World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/24

    9 December 1996



    Original: Spanish


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by Mr. Luis Manuel Bonetti

Minister of Industry and Commerce

    The holding of this first Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Singapore gives the Dominican Government an opportunity to say how keenly it admires Singapore's success in devising an outward-looking development model, and I would like to congratulate the Government and all the people of Singapore for the example you have set in organizing this first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in such an excellent fashion.

    The occasion is a fitting one on which to reiterate our unwavering adherence to the standards and principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the firm resolve of the Government of the Dominican Republic to honour the commitments it assumed when it ratified the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization.

    The Dominican Republic, a founder Member of the GATT, was quick to accept the principle of multilateralism, whose disciplines are necessary if the impressive expansion of international trade, driven by the phenomenon of globalization, is not to be detrimental to human development and justice in economic relations between countries at different stages of development.

    We are, however, concerned that major farming and manufacturing sectors, in which a significant proportion of our people still work, are being left behind. We must therefore act decisively to make the structural changes needed to enable us to adapt to the process of globalization, while at the same time minimizing the impact of the inevitable social upheavals which will follow in their wake. In this connection, our Government hopes for a successful conclusion to the technical rectification process that was submitted to the WTO.

    The social cost of these reforms is being increased by the negative effect of the distortions of free trade which still persist in international markets. These can be traced to those developed countries which, despite calling for open markets, are slow to implement their own commitments, and demolish remaining protectionist barriers.

    My country continues to hope that the WTO will serve as an instrument to assist in eliminating these distortions, in keeping with the spirit of balance between rights and duties which it was intended to incorporate in the Marrakesh Agreement.

    Nevertheless, in a world where farming subsidies persist, where new restrictions are being imposed on the trade in textiles, where trade barriers are being maintained in the services sectors to which our countries need to gain access, in view of their actual or potential competitive advantages, and where unilateral trade sanctions and extraterritorial measures are still being imposed, it is absolutely essential to ensure the effective functioning of the WTO.

    It was the hope for an effective WTO that prompted our Government to arrange for the most scrupulous fulfilment of its obligations, in a programme inspired by President Fernández, who, as he announced in his inaugural speech, sees the preparation of our country for globalization as one of his main priorities.

    Furthermore, with a view to creating an institutional base to facilitate trade, the Dominican authorities are working on a foreign trade regime which centralizes trade policy management and, at the same time, eliminates the non-tariff barriers created by past laws.

    In textiles, four measures which were incompatible with the Uruguay Round Agreement on Textiles and Clothing have been repealed.

    With regard to customs valuation, the reforms in progress have led to the complete computerization of customs procedures, thus dramatically reducing the margin of discretion and increasing efficiency, with the result that the average time for customs clearance is now 48 hours. There is also a bill before the National Congress, stemming from the debate between the sectors concerned with customs procedures, to promote the reform and strengthening of the customs. Given the assistance of UNDP and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) in implementing these reforms, it will be possible to fully eliminate minimum import prices within the transition period.

    In intellectual property, a bill has been drawn up based on the model Law of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which, thanks to the collaboration of UNCTAD, strictly follows the provisions of the Uruguay Round TRIPS Agreement.

    However, these efforts have not been matched by achievements of equivalent importance for our country and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean during the first two years of the WTO's existence.

    In agriculture, the real increase in farm subsidies of 2.5 per cent noted in the last report of the OECD is a matter of great concern. This is not the result expected almost half-way through the transition period granted to the developed countries. Moreover, there are still restrictions on Dominican farm exports to our traditional markets. The delay in implementing the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries is equally surprising.

    Similarly, it seems regrettable that the United States is imposing new quotas on textile imports, invoking its right to introduce transitional safeguards, even as the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing is being implemented.

    As regards trade in services, the results of the Uruguay Round and subsequent negotiations have not produced increased participation by developing countries. Evidence of this is the unsatisfactory outcome of the negotiations on the movement of natural persons and on shipping.

    Furthermore, there has been an almost total absence of efforts to bring about the transfer of technology and facilitate access to information networks, reflecting a failure to implement Article IV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and a consequent serious imbalance between the rights and duties contained in that Agreement.

    Evenhandedness should also prevail in connection with the examination of the proposals to shorten the transitional periods for implementing the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the Customs Valuation Agreement. If an equivalent commitment can be obtained on agriculture and textiles, consideration could be given to their modification.

    That is why the WTO needs to emphasize its watchdog role. The notification system is undoubtedly an important tool in this regard. The Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB) could also perhaps play a part, if it succeeds in developing its own investigative capacity, in order to carry out its mandate to evaluate the systemic coherence between Members' trade and other economic policies.

    For the sake of the transparency required for greater vigilance, we support the commencement, with the minimum of delay, of information sharing, as requested by several delegations, with a view to preparing properly for a resumption of the negotiations on agriculture and services in the year 2000.

    Likewise, within the WTO, we need to begin discussing two subjects of vital concern to the Dominican Republic, at a time when there is a pressing need to strengthen multilateral disciplines and eliminate the distortions which are hampering the effective functioning of the market for developing countries.

    There is thus an urgent need to set up two working groups in the WTO, one on trade and investment and the other on trade and competition.

    For the Dominican Republic, foreign investment has had a crucial role in export diversification. The possible establishment of a multilateral framework for investment would nevertheless call for serious discussion of various aspects in an open-ended working group reflecting the universal character of the WTO, and a clear definition of the relationship between trade and investment, its impact on economic development and the instruments that could be used to promote and protect foreign investment.

    Furthermore, it will be essential to supplement multilateral disciplines with arrangements to guarantee an atmosphere favourable to competition in all markets, so as to counter restrictive business practices. A working group on competition therefore needs to be created, also with open membership, as a natural complement to the WTO's agenda.

    Creating these working groups would be consistent with the negotiation of an agreement for the liberalization of information technology, and we would therefore like to place on record our wish to see them dealt with together.

    We would like to repeat what we have already said on a number of occasions, namely that we consider that the competent forum for dealing with matters concerned with workers' rights is the International Labour Organization (ILO). Without denying the importance of the rights of workers and their claims to social benefits, we see no point in linking workers' rights with the defence of commercial interests.

    I have tried to demonstrate to the world the Dominican Republic's commitment to global trade free of distortions, within which dislocations can be held to a minimum and our peoples are not marginalized.

    This is the path that our delegation would wish to take, together with you all, for the sake of greater legitimacy, economic democracy and the social justice for which we stand.