World Trade                        WT/MIN(96)/ST/44

                                    11 December 1996



MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE                    Original: French

Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Dr. Georges Wohlfart

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, External Trade and Cooperation

    Ten years ago, in Punta del Este, we took up a challenge: a challenge to embark on an almost all-embracing round of international trade negotiations. In Marrakesh we signed the product of these unprecedented negotiations. We also undertook to bring to a successful conclusion the part of the Round which was left unfinished.

    Our task today is to measure the work that has been done since Marrakesh. We also have the task of confirming and completing our future programme of work in order to pursue the objective of consolidating multilateralism.

    No one can dispute that the overall outcome of these two and a half years of application of the Marrakesh Agreements has been a positive one. Since 1995 the volume of world trade has continued to grow at around 8 per cent, twice as rapidly as world production.

    The reform of the dispute settlement system has proved its worth and the equality of all Members of the WTO with respect to the rights and obligations recorded in the Agreements is now effectively ensured.

    Furthermore, the extraordinary interest in the WTO, reflected in the lodging of 33 applications to join the 128 current Members confirms the perspicacity of those who initiated the Uruguay Round.

    It therefore seems there are grounds for optimism, especially as the Marrakesh Agreements have only recently been incorporated in our national legislation, with the result that the new multilateral system has not yet had time to deliver in full.

    This having been said, the application of these Agreements also has a downside. The services sector remains largely outside the liberalization process. A further setback in the negotiations on the liberalization of financial services and basic telecommunications next year would undermine the credibility of the process begun under the auspices of the WTO.

    The WTO now provides us with a permanent forum for negotiations. This is of the greatest importance if we are to adapt the current regulatory framework to a rapidly changing system.

    What are the challenges ahead?

    The first, it seems to me, is to place the developing countries, especially the least developed, in a position to participate more effectively in international trade, so that they can truly benefit from the advantages of liberalization.

    We should then ensure the complementarity of the system established by the WTO and the various regional integration arrangements. Reopening the question of the WTO's universal vocation would pose a serious threat to the promising venture begun in Marrakesh.

     I would also like to mention the so-called new issues, which are the most controversial.

    There is no point in denying the obvious. The establishment of a fair and predictable multilateral system which guarantees free circulation of goods and services while respecting the fundamental principles set out in the Marrakesh Agreements will inevitably mean broadening the scope of our discussions.

    The changes which the developments in international trade have brought about for our economies are considerable. Globalization requires constant adaptation. Our public opinion is extremely sensitive. It is in the interests of the liberalization process not to exclude certain issues from our discussions. We do not want to make social standards a factor that divides North and South. We do, however, wish to find mutually acceptable solutions which prevent any recourse to protectionism while making the development of international trade a source of welfare and social progress for all.

    The subject of social standards should be raised, in the first instance, in the International Labour Organization. Like the current President of the European Union, we too regret that the Director-General of that Organization was not able to take part in our discussions. We should at least define the arrangements for cooperation between the ILO and the WTO.

    Particular attention has already been given to the relationship between trade and the environment. We hope that the current work will shortly lead to concrete results.

    It also seems to me that the WTO should pay more attention to the subject of foreign direct investment. FDI, which is growing faster than international trade, reached a record level of $315 billion in 1995. It mainly takes place within a network of bilateral agreements. The establishment of multilateral rules will reinforce the impact of foreign investment and bring an increase in the number of recipient countries. To avoid repeating positions which are well known, I shall confine myself to underlining Luxembourg's support for the major contribution which the European Community has made to the preparations for this Conference, and I associate myself entirely with the remarks of Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan.

    Singapore is a perfect example of exceptional economic growth due mainly to the development of international trade. I would like to thank you very warmly for your hospitality and I am sure that under your Chairmanship our Conference will be crowned with success.