World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/104
12 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
Speaking on behalf of Honduras at this First Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, I would like to express my gratitude to the people and Government of Singapore for the cordial and warm welcome they have extended to our delegation and to congratulate them on their excellent organization of this event.
The Government of Honduras, which I have the honour to represent, is pleased to be able to participate in this First WTO Ministerial Conference, whose main objective is to assess the implementation of the commitments we made at the Marrakesh Ministerial Conference Establishing the WTO and to review ongoing negotiations as well as the Organization's work programme.
While negotiations are continuing on various issues, the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations has achieved historic results, and significant progress has been made. However, the time has come to review the scope and effects of some of the Agreements, and above all to stress the need for scrupulous compliance with and implementation of those Agreements by the Member States.
Since 1960 Honduras has been committed to the process of Central American economic integration which, in its early days, provided an example to the world of how small countries could benefit from an expanded market and achieve higher levels of well-being for their populations. The process of regional integration has steadily advanced, and my country remains committed to strengthening the process and its resulting institutions.
As we progressed with these regional schemes, and as we improved our trade relations with third countries, we opted for a model which, far from promoting protectionism, is geared towards economic liberalization in accordance with WTO rules and disciplines, thereby strengthening the multilateral trading system.
When Honduras acceded to the GATT in 1994, it took on a series of commitments and obligations which led, inter alia, to the binding of a tariff universe and the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers. Our objective was to join our trading partners in opening up and liberalizing markets, in the hope of achieving a higher level of development and boosting the economic and social well-being for our people.
Today, as Members of the WTO, we are making a tremendous effort and sacrifice at the domestic level to adapt our economy with a view to fulfilling our commitments in application of the WTO Agreements. This should not be an isolated effort, and we urge the developed countries to cooperate in providing trade opportunities aimed at allowing the developing countries with small economies, such as Honduras, to gain improved market access for those products which are of major importance to their economic development.
I would now like to refer specifically to the following topics:
(a) Agreement on Agriculture
With regard to trade in agricultural products, we note with concern that this sector has not been completely integrated into the multilateral trading system, and that sanitary restrictions and technical barriers to trade continue to be applied. Markets are still closed to new suppliers, and export subsidies have been maintained in most of the developed countries.
(b) Agreement on Textiles and Clothing
My Government is concerned at the failure to adhere strictly to either the spirit or the letter of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing. Honduras believes that the Agreement calls for a gradual liberalization of trade in textile products leading to the eventual elimination of quotas imposed under the Multifibre Arrangement. If the integration of textile products is to be commercially significant, it must include restricted products which are of greater interest to our country.
During the two years since the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing came into force, Honduras has been on the list of countries whose products are restricted. Our understanding is that the purpose of the Agreement is to liberalize trade and that safeguards should be applied sparingly. In our view, the imposition of additional quotas is incompatible with that liberalizing spirit, and hinders the ultimate integration of textile products.
The record shows that safeguards have not been applied sparingly. In 1995, there were more than 25 requests for consultations. It was subsequently shown that many of these requests could not be justified under the Agreement, and although some requests were withdrawn, these actions created considerable uncertainty as to prospects for the export of textile products.
Nor has my country's experience with the Textiles Monitoring Board been entirely satisfactory. Indeed, we urge that body to conduct its activities on the basis of impartiality and transparency.
Another area of concern for Honduras is the change in the rules of origin which threatens to reduce access for our exports and undermine our trade advantages, thereby creating uncertainty, reducing investment prospects and increasing the burden of customs formalities.
(c) Dispute settlement
The establishment of a Dispute Settlement Body is an achievement with which we should all be satisfied. Compliance with and application of the recommendations of the panels is a commitment that we should all assume. We are pleased to note that it is to this mechanism that most WTO Members resort for the settlement of their disputes, rather than applying unilateral measures which serve only to weaken the Organization.
While Honduras, like all WTO Members, is aware of the need to protect the environment, it is concerned that the relationship between trade and environment might be used to justify the application of additional protectionist measures.
(e) Trade and investment
Although there is already a built-in agenda in the WTO Agreements that demand a tremendous amount of work and additional effort on the part of my country, we would like to take this opportunity to express our support for the initiative calling for an examination and analysis of the relationship between trade and investment, provided the results do not jeopardize the negotiating process.
(f) Competition policy
With regard to competition policy, we support the establishment of a group of experts to conduct a study aimed at defining the relationship between competition policy and trade within the framework of the WTO.
(g) Information technology
In the area of information technology, we support the initiative to prepare the way for the discussion of a Multilateral Agreement on Information Technology, provided that timetables for tariff elimination are considered and most WTO Members participate.
(h) Labour standards
Honduras is a country which respects human rights and the rights of workers, and we join the other countries which have stated that the ILO should be the only body authorized to deal with social and labour issues. We believe that the tripartite structure of the ILO offers the best solution for dealing with such issues and that they should not be discussed within the WTO, since they could be used as a pretext for introducing protectionist trade measures against countries which enjoy comparative advantages.
In conclusion, the results of this Ministerial Conference should show due regard for the principles which gave birth to the Organization, according to which its fundamental objectives are, inter alia, to "raise standards of living, to ensure full employment and a growing volume of real income" in the participating countries.