World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/35

    10 December 1996




Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Björn von Sydow

Minister for Trade

    There are five points I would like to raise.

    My first point is to stress that this meeting is about enhancing the living standards and growth, about development and about the creation of jobs. Our way to contribute to this is continued trade liberalization and a strengthening of the open ruled-based multilateral trading system.

    It is very appropriate that this first important WTO Ministerial Meeting takes place in Singapore, in this region. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of Singapore for the excellent arrangements, and for the constructive role that Singapore plays in international trade policy.

    Our common responsibility is great. We must implement and pursue the Marrakesh decisions, and we must use the WTO to tackle new issues. We must strengthen multilateralism through the WTO because that helps us reach our domestic political objectives.

    Developments in science and information technology, as well as the fact that an increasing number of countries turn to democratic forms of government, lead me to my second point. And that is to emphasize that the WTO must be able to deal with a broad spectrum of issues related to changing conditions in a globalizing economy.

    We must pursue work on trade and environment. This continues to be a priority issue for my country. We must give enhanced credibility to the rule-based world trading system by ascertaining that free trade and environmental policies are mutually reinforcing and necessary to achieve sustainable development. Legal certainty must be guaranteed for multilateral environmental agreements.

    The results on environment up till now are clearly disappointing, not least in relation to multilateral environmental agreements. But let us now look ahead and commit ourselves to concrete results in the future. We must demonstrate that the WTO is capable of responding to one of the most important global challenges.

    Two important new trade issues are investment and competition. We consider it essential to pursue work in WTO on these issues.

    The case for putting investment policies on the WTO agenda is very strong. We believe that it would be in the interest of all countries, not least the smaller developing countries, to develop rules that would provide for transparency, predictability and non-discrimination. I believe that such rules would stimulate investment flows and consequently that they would stimulate development. I continue to maintain that the task of examining this question should be entrusted to a special WTO working group.

    Also in the field of competition I think that preparatory work to develop rules is called for.

    In the field of labour standards there are already rules and standards that we as governments have subscribed to within the ILO. We believe that the WTO and world trade ministers should give their support to continued work in the ILO, and I see nothing objectionable in this. But I also believe that there should be a link to the WTO in the sense that we as trade ministers should have an opportunity to review developments in this field at our biannual meetings. I am quite sure that many of us will address this issue also when we meet in 1998. And I would very much hope that we could do this in a spirit of cooperation and trust. I think everyone who has spoken on this issue has underlined that we reject taking trade-restrictive measures as a means to enforce labour standards and that the comparative advantage of low-wage countries must not be questioned.

    As far as Sweden is concerned, we would have preferred a decision to establish a body within the WTO to examine this issue, but given the current situation we could also support the text as contained in the Director-General's letter dated 29 November. And I must say that I also very much regret that the Director-General of ILO has not been invited to address this Conference.

    My third point is that the WTO must not overlook the traditional GATT issue of market access. Sweden strongly supports new initiatives in this area. I gladly support those speakers before me who have advocated that we should set up a target date for the complete elimination of tariffs on industrial goods. We must not forget that traditional market access issues are tremendously important and that we should pursue work in this field with all possible vigour.

    We are pleased and encouraged that we have come a long way in the important area of tariff elimination for IT products. These are the industries of the future, and they must be given maximum growth potential, for everybody's benefit. We look forward to the finalization of a zero tariff agreement on IT products. We should reach an agreement on this here in Singapore.

    Services play an increasing role in world trade. We must pursue liberalization in the services sector and, in particular, we must conclude the outstanding services negotiations. The deadline for conclusion of the negotiations on telecommunications services is a commitment that we simply cannot fail to honour. This is so important for the development of the availability and efficiency of telecom services not least in developing countries. I strongly urge all countries to make efforts to submit improved offers, and follow the lead of the European Union and the United States.

    My fourth point concerns regional integration. Regional openness, and regional cooperation, can contribute to lowering trade barriers and to supporting growth. We remain firm in our support for regional integration which leads to multilateral liberalization. But we must retain the primacy of the multilateral system and we should strive towards a stringent application of the GATT rules governing free trade areas and customs unions.

    My fifth point is that the integration of the developing countries, and in particular the least developed among them, into the WTO system is one of the most important issues here in Singapore.

    Technical assistance is of great importance. But trade liberalization, including tariff elimination in areas where the least developed countries are particularly competitive, is a critical and decisive element in any strategy for the least developed. The developed countries, and the more advanced developing countries, must accept their responsibility here and take concrete measures to improve market access for least developed countries.

    On accession, I just want to reiterate the importance we attach to WTO becoming truly universal. We must try to speed up accession, on appropriate conditions.

    This first Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization sets a precedent and it points towards the future. Our responsibility is great. We must ensure that this meeting is a success.

    Let me conclude by saying that the challenges confronting the WTO in a globalizing world economy will have to be addressed beyond Singapore.

    There is a need to continue to review the role and effective function of the WTO in order to ensure that this organization plays its proper role in coherent global economic policy-making. This is an issue we believe the Director-General should be asked to look into in depth in the preparations for the next WTO Ministerial Meeting.