World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/125

    12 December 1996



    Original: French


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Frédérk Nzabampema

Minister for Trade, Industry and Tourism

    On behalf of the Burundi delegation and myself, allow me the pleasure of expressing our deep gratitude to the Government and people of Singapore for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to us since we arrived in this beautiful country.

    Allow me also to congratulate the Government of Singapore and the Secretariat of the World Trade Organization on the excellent arrangements made for this Conference.

    We do not doubt that the splendid setting of the Republic of Singapore, with its economic dynamism, will not fail to inspire a successful outcome to our work at this First Ministerial Conference.

    The Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization is one of the greatest agreements on multilateral cooperation of the close of the twentieth century. Its implementation will lead to substantial growth in international trade, will generate new income and will create new jobs.

    However, this optimistic assessment must be tempered by the differing economic features of WTO Members. Developing Members, and above all least developed country Members, will not benefit greatly from the WTO Agreement.

    Three factors are behind the disadvantaged situation of the least developed countries.

    First of all, doubts cast at the end of the Uruguay Round are beginning to materialize in the form of erosion of export trade preferences, higher prices for food and other essential imports and the costs of implementing the WTO Agreement.

    It is also becoming increasingly clear that, despite improved and expanded market access and special and differential treatment, some developing countries, especially the least developed, will experience difficulty in deriving full benefit from the WTO Agreement because follow-up action was not taken to increase their production and export capacity.

    In this regard, concerted action on the part of development partners should be taken to increase official development assistance; to substantially reduce the crushing burden of the debt stock and debt servicing of the least developed countries and to encourage a major flow of foreign investment to these countries. As to foreign investment, we are particularly convinced of the very positive role that it plays in a country's economic development and, in Burundi, we are making every effort to turn foreign direct investment into a reality.

    In the life of the WTO Agreement, we have noted a number of practices which have prevented some WTO Members from participating fully in the Uruguay Round Agreements. In this regard, two practices come to mind. First, concrete measures for full and prompt application of special and differential treatment have not yet emerged. We are referring in particular to the technical assistance promised for the implementation of obligations under the Uruguay Round Agreements, to the adoption of follow-up action on market access for export products from the least developed countries, and so on.

    Second, decisions contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Uruguay Round Agreements have been taken regarding my own country by neighbouring countries which are also WTO Members. These decisions have prevented Burundi from turning the advantages granted by its partners to good account.

    Burundi, which I have the honour and pleasure to represent, is currently experiencing unfair and illegal treatment under the terms of the Uruguay Round Agreements.

    Indeed, following the wilful failure of the then political leaders to guarantee peace and security for all citizens and foreigners living in Burundi and their losing the confidence of the political parties and civil society which had placed them in office through a Government Convention, on the basis of the denunciation of that Convention by almost all its signatories and in the absence of a constitutional mechanism allowing for the replacement of the Head of State and Government, it was decided on 25 July 1996 to change the regime and bring to power Mr. Pierre Buyoya, a man well known for having reconciled the Burundian people and reintroduced democracy to Burundi in 1991.

    The people had given the new Government a mandate to re-establish peace and security, in the shortest possible time, and quickly install a democratic system adapted to Burundi. In the interim, the political parties and Parliament, having become inoperative, had been suspended at the request of the people who held them responsible for their misfortunes.

    After the changeover which was in reality a rescue operation for the Burundian nation, and under the pretext that the new Government was attempting to overthrow democracy, the Heads of States and Governments of the Great Lakes Region met on 31 July 1996 at Arusha in Tanzania and decided on a total blockade of Burundi. Since that date, all routes of entry and exit, by land, water, rail and air, have been closed. You can well imagine that the devastating consequences such measures have had on all the people of Burundi, one of the least developed and most land-locked countries, and especially the underprivileged and the groups affected by war.

    The neighbouring countries have imposed three conditions for lifting the blockade: the renewal of authorization for the political parties to function, the re-installation of Parliament and the opening of negotiations with the armed groups. Despite the opposition of the entire population, these conditions were met by the Burundi Government, but the blockade remains in force.

    After analysing the situation with which it is faced, the Government of the Republic of Burundi is convinced that the blockade is nullifying all domestic political efforts aimed at restoring peace and is plainly violating all international agreements, particularly the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO.

    The blockade is preventing a return to peace in Burundi because it represents thinly disguised support for the groups responsible for the genocide between October and November 1993 and the killings which continue even to this day.

    These groups are an offshoot of those recognized as responsible for genocide in the report by an international commission of inquiry established by the United Nations, which was published by the UN Security Council in August 1996.

    The blockade violates the Uruguay Round Agreements in so far as some Member States of the WTO are no longer recognizing the freedom of transit and trade of another Member State.

    In imposing the blockade against Burundi, a WTO Member, the neighbouring countries, which are also WTO Members, are guilty of violating Articles I, V, XI and XIII of GATT 1994 and the relevant Articles of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

    The countries perpetrating these violations cannot claim to be availing themselves of the provisions of Articles XX and XXI of GATT 1994 or Articles XIV and XIV(b) of GATS because the change of government in Burundi was purely an internal affair and affects neither the security of the transit countries nor that of Burundi's other trading partners.

    In fact, the change of government stopped the flood of refugees towards neighbouring countries and at the same time gave the refugees hope of returning to their native country.

    Finally, it must be asked how Burundi's commercial freight could affect the security of the transit countries.

    The blockade imposed against Burundi is a negation of the multilateral trading system under the Uruguay Round Agreements because it systematically violates the rules of international trade and prevents a Member country of the WTO from achieving the objectives of these Agreements, namely, the growth of trade, income and jobs and, ultimately, the social well-being of the Burundian people.

    It also sets a dangerous precedent with regard to achieving a better future for the trading nations, particularly the least developed and land-locked countries.

    This is why Burundi asks all WTO Members to demand that the Members bordering Burundi respect their commitments under the WTO Agreements with regard to freedom of transit and freedom of trade, in particular, and to condemn the blockade against Burundi as a practice which contravenes the rules and disciplines of the international trading system negotiated in the Uruguay Round.

    The international community, in general, and WTO Members, in particular, should not stand with arms folded while unemployment, famine, disease and death are plaguing the more than six million inhabitants of Burundi, as a result of the unfair and illegal blockade imposed against it by neighbouring States.

    The Government of the Republic of Burundi thanks the countries which have already demanded the immediate lifting of the blockade, particularly those which participated in the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Central African Countries, held at Brazzaville, Congo, from 2-3 December 1996 and those which participated in the last France/Africa Summit held from 4-6 December 1996 at Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, and in other forums.

    The remaining WTO Member countries should not remain in the background, and this Conference provides an excellent opportunity for taking action.

    We appeal to our neighbours who have imposed the blockade to lift the embargo, without delay, in the interests of our respective peoples.

    Turning to other issues, any consensus on the question of labour standards should take into account the following points: recognition of the importance of protecting and promoting labour standards; recognition of the competence of the International Labour Organization in this area and a commitment to refrain from resorting to protectionist measures in applying labour standards.

    Since UNCTAD has already been given a mandate to study trade and investment, we do not consider it appropriate to transfer or duplicate the work by requesting the WTO to do the same.

    However, within the framework of the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures, it would be reasonable for the WTO to carry out studies in this area, without encroaching on the UNCTAD mandate.

    Trade and environment is a crucial issue, but its pertinence should not in any way constitute a pretext for erecting non-tariff barriers to exports, particularly those originating in the developing countries.