World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/127

    12 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by The Honourable Norris Charles

Minister for Trade and Marketing

    Let me extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Government and people of Singapore for their generous hospitality and the excellent arrangements made for hosting this Conference.

    The preamble of the WTO Agreement is a fitting and constant reminder that this body must conduct its affairs with a view to raising standards of living of our peoples, and to ensuring full employment and steadily growing real income. The preamble recognizes the need for positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries, and especially the most vulnerable and least developed among them, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development.

    Various studies on the results of the Uruguay Round estimate its impact on global income and welfare in excess of $200 billion by the turn of the century. However, most of the gains will go to the developed and more developed among the developing countries, which are those countries that have the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities which are created.

    A study by the International Trade Centre concluded that some developing countries will actually experience a loss in export earnings. This, the study argues, is especially apparent for those developing countries that are dependent on only a few primary commodities for their export earnings, those that are dependent on preferential market access, and those that have not been too successful in diversifying their economic base into traditional manufactured exports and services.

    The Government of Dominica is addressing the issue of economic reform and adjustment head-on, many aspects of which are not part of the disciplines of this organization, but which undoubtedly will improve our economic efficiency and competitiveness.

    But that notwithstanding, we in Dominica and some of the other Member States of the Caribbean Community, face constraints which mitigate against our full participation in the multilateral trading system. Our experience to date has not been positive.

    It is very instructive to note that as a founding Member of the WTO, Dominica was unable to actively participate in any meaningful way in the Uruguay Round due to the lack of resources. We could not even maintain a permanent presence in Geneva at that time. Like many other developing countries, we therefore accepted a "single undertaking" negotiated by other Member States, and are now grappling with the implications of the commitments which we made.

    Dominica has so far been unable to identify any tangible benefits from the WTO Agreement. Instead, we have experienced an erosion of the preferential margins we enjoyed for our main export commodity resulting in a loss of market share and export earnings. This has been followed by a challenge brought before the Dispute Settlement Body involving a commodity in which some Eastern Caribbean States have a vital interest. Our experiences as a third party before the panel has not been without difficulty.

    The dispute settlement mechanism is a central feature in providing security and predictability to the multilateral trading system. It exists to preserve the rights and obligations of all members under the various agreements. The present system for dispute settlement, however, has proven to be unfavourable in respect of the participation of small and institutionally weak contracting parties. We lack the in-house expertise to handle all of the technical legalities of a panel. We are also denied the right to have legal consultant advisers present at panel hearings, notwithstanding their proper accreditation. This serves to highlight the risk of marginalization of small developing countries in the multilateral system.

    Dominica is among the smallest of the WTO Members. As a small, structurally weak and vulnerable economy, we lack the financial and human resources, and the institutional capacity necessary to fully comply with out commitments, to compete in the global economy, and to benefit from the trade opportunities which may be created.

    The WTO recognizes the special circumstances of the least developed countries, and rightly so. We fully endorse the plan of action for the least developed countries. But, small structurally weak and vulnerable States also face constraints which are similar in many respects to those of the least developed countries, and which require formal recognition and special attention by the WTO. These constraints have resulted in our marginalization in the multilateral trade process.

    Due to lack of adequate institution capacity, many of the small developing countries will not be able to participate in the "educating process", the working groups, and the special committees which are being called for to look at the new issues. The introduction of new issues, at a time when developing countries have difficulties coping with the demands of existing agreements, including those under the built-in agenda, will impose further burdens on us.

    The WTO must focus more attention on measures aimed at integrating into the global economy those countries that are marginalized, before we can take on the added responsibilities of the new issues. There is need for greater focus on providing hands-on technical assistance that will facilitate developing countries to participate meaningfully and to develop the capacity to compete effectively in the world trading system. The WTO and UNCTAD must work together in this regard.

    Dominica recognizes that the vulnerability of small island developing States cannot be given as a reason for complacency by our people, or for a lack of dynamism in economic policy. On the contrary, this places a special responsibility on government, the private sector and the social partners in collaboration with the international community to institute measures under a phased programme aimed at enhancing our ability to compete internationally and to meet our WTO obligations.

    On behalf of the Government and people of the Commonwealth of Dominica, my delegation extends courtesies to the Government and people of Singapore, the Director-General and staff of the World Trade Organization.