World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/128

    12 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by the Honourable Hidipo Hamutenya

Minister of Trade and Industry

I would like, first of all, to express, sincere gratitude to the Government and people of Singapore for their generous hospitality and excellent facilities that they have made available to ensure a smooth running of this historic Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

    Secondly, I would like to commend our Chairman for the able and business-like manner in which the Conference is being conducted.

    There is no doubt that without the great skill and considerable patience that our Chairman has demonstrated, we would not have achieved the kind of headway that we have made over the last three days in building confidence among ourselves and that the differences, which have arisen, are not unbridgeable.

    Namibia attaches great importance to this first Ministerial Conference because it has provided us with a good opportunity, since the Marrakesh Meeting, to review progress made in the effort to consolidate the WTO's position as the key international body overseeing and promoting world trade. The Conference has, in other words, brought us together to assess the extent to which the Organization's birth pangs have been stilled and the vision of a truly multilateral trading system maintained.

    In this regard, we have noted, with satisfaction, that the Director-General and his team of officials have continued, over the last two years, to chart the course of the WTO forward by sustaining the trade liberalization momentum, and there is evidence that tariffs on industrial products are coming down in some of the rich countries. As a result, world trade is beginning to boom, having grown by 8 per cent in volume terms last year. Another cause for celebration has been the speedy institutionalization of the WTO mechanisms for the settling of trade disputes. We have learned, in this connection, that more than 60 cases have been brought before the dispute resolution panels, and that about a quarter of this number of cases has been settled. All this is very encouraging, indeed.

    While noting with appreciation the progress being recorded, we remain mindful of the "unfinished business" of the Uruguay Round that awaits to be completed.

    We must take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment and readiness to move forward with reduction of trade restrictions which still stifle international commerce in agriculture, services and movement of natural persons. Thus far, we have made progress in liberalizing trade in industrial products. Yet, most of the economies of the developing countries are still locked in, and continue to depend heavily on the exportation of primary agricultural commodities. Therefore, unless there is progress in the efforts to further liberalize trade in agricultural products, the liberalization of trade within the WTO framework will have minimal effects on the economies of the developing countries.

    Failing to do this in the short and medium terms, the twin process of liberalization and globalization of the world economy will result in further marginalization of the less-developed countries, the majority of which are in Africa. These countries need to secure a fair share of international trade.

    We wish to associate ourselves with the sentiments expressed by many delegations that we should concentrate our efforts on the implementation of the commitments made at Marrakesh; and that the broadening of the WTO agenda, at this point in time, to include what are clearly contentious "new issues" would be inappropriate as it will further aggravate the burden and difficulties we are already experiencing in meeting our obligations as provided for by the various agreements. In this regard, it is important that the WTO focuses its attention primarily on the implementation of the Multilateral Agreements as well as on giving new impetus to the built-in agenda to which we have already committed ourselves at Marrakesh. We should try to reach finality on those unfinished business.

    As regards the so-called new issues, our views, as reflected in the joint SADC statement, remain the same. We are aware of the importance of these issues. Similarly, we do recognize the serious implications some of these issues may have on our society, both socially and economically. But we are convinced these should be left to the relevant agencies to handle.

    We believe that matters relating to investment and competition policy are very complex and do require further study primarily by UNCTAD in consultations with relevant international agencies.

    Equally, we value the rights of our workers and are committed to the observance of labour standards as a signatory to the ILO Conventions. However, the Namibian delegation, like many other delegations who spoke earlier, holds the same view that the appropriate forum to deal with this matter is the ILO. In our country there is a clear division of labour regarding the trade and labour issues. The Ministry of Trade and Industry deals with trade matters while the Ministry of Labour deals with labour matters. The latter Ministry has the necessary expertise and the institutional mechanism to deal with labour issues.

    Despite the different positions expressed by Member countries, I am confident that we will be able to reach a solution in the interest of the multilateral trading system that we have established to oversee and promote world trade.

    Let me conclude by reaffirming my Government's firm commitment to the objectives of the WTO.

    I hope that the outcome of our deliberations will give a new impetus to the future work of the WTO.