World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/20

    9 December 1996



MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE        Original: English

Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by Mr. Ole Norrback

Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade

    My delegation has come from the cold and dark autumn of Finland to your wonderful tropical city of excellence. The professional way that you have organized this Conference has gained admiration of all.

    The trade agenda is expanding together with the changing world. At the same time the linkage between political, social, ecological and economic issues is becoming closer. All this has implications for the multilateral trading system which is guarded by the WTO.

    The primary objectives for the Conference should be to assure the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements and thus strengthen the functioning of the multilateral trading system. We need to ensure that all Members are fulfilling the commitments undertaken.

    Finland has experienced the benefits of rapid development of the information society. The information technology is one of the main factors that promote all kinds of international cooperation and well-being. This sector must be a high priority since it is crucial for all of us. Therefore we stress the importance of reaching an agreement on information technology in this Conference and we strongly urge Members to join in it. This would pave the way for further concrete liberalization of world trade.

    Another dimension of the information society is basic telecommunications. The ability to compete is nowadays more and more influenced by the ability of companies to communicate. We have seen this in my own country where telecommunications markets are free. Competition means lower prices and better services and is thus in the interest of consumers and businesses. Therefore, I urge Member Governments to make a clear commitment to conclude the negotiations on basic telecommunications within the set time-frame.

    Globalization of the world economy is proceeding rapidly. In order to maintain its credibility and dynamism the WTO should prove capable of addressing questions that are relevant to consumers, business and governments. This means that it must consider a range of new issues which are emerging.

    Multilateral trade calls for us to take up the issue of investments. We believe that a global regime for investment is in the interest of all WTO Members and therefore the WTO must start to work on such a multilateral arrangement.

    Another new issue is labour standards, which is a very complex and controversial one. We are all committed to enhancing core labour standards. Recognizing the primary role of the ILO, Finland strongly supports a dialogue on the issue. WTO could examine in cooperation with the ILO areas where to contribute to the promotion of labour standards. The starting point should be the understanding that trade liberalization can contribute to the improvement of labour conditions.

    It is important to find proper solutions to the questions of trade and environment. We are very disappointed that the WTO Committee did not produce a substantive conclusion for the adoption at this Conference. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that the work will continue. We must not leave destroyed nature to following generations. All of us must do our utmost in order to arrive at meaningful results without delay. The Finnish priority in the WTO work is to improve the compatibility between WTO rules and trade measures contained in the Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

    The WTO needs to produce a political vision for the future. Our goal should be a universal trading system. In this process the WTO should have a leading role. That is why the Membership of countries like Russia, the Baltic States and China is essential for the Organization. We also have to do our utmost to integrate all developing countries into the multilateral trading system. This requires concrete, positive measures especially in favour of the least developed countries. Developing countries cannot be left outside.

    Finally, let me emphasize the necessity to draw up a forward-looking work programme for the Organization. We could reap enormous benefits from such an effort and this Conference offers us an opportunity to do it.