World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/26

    9 December 1996




Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by the Honourable Tim Fischer, M.P.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade

    I would like to state at the outset how pleased the Australian Government is that this first WTO Ministerial Conference is taking place in the heart of the dynamic Asia-Pacific region and in Singapore which upholds so well the ideals of the original GATT, and now the WTO, of creating wealth and jobs through trade liberalization.

    In fact some time ago I publicly supported Singapore for headquarters of the WTO.

    This meeting should send a strong message about the WTO by being a successful, substantive meeting about strengthening the multilateral trading system, furthering trade liberalization and building stronger and fairer rules. It needs to produce a clear, forward-looking work programme of practical relevance to business and the economic aspirations of our societies, especially the creation of secure jobs.

    This is important insurance against the breakdown of the multilateral system.

    We are here today at the first meeting of the "Board of Directors" of the WTO. And the first thing any "Board of Directors" does is review the firm's operations and the second thing it does is set out the goals and plans for the future. These are the twin tasks before us.

    This is especially so in the face of the challenges posed to the multilateral system by the growth of regional trading arrangements, which can have a significant, discriminatory effect.

    But Australia believes that the best way for the WTO to respond to these challenges is to be more vigorous and ambitious in pursuing trade liberalization.

    Australia regards the implementation of the Uruguay Round, including its built-in agenda, as the principal task for the next 2-3 years, because:

    -    Implementing the Uruguay Round delivers trade liberalization and more jobs;

    -    completing the basic telecommunications negotiations and concluding an MFN agreement on financial services will deliver timely liberalization in these two key sectors of world trade which are the key drivers of many other sectors in a globalizing world economy; and

    -    the built-in agenda, in agriculture, services, intellectual property and a dozen other rules issues, leads naturally to a new round of comprehensive global trade liberalization by the end of the decade.

    In agriculture, we are determined to see full and effective implementation of Uruguay Round commitments on market access, domestic support and export subsidies including the need to look at disciplines on export credits. Along with the agreed agriculture work programme, this will thoroughly prepare the ground for the launch of the mandated negotiations to further liberalize this very important sector of world trade.

    And it is critical that barriers to processed food exports, an area where Australia has a strong comparative advantage, are seriously addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.

    Australia is pleased that the WTO's work programme will also incorporate analytical work in the Market Access Committee aimed at improving the efficiency of negotiations on industrial goods. This is important work in a key area of WTO business and we will certainly be looking to the 1998 WTO Ministerial to endorse further comprehensive negotiations on industrial tariffs for the 1999/2000 period.

    We have already begun to address further trade liberalization with the Information Technology Agreement. Australia has said that it will join a "critical mass" on this.

    On textiles, it is important that countries implement their Uruguay Round obligations to the letter and spirit of the agreement. As the world's major exporter of wool, Australia is particularly disadvantaged by restrictions on trade in wool garments.

    Services is a rapidly growing area of Australia's trade, and this is why Australia has led and successfully driven a practical forward work programme on services to prepare in 1997 for the next round of comprehensive negotiations which are scheduled to begin in the year 2000.

    And on professional services, we should also commit to concluding work on accountancy by the end of 1997 and offer our support to the organizations developing international standards in the accounting sector.

    The tremendous success of the GATT/WTO system over nearly 50 years has been based on the fundamental principles of balance and comprehensiveness.

    Australia is pleased with the report of the Committee on Trade and Environment and that there is such widespread recognition of the contribution that can be made by global trade liberalization to sustainable development. This is a good outcome for Australia's resources industry, a world leader in this field.

    In addition to the Built-In Agenda and Market Access Committee work programmes, Australia supports WTO work on trade and investment and trade and competition policy. The WTO cannot remain relevant to business if it keeps its head in the sand on these issues.

    Australian firms will benefit from transparency and due process in its key markets and in this respect looks forward to the interim agreement on government procurement.

    But we need to be clear about which new issues are core WTO business. For Australia, the test of what is WTO business is whether an issue is potentially trade liberalizing.

    On this test we, like most WTO Members, do not support a working role for the WTO on labour standards or human rights. This is something for the ILO.

    The establishment of the WTO and the course we are charting for the global trading system should be regarded as a new era for the multilateral trading system. An era where we, the WTO Ministers, make very clear that the multilateral trading system is central to the well-being of the world economy and our individual economies.

    We can do this by committing ourselves here in Singapore to driving the WTO system forward on a trade liberalizing path through the work programme we adopt this week and by looking ahead to the 1998 Ministerial Conference, when we will celebrate 50 years of the multilateral trading system.

    We should hope that the process we start here in Singapore, and take forward in 1998, should lead to another comprehensive round of trade negotiations for the new millennium.

    In concluding, I would like to record my great appreciation of the work and effort of the Singapore Government and my colleague Minister Yeo Cheow Tong.

     I should also congratulate the Director-General of the WTO and his highly professional staff for the excellent job they have done in setting up the WTO and in carrying out its work during its first two years.

    Let us hope this Ministerial will truly deliver a win/win world trade outcome with more trade, freer and fairer, generating more jobs!