WTO Public Forum 2007
“How can the WTO help harness globalization?”

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the WTO's 7th Annual Public Forum, this time on “How the WTO can Help Harness Globalization?” This year's title, ladies and gentlemen, is a question that the WTO puts to you, to get your thoughts and your views. If we are opening our doors to the public today it is because WTO Members wish to tap into a wider pool of ideas — into fresh ideas — on how the WTO can best contribute to shaping the forces of globalization.

But allow me to first introduce our distinguished set of opening panellists to you. First, is Her Excellency Ms. Tarja Halonen, the President of the Republic of Finland. Second, is Her Excellency Ms. Olubanke King-Akerele, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia. And, third, is Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in the National University of Singapore.

On behalf of all WTO Members, and on behalf of this audience at large, allow me to welcome you to the WTO, and to thank you for having accepted our invitation.

The WTO first launched the idea of a Public Forum back in 2001 when it had opened its doors to the public for a dialogue on the issues confronting the world trading system. The first Public Forum was attended by 400 participants. At the time, we thought this was a record number. Today, I am proud to announce that 1750 participants from across the globe have registered for this Forum — in and of itself an indicator of the extent of globalization!

This number testifies to the relevance of the WTO to the wider world, and it is precisely for this reason that the WTO must continue to consult that wider world on how best it can meet its needs and aspirations. Registered today are various types of non-governmental organizations — from environmental, to human rights, to labour rights groups; numerous parliamentarians; various academic institutions; members of the business community; journalists; lawyers; representatives of other international organizations; and students. It is precisely this very broad spectrum of society that the WTO was hoping to tap into. So thank you all for coming in such record numbers, and thank you for helping us make this year's event successful.

This year's forum was organized through a “bottom-up” or even what I may call a “grass-roots” process. In other words, WTO Members did not dictate the topics or themes that they wished to discuss with civil society, but rather have decided to let civil society itself express its priorities by organizing its sessions and workshops. Having tried this approach in a number of our past Fora now, WTO Members have found that it is precisely this type of approach that allows them to gage societal priorities on trade, and trade-related issues. And, as you can see in the program before you, this bottom-up approach has indeed led to very rich and broad array of issues to be debated over the course of our two days together.

Very broadly, we have classified the topics that civil society has proposed into four areas: global governance; coherence between the national and international levels of policy-making and between different multilateral institutions; economic growth and the role of trade as a vehicle for development; and, finally, sustainable development.

What the WTO did not anticipate when it chose this particular model for the organization of its Fora, is a comment that I have now heard from several members of civil society. In having had to organize your own sessions in the WTO Public Fora, the annual forum has turned into a platform for the forging of new alliances amongst different actors on issues of priority concern. Civil society has realized that power can sometimes lie in numbers, and in a pooling of intellectual and other resources. This can be witnessed in today's program, through the large number of “joint” events that you have chosen to organize. I am pleased that you are indeed joining hands to better influence the work of the WTO.

Let me be clear — the WTO is looking for your contribution, it needs you to help shape its agenda.

But is this happening? Is our Public Forum just a public relations exercise? is it a talk-shop? Or is it a clever, subtle way of trying to make a reticent civil society buy into our core business which is trade opening? In short, has civil society ever influenced the WTO agenda?

The answer is yes. There are indeed numerous occasions where this has happened.

First is the issue of intellectual property rights and the access to medicines. Thanks in large part to the light which civil society drew to this issue, in August 2003 the WTO reached an agreement on the use of compulsory licenses by developing countries without manufacturing capacity, in order to help them access life-sustaining medicines. This agreement was incorporated as an amendment to the WTO TRIPS Agreement on the eve the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December 2005. The issue of access to affordable medicines is, needless to say, one of great concern to many developing countries whose health care systems are often overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Some developing countries had viewed the TRIPS Agreement as an impediment to their efforts to combat public health emergencies. They viewed the Agreement as restricting drug availability. In the developed world, on the other hand, pharmaceutical industries viewed the TRIPS Agreement as essential to encouraging innovation by ensuring adequate international compensation to the pharmaceutical sector for its research, development and creativity. In the absence of such compensation, the industry had explained, it could not recoup the high costs of developing new life-saving drugs. The Decision that WTO Members ultimately took to amend the TRIPS Agreement represented an important compromise, allowing developing countries to access key medicines in national emergencies more easily, but without undermining the property rights regime. For the developing world, the issue of compulsory licenses was an important test as to whether the WTO could meet their developmental needs. Due the relentless efforts of civil society — of numerous NGOs — the WTO has certainly lived up to that test.

But things are changing in the WTO once again as we speak, thanks to the efforts of civil society. I am referring to the Doha Round negotiations on fisheries subsidies. For the longest time, many viewed the WTO architecture on subsidies as static, as not capable of change. But civil society soon came to knock on our doors, drawing our attention to the perilous state of much of the world's fish stock. Its message was clear, the WTO has a vital role to play in protecting the world's fish stock, in saving it from depletion.

