World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/13

    9 December 1996




Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by Mr. Günter Rexrodt

Federal Minister of Economics

    The first WTO Ministerial Conference is a historical event. We should all combine our efforts to make it a significant step in strengthening the multilateral system. Singapore, which is a hub for world trade flows, will inject the right spirit for our forthcoming deliberations. I would like to thank Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his Government for organizing this conference.

    It is the responsibility of all participants to make this Conference a success. Having said that, let me underline that the major trading partners, in particular, the European Union, the United States and our Asian partners, have an added responsibility to promote stability and growth in the world trading system.

    Germany, as a leading trading nation, accepts this responsibility and is firmly committed to achieving significant progress in this Conference.

    Concrete decisions for further liberalization should be put on top of our agenda. I would like to be clear on Germany's priorities:

    First: The successful conclusion of the negotiations on the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) has high priority.

    Our commitment to eliminate tariffs on ITA products by the year 2000 at the latest would send a concrete signal of liberalization from Singapore around the world.

    Second: Germany has a keen interest in the acceleration of the ten-year schedule for the already agreed reduction of industrial tariffs.

    I invite the world trading partners to join in multilateral efforts on this subject.

    Third: Germany strongly endorses the Action Plan of the WTO in favour of the least developed countries (LDCs).

    In a concerted action, all industrialized nations, as well as the emerging economies, should grant the least developed countries total free access to their markets.

    Fourth: In textiles and clothing, the balance of mutual obligations agreed upon in the Uruguay Round has to be maintained. This should not prevent the developed countries, however, from striving for more concessions and faster integration provided the concerned exporters offer significant market opening steps in return.

    Fifth: In services, we are committed to a successful conclusion by February of next year of the ongoing negotiations to liberalize basic telecommunications.

    Both the European Union and the United States have improved their liberalization offers.

    Now all countries are called upon to contribute to a successful outcome.

    Another decisive step in services will be to conclude a comprehensive agreement on financial services by the end of 1997 in order to replace the expiring interim agreement.

    All major players should participate on a most-favoured-nation basis.

    This first WTO Conference should also set the course for the grand design of the multilateral system in the next millennium. The most important issues are: investment; competition; environment; and labour standards. Let me make a few remarks on these issues.

    Trade and Investment will be one of the core issues in the ever deepening integration of the world economy.

    We strongly support the idea that the WTO should:

    -    Take up the complex question of the interdependence between trade and investment;

    -    and consider developing a multilateral legal framework for better protection and market presence for investors.

    Free investment flows increasingly require a careful look at trade and competition rules.

    Multilateral trade and competition rules should be developed:

    -    To prevent distortions of competition in the private sector; and

    -    to eliminate impediments to worldwide market access.

    In our globalizing world, responsibility for the environment and sustainable development is also a challenge for trade policy makers. We must define rules which help to enforce multilateral environmental agreements but do not lead to hidden protectionism.

    I come now to a highly sensitive political issue.

    Social issues deal with the political order of nations and with their societal values as a whole. Such fundamentally complex concepts cannot be dealt with by trade policy measures which are precisely defined in a legal sense but limited in scope. We must not bring into the WTO a confrontation about cultural and social values. This would destroy the credibility of the system including the highly valuable dispute settlement instrument. The dispute settlement instrument has to be applied to real trade disputes and not to foreign or social policy issues.

    No doubt - infringements on fundamental human and workers' rights are intolerable and have to be addressed in all relevant fora, primarily by the International Labour Organization.

    We are willing to support a concrete dialogue between WTO and ILO for further clarification of the relative responsibilities of the organizations.

    Some basic principles have to be observed:

    -    We must ensure that social issues are not used as a pretext for protectionist measures;

    -    we, the industrialized countries, have to accept the competitive advantage of less developed low wage countries;

    -    we have to recognize that further liberalization leads to more prosperity in developing countries which, in turn, facilitates the compliance with labour standards.

    The draft Ministerial Declaration strikes a good balance between the difference views on this sensitive issue.

    Before concluding my remarks I would like to stress that the WTO has to evolve into a truly universal organization.

    It is therefore, in our common interest that all applying countries become WTO Members, but we expect them to accept the rules of the multilateral trading system. New membership must strengthen the WTO, not weaken it.

    Let me, Mr. Chairman, pay tribute to your excellent preparation of our negotiations and your skilful conduct of our affairs in WTO which provides invaluable services for all Members.

    In a cooperative spirit we can pave the way for the next round of WTO negotiations at the turn of the century which is closer at hand than some may think.