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Tuesday, 23 January 2001

Director-General's meeting with least-developed countries

Speaking notes for the Director-General

1. Thank you for coming to these informal consultations. This is the first time that we are meeting this year, so let me also wish you all a happy and prosperous year 2001. This year will be important for LDCs. Apart from wanting to meet with you at the first opportunity this year, I asked that we meet today for three reasons specific:
  • First, to brief you on recent developments on the Integrated Framework, of which you are already aware;
  • Second, to review with you recent improvements in market access opportunities for LDCs; and,
  • Third, to exchange views with you on the preparatory process for the Third UN Conference for LDCs.
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The Integrated Framework

2. First, an update on the IF. I know that you were briefed on 8 January 2001, on the results of recent consultations for the improvement of the IF. This is an area where we have all worked hard. It has been a partnership. I have dedicated a lot of effort to improving the IF. This is why, I am very much encouraged and delighted by recent developments that have been made on the Integrated Framework. I would like to express my deep appreciation to you all for the compromises made, your own individual and collective efforts.

3. I will also be meeting with donor members who have made significant efforts and commitments in the past two months to move forward with the IF on the basis of a pilot scheme. I consider their pledges and indications of resources for the IF Trust Fund, quite significant. In my view, the pilot scheme is a constructive, realistic and practical. It provides the platform for beginning with the implementation of the IF, which will be one of the “deliverables” at the Third UN Conference on LDCs. Once results are achieved in, at least, two or three pilot LDCs, then the new IF will be extended to other LDCs. In this initiative, I am particularly encouraged that donor countries have taken a lead in coming up and consolidating the pilot scheme, including their commitment to contribute to the IF Trust Fund. Without donors' support, as many of you had voiced previously, it was difficult for the IF to deliver trade-related technical assistance to LDCs. In the new arrangements for the IF, I believe that a better balance has been achieved amongst LDCs, donors and the agencies in the delivery of technical assistance, as well as in the management of the framework. I ask you to give your full support to this IF Pilot Scheme, when the Sub-Committee meets in informal consultations, and at the next formal meeting of the Sub-Committee on 12 February 2001.

4. There is yet another positive outcome that has resulted from the support you (the LDCs) have given to the IF Pilot Scheme. There is a welcome appreciation by other Members of the practical response by LDCs. It is obvious to other members that LDCs are result-oriented in an effective manner. This perception is very important for the future, and in our joint efforts to do all that is necessary to integrated LDCs into the multilateral trading system.

Joint Agency Seminar on Integrating Trade Into Country Development Strategies — perspective of LDCs

5. Related to the Integrated Framework, as you already know, is the joint core Agency seminar to be held next week, 29-30 January, on “The Policy Relevance of Mainstreaming Trade into Country Development Strategies — Perspectives of Least-Developed Countries”. I hope that this seminar, the first to be held on this topic, will assist your governments to firmly incorporate trade priority areas of action into national development and poverty reduction strategies. This, as you know, was the original purpose of the IF namely, to assist LDCs' representations to raise the profile of trade in national plans and, in so doing, attain growth rates, which are indispensable for poverty reduction and development. The seminar will bring together LDCs, donors and agencies, both from the trade, finance and development communities, all of whom play key roles in setting a policy environment which would allow trade to foster country's economic growth and development. I will be looking forward to seeing you all at the seminar.

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Market Access for LDCs

6. Second, an update on market access for LDCs. Let me now update you on recent developments on market access improvements for LDCs. These developments follow on the consultations that I initiated, as part of the confidence-building package in January, last year.

7. I am pleased to report to you that trading partners, both developed, transition and developing, have taken steps, towards “duty-free and quota-free treatment” for LDC exports. Based on my consultations, I reported at the General Council in May last year that 27 Members have or proposed further market access opportunities to LDC exporters. Letters were subsequently sent out to invite Members to notify these opportunities.

8. Following on my letter and on-going consultations that I have had, notifications and positive announcements have since been made to enhance preferential access for LDC exports. Several members have done so. Canada, New Zealand and Norway, have notified measures taken, while Japan, EC, and the US have announced or proposed new measures that will significantly improve market access opportunities for LDCs. Let me briefly outline these for you:

- Canada, effective 1 September 2000, added a further 570 tariff lines to the list of goods from LDCs eligible for duty-free treatment. About 90 percent of all LDC imports will now receive duty-free treatment;


- New Zealand, in November 2000, notified its decision to offer duty and quota-free access to all imports from LDCs effective from 1 July 2001;

- Norway in November 2000, notified its GSP-system that accords duty-free treatment to all industrial and agricultural imports from LDCs, with the exception of flour, grains and feeding stuffs, where a preferential margin of 30 percent within indicative tariff ceilings is given;

- The European Commission is continuing to pursue its proposal for duty-free, quota-free market access for all LDCs exports (except arms). A transition period of between 6-9 years is being considered for sugar, rice and bananas.


- Japan in December 2000, announced its “99%-initiative on Industrial Tariffs”. When implemented in April 2001, the coverage of duty and quota-free treatment for LDCs industrial product exports will increase from 94 to 99 percent and will include textile and clothing exported from LDCs;

- The US, has further elaborated on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) adopted in May last year. 34 Sub-Saharan countries have been designated as beneficiaries under AGOA in October 2000, who can avail new GSP benefits for 1835 tariff lines as from December 2000.

9. While reporting these significant and positive improvements, I am mindful that further progress that can still be made over the coming months. I want you to know that I remain committed to intensifying consultations for improvements in LDCs' market access.

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Third UN Conference on LDCs

10. Finally, the third UN Conference for LDCs. This Conference is clearly of utmost importance for the international community as a whole, and certainly for LDCs in particular. The WTO is firmly committed to the success of this conference. I have established a WTO focal point to maintain daily contact with UNCTAD, the UN Secretariat for the Conference, to ensure that the WTO remains fully involved with the process, and to ensure that we contribute, as appropriate, to the success of the conference. We are also working together with other involved multilateral institutions to ensure the success of the Conference. I have designated two WTO officials to participate in the Second Prep Com to be held in New York in the first week of February, which is a critical gathering of all stakeholders to work toward common outcome for the May meeting.

11. I do need to stress, however, that we all need to pull in the same direction: all the Agencies, LDCs' beneficiaries, donors, and other stakeholders. No purpose will be served by alienating any segment. It is imperative that we are realistic in setting a pragmatic agenda with realizable goals in preparing the Global Plan for Action. At this moment, there is abundant good will in favour of LDCs. Our challenge is to ensure that we are able to seize the present opportunities, which are evident.

12. This is why I would request that you perhaps update me as to why the process of drafting the Global Plan of Action for LDCs stand, and also offer me your advise as to how the WTO could effectively contribute to the preparatory process for the LDC-III Conference, and how we can ensure the Global Plan for Action for LDCs will bring all stakeholders together. My views are well known to you.

13. Let me conclude by saying that I am firmly convinced that the only significant progress that we can make on issues such as implementation, including finding solutions to address any perceived imbalances in the rights and obligations of Members, under the WTO Agreements, including problems of a more systemic nature which confront all Members, is through a comprehensive, balanced a wider set of trade negotiations, focused on a development agenda.

14. Thank you.