World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/52
10 December 1996
MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE Original: English
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
Let me first express the deepest appreciation of the Government of the Czech Republic to H.E. Mr. Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore for hosting the first WTO Ministerial Conference and the people of Singapore for their magnificent and generous hospitality. I congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, on your election and wish you success in performing your duties.
More than two years ago, in Marrakesh I had an enormous privilege of being present at the conclusion of the greatest trade agreement in the history of mankind. Less than a year later, we built up a new institution and thus gave unprecedented stimulus to global trade. Today, I feel honoured to share with you my country's experience of the short history of the WTO.
Undoubtedly, the key word of the first Ministerial is implementation. The most remarkable achievement has been a smooth transition from the GATT, which served for decades as an interim tool, to a genuine organization, offering a board institutional framework based on the rule of international law and on legally-binding dispute settlement.
The Czech Republic has acted strictly to respect all its obligations in due scope and time. In some areas, such as pharmaceuticals, my country offered even more than was required. We are determined to continue our efforts and expect the same from our partners. This Conference should reconfirm WTO Members' commitments to effective market opening and adherence to rules.
Despite a generally positive assessment of implementation there is still room for improvements. Insufficient compliance with notification obligations is of particular concern. In some sectors, expansion of trade opportunities is far from being satisfactory. In agriculture, further genuine efforts should be made to integrate this sector more closely with WTO rules and disciplines.
The success of converting the letter and spirit of WTO Agreements into everyday realities depends on both the political will and the ability of the governments to follow their commitments. The preservation of the human dimension of WTO activities, is therefore, of paramount importance. The whole system would be sidetracked if Members were deprived of WTO benefits only because of their insufficient capacities to handle large quantities of new information. On the other hand, natural differences in size should not constitute an a priori pretext for sacrificing the legitimately ambitious goals of this institution.
There is a broad consensus that the purpose of the Conference is also to settle the WTO's future work programme. Its balanced starting point stems from the Uruguay Round Built-In Agenda, which provides a framework for reviews of existing Agreements and for future talks. We believe in successful and timely completion of negotiations on basic telecommunications and financial services to which the Czech Republic has already made a valuable contribution. Our expectations go also to further expansion of protection in the area of geographical indications. The idea of further liberalizing trade in information technology products has also attracted our interest.
The Conference should address ways of improving the playing field in which some of the players suffer from marginalization. We welcome Mr. Ruggiero's proposal for tariff-free access to products from the least developed countries. In the Czech Republic, imports from these countries enjoy duty-free treatment. Our contribution goes even further. The recent meeting of least developed countries' Ministers was made possible also thanks to a financial assistance provided by my country.
The work programme of the WTO should reflect the forward-looking aspects of its activities. The WTO should remain a constantly evolving and vibrant framework, capable of responding to the needs of the globalizing world economy. New trade-related issues, generally supported by all WTO Members, could serve as an instrument to achieve this objective.
My country takes the view that the relationship between trade and investment, analysis of trade and competition rules and a trade facilitation package comply with the principal criterion which is their relevance measured against the WTO's mandate. In the area of trade and investment, the Czech Republic has been one of the promoters of starting an analysis of this complex issue in the WTO. The relationship between the two phenomena consists in a linear progression from one to another, in which investment does not replace trade but is complementary to it. My country has been supporting actively the analysis, in the WTO, of trade and competition. We seek a balanced discussion on how to make trade disciplines and competition policies more supportive and coherent.
The Czech Republic has repeatedly advocated that the best way the WTO and its Members may contribute to raising standards around the world in areas like environment and working conditions is to promote democracy and prosperity through open and free trade and through increased adherence to the existing rules and disciplines. This is certainly true for both environmental and core labour standards.
We believe that the links between trade objectives and environmental concerns cannot be disrupted entirely. At the same time, my country has repeatedly maintained the position according to which the link between trade and environment will not become truly durable and complementary unless unilateralism and protectionism are halted.
The Czech Republic is committed to enhancing core labour standards worldwide and is opposed to abuses of fundamental human rights such as forced labour and exploitation of child labour. It is our strong view, however, that the enforcement of the labour standards is the responsibility of the International Labour Organization. The WTO is ill-suited to deal with this matter. It is a commercial contract ensuring trade liberalization and not labour standards. If there is any link between trade and working conditions, it is that possible trade restrictions are likely to bring about lower, not higher, living standards of targeted countries. The WTO should not tolerate any form of trade sanctions designed to impose particular labour standards by forcing additional mandatory costs on those WTO Members which, due to their past development, enjoy comparative advantages stemming from the cost-effective labour.
In conclusion, allow me to pay tribute to Mr. Ruggiero and to the WTO staff who have spared no effort in contributing skilfully to the preparation of this Conference.