The numbers that think tanks and NGOs put on the table left no room for ambiguity. They required no further explanation. An annual $14-20 billion of fisheries subsidies worldwide has been one of the causes of fish stock depletion, encouraging “too many fishermen to chase after too few fish” as saying now goes. Worldwide, the global fishing fleet, which includes 25,000 large decked-ships and well over 2 million smaller commercial craft, pulls 80 million tons of fish or more from the oceans, or four times the 1950 total! The story was alarming and the WTO Membership once again rose to the challenge.

Today, negotiations on fisheries subsidies in the WTO are in full swing and they are being taken extremely seriously. The Membership realizes the magnitude of what is stake were these negotiations to fail. And just in case it would forget, you have placed banners all over Geneva to remind us all of the need to reach an agreement! But civil society, in this particular case, did not stop at awareness raising, it came forward with technical suggestions on how the WTO could craft new disciplines; and in so doing has certainly made a real contribution. In fact, to a number of civil society actors this particular experience served to demonstrate how close collaboration with WTO Members can sometimes be vital to achieving their goals.

There many other stories which I could cite; the successes certainly do not end here. You are all too familiar of course, with the environmental chapter of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. The fact that the nexus between trade and the environment, which had been debated for many years in both GATT and WTO, was finally elevated to a “negotiating” stage is also in large part due to civil society. It is vital that the interest that civil society had shown in this area of WTO work now be sustained. This is the first time in the history of the multilateral trading system that an environmental negotiation has been launched. WTO Members must succeed in these negotiations, so that governments are encouraged to address even bigger challenges in future.

Part of the aim of these negotiations is to help open markets to clean technology — whether in terms of the “goods” or “services” that it entails. That is a very legitimate aim, particularly in light of the enormous threat of climate change that we all face. In fact, I was struck by the fact that four different sessions on climate change have been organized during the course of this Forum. This shows how high on the minds of civil society, WTO Members, and the WTO Secretariat, this issue has now risen. Ms President, I read with great interest the speech that you delivered to the United Nations General Assembly just recently, and in which you highlighted Finland's commitment to sustainable development, and stated that one third of Finland's exports consist of environmentally friendly technologies. These technologies must now be allowed to cross borders, they must be made more accessible to the poor. We should not be penalizing environmental goods through tariffs, quite to the contrary we should be promoting them. And the same goes for environmental services. If there is anything that we should punish, it should be the environmental bads!

In the ongoing agriculture negotiations, there are numerous issues on which civil society has also worked hard to bring forward, such as “food aid,” and which again must now be carried through. These negotiations tread a fine line, and must strike a delicate balance. While food aid must not be allowed to act as a disguised subsidy to agricultural exports, and while the food aid of one country must not be allowed to displace the exports of another country, food aid must continue to be available to those who need it. We must succeed in responding to humanitarian concerns. I urge civil society to help us strike the right balance in this negotiation, and to keep it on its radar screen.

Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see from the issues that I have just raised, there is much at stake for the world in the Doha Round of trade negotiations. Fisheries subsidies, environmental goods and services, and food aid, are but a few of the issues on which we can make substantial welfare gains through these negotiations. But there are many others too. In fact, key to the Doha Round when it was launched — and let me go back to its original name, the Doha “Development” Agenda — was the rebalancing of the rules of the multilateral trading system in favour of the world's poor.

It is no surprise, therefore, that agriculture, an economic sector of great importance to some of the world's poorest nations, has been placed at the forefront of the negotiations. The negotiations also aim to address the concerns of the developing world in many other areas, such as the removal of tariff peaks of some of their key industrial exports, like textiles. Not to mention the many other areas of the negotiation from which the developing world stands to gain, such as the opening of trade in services, which today represent over two thirds of our economy; or trade facilitation, in other words the cutting of the bureaucratic “red tape” impediments to trade.

You are coming to the WTO at a crucial moment, just as our Members have entered a period of intense negotiations, and just as we start to see some light at the end of the agricultural and industrial goods negotiations. And as positions converge on these key subjects, the pace of work is also accelerating on the rest of the Doha agenda. I hope that we will soon be able to see the negotiating train reach its ultimate destination.

A final point, as the negotiations progress, so does our parallel agenda on Aid-for-Trade package that would allow developing countries to translate “stated gains” into commercial reality, by boosting their supply-side capacity.

I urge everyone in these two days to give serious consideration to the magnitude of the “package” that is now on the WTO's negotiating table. A package that would strengthen the WTO, enabling it to welcome additional developing country Members, such as Liberia, into its fold. I look forward to your views and your active engagement in these two days.

Thank you for your attention.

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