World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/113

    12 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Abdul Gayoom Abdulla Yameen

Minister of Trade, Industries and Labour

    Let me at the outset congratulate the Director-General of the WTO and his staff on the occasion of this first Ministerial Meeting. I would also take this opportunity to express my delegation's deep appreciation to the Government of Singapore for the gracious hospitality accorded to us.

    Apart from the several macroeconomic challenges that need to be addressed in our countries, there are serious constraints facing LDCs in our efforts to expand trade. Access to developed country markets, total exclusion from the benefits of trading blocs, supply side constraints facing the exporters in LDCs and the lack of value addition by the exporters on their export products are the main constraints facing LDCs.

    We also find ourselves in an era where official development assistance trickles down to our countries. And while the developed countries believe that capital flows should be via foreign investments, multinational companies do not target LDCs for their outward investments. While my Government recognizes the significance of foreign capital and economic integration through foreign investments, the role of ODA in this transition cannot be underscored. We need, not only technical and financial assistance, but also assistance to develop our institutional capacity and our human resources to bridge our supply side constraints. It is due to these factors that we find ourselves marginalized further and further in the global trading regime.

    The LDCs share of world trade is less than 0.4 per cent and clearly this could not be a threat to any country. And yet our exports face market access limitations in the developed countries.

    We all agreed at Marrakesh that market access is very important for the world trading regime, and more so, for the LDCs, and yet it is a pity that the few export products we have, cannot enjoy complete market access in developed country markets.

    As you are aware my country is one of the least developed island nations. Our economy is small and our exports are few. Maldives depends on fishing and tourism for our livelihood. Any impact on these two vital sectors of our economy will have lasting damage on our country.

    We have had success in developing our tourism industry. However our export sector and the manufacturing sector have been lagging behind. Our main industrial export is canned fish. The Government has put a lot of emphasis on developing this industry and consequently invested heavily in this vital industry. However we are at the moment facing difficulty in exporting canned tuna to our major export markets. This market has established a form of a total quota system, distributing this quota among canned tuna importers in the buying market through a licensing arrangement. We fear that this mechanism might lead to a total exclusion of our exports in this market. If a single export country like ours face such constraints on our only export product, what is then in the WTO for us?

    LDC countries with export interest to the EU like my own country, are encouraged by the accommodating remarks by Sir Leon Brittan regarding fuller market access and more trade liberalization. Similar sentiments must be echoed by all other trading blocs as well, in order to enable LDCs access to their markets. Marrakesh promised total integration and trade globalization - not alienation.

    A further issue of concern to my country is the rules of origin criterion. We would like maximum flexibility of the rules.

    I urge the respective Ministers from the developed countries to take note of the unique position we are in and relax the rules of origin for the LDCs. The WTO Members should avail the provisions of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing to grant preferential duty status and to enhance market access opportunities to the LDCs.

    My Government cannot agree that trade and labour should form part of the WTO's new work programme. Taking trade measures in support of social standards would, we fear, introduce a new form of protectionism against the LDCs. We are familiar with unilateral trade sanctions invoked in the context of labour rights. Let ILO set the labour standards. With regard to the Director-General's proposal to commence a work programme on the relationship between trade and investments, we welcome the commissioning of the study provided that it is undertaken without any preconditions or obligations on WTO Members.

    As LDCs we have a role to play in the global economy as well. We have resolved to improve our macroeconomic situation. We have all agreed on the importance of foreign partners in our economic development. We have a very liberal foreign investment regime. There is no income tax or corporate tax in my country. With the political stability we have had and the consistent public policies we cherish, we offer a very conducive investment climate to the foreign investor. While we strive hard to attract foreign direct investment, we are not all equally successful in this endeavour.

    It is my earnest hope that this meeting will address the issues of the LDCs and through you and the WTO, an action plan is drawn up to speedily redress the mounting difficulties we face. If the WTO is to stay relevant and responsive to its Members, it must intervene to create greater market access opportunities to the LDCs. The Maldives delegation commends the Director-General's proposal that tariffs be bound at zero for LDCs. We call, further, for the elimination of all tariffs, non-tariffs and technical barriers to LDC exports. The developed and developing countries have a broader responsibility towards the LDC integration into the world trading regime. Let not Marrakesh be a vision that divides the WTO. Let us all share the benefits of this miracle.