Lamy in particular for his leadership and the United States for the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act which will make substantial opportunities available. I am sure Pascal Lamy and Ambassador Susan Esserman will expand on these policies later. As well, the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme for Selected Least-Developed and other African Countries (JITAP), the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least-Developed Countries, the establishment of reference centres in all countries and at the headquarters of regional and subregional integration organizations, and the organization of the second Geneva Week in October 2000 for countries which do not have permanent missions in Geneva, all show a renewed confidence and commitment to Africa.

All these measures taken to enable the integration of African countries in the multilateral trading system have also allowed the WTO Secretariat and Member States to go beyond the confidence-building phase and reach the phase of creating pragmatic coalitions focusing on each Member's vital interests. It has to be acknowledged, nevertheless, that the world of trade has greatly changed as a result of globalization and regionalization and renewed efforts will have to be made to allow all to participate in international trade.

Africa in fact has significant advantages that will allow it to adjust its course and become a real player in globalization instead of remaining passive. I believe in Africa and in its ability to refuse to remain sidelined and instead play a much more dynamic part in global trade.

There is much to be gained. African leaders tell me that Africa refuses to be marginalized any longer. Africa wants to play a greater role! Substantive work is going on to try and solve the difficulties many countries face with implementing the Uruguay Round work. This is good. This must happen. But in my heart, I believe that to prevent further marginalization, we need a new round of trade negotiations with Africa at the table and with Africa's great concerns on the agenda. No new round can start or finish without all nations having their legitimate needs addressed. A round would be good for Africa. It would be good for everybody.

To be sure, there are risks in rushing into a new round. Another failed launch would be disastrous. If a new round is to be started, all governments need to show more flexibility and find the political will to confront entrenched special interests for the greater good. Governments big and small must move beyond their Seattle positions. Seattle failed not because of the process or protests but because the differences, transatlantic and North and South, were too deep, too entrenched to overcome.

Important differences remain among national positions, particularly on the subjects to be included in the future negotiations. These differences will have to be bridged if we are to move the trading system forward on a broad and balanced liberalizing agenda as we all want. The work that my colleagues and I in the Secretariat have done in this past year has, I believe, improved the climate in which these issues are addressed. We have worked systematically to encourage dialogue and understanding at all levels, from government Ministers to technical experts. We will continue and intensify these efforts.

All of the existing — very substantial — work programme of the WTO must be carried forward energetically so that it contributes not only to building confidence but also momentum. I will do everything I can to ensure the preparation is done and conditions are favourable for the political decisions needed to launch a broader negotiating agenda. However, only WTO Member governments can take those decisions. No one can decide for them.

Reaching a consensus to extend the negotiating agenda will call for flexibility and a willingness to compromise on all sides, frankly, more than we have seen so far. It will call for realism, for difficult choices among priorities, and for political courage. No one can expect to achieve one hundred per cent of their stated objectives. But all participants share an interest in success and difficult though the process of building consensus may be, it is the only way to agree on a new round to which all WTO Members can actively commit themselves. You can be sure I will do everything I possibly can to facilitate Members' efforts to reach such a consensus.

I urge all WTO Member governments to build on the progress of the past year, to work together concretely and pragmatically, but never loosing sight of the truth that this must be a dynamic evolving system which works for all its Members and their peoples.

In conclusion, I should like to renew my sincere thanks to the Ministers responsible for WTO issues, together with my gratitude for the support they have constantly given me in carrying out my task. I assure you once again of my readiness, and that of the WTO Secretariat, to support you in any action you may undertake in your respective countries so that trade becomes a priority in your national development programmes. In doing so, I know I can count on the valuable collaboration of the WTO's fellow agencies in meeting this challenge.

Thank you.