World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/56

    10 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by the Honourable Michael Shree Chan

Senior Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry

    Permit me to express my profound gratitude and appreciation to the Government and people of Singapore for the kind courtesies and generous hospitality accorded to the Guyana delegation. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent arrangements and facilities that are in place to ensure a successful meeting.

    We recognize and deeply appreciate the extensive work that has been done so far by the various Councils, Committees and Working Parties etc. In fact, the intense and involved nature of the process since the signing of the Uruguay Round Agreements in Marrakesh has allowed for more pragmatic reflection and assessment of the enormity of the task ahead. A task though fraught with tremendous difficulties, particularly for the smaller economies, is not necessarily an impossible one - bearing in mind our commitment to build and develop durable partnerships not only among governments, but more so with the private sector.

    The delegation of Guyana comes to this Ministerial Meeting with a firm sense of commitment to:

    1.    Promoting an open, non-discriminatory, fair and equitable multilateral trading system that will enable countries - particularly developing countries - to improve their economic structures and enhance the living standards of their peoples through sustained economic development.

    2.    Improving access to markets for trade in goods and services.

    3.    Promoting and supporting policies, both domestic and international, that make economic growth and environmental protection mutually supportive.

    4.    Fostering global economic policymaking that safeguards the vital interests of the small and vulnerable economies in the developing countries.

    Surely, all these things express the essence of the Uruguay Round Agreements as well as the objective of the World Trade Organization (WTO). For the many countries gathered here, these Agreements do mean opportunities and challenges - real challenges for small developing economies.

    Our challenge and focus at this time, therefore, ought to facilitate mechanisms that will promote the effective and beneficial participation of the smaller economies.

    I recall the commitment given by the developed countries some 20 years ago that they will contribute an average of 0.7 per cent of each developed country's respective GDP as development assistance to the developing countries, and wish to note that this commitment has not materialized with the exception of one Scandinavian country.

    I wish to urge the developed nations to honour such commitment and to see the need for development in the South as a necessity in order to give the capacity to increase our trading relationship with the North and in so doing maximise the benefits that may accrue from free trade.

    Many small developing countries, like Guyana, have undertaken comprehensive structural adjustment programmes in collaboration with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), to make their economies more compatible with a freer and fairer multilateral economic system. Needless to say, that in most cases the commencement of these structural adjustments preceded the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as the conclusion of the Uruguay Round.

    For Guyana, it has not been an easy process to mobilize the national political support for the programme. Besides, the adjustment process brought with it, immediately, certain debilitating consequences for the weaker sections of the population. As well, the productive sector has to face the full force of imported commodities whether such commodities are being produced and traded under fair competitive situations or not.

    What becomes critical in the process is not just the market opportunities that are created but the ability or capacity of the various countries and business communities to exploit those opportunities and compete satisfactorily. This is key to the adjustment process and is most important to the development of the private sector, the engine of growth. It is this engine of growth that would have to sustain the kind of development we seek to forge here.

    It cannot be expected that smaller economies will be able to adjust to global free trade as the developed economies would and as such, the proposal for a longer transition period has my delegation's total support. Additionally, the proposal by Director-General Ruggiero to allow imports from smaller economies into the developed economies tariff free must have the support from both the North and South.

    Our ability to embark on social programmes and infrastructure/projects is severely jeopardized by the disproportionate share of resources directed to debt servicing. Guyana is a classical case of a country that has had to apply 105 per cent of its total revenue to service its debt obligation and purchase fuel in 1992; and between 1993 and 1995 we have had to pay an average of 90 per cent. Our debt burden as a percentage of foreign exchange earnings has been between 30-35 per cent for the last four years. Our net flow from Multilateral Financial Institutions for the years 1993-1995 were: 1993  -US$13.6 million; 1994 - US$38.3 million and 1995 - US$40.9 million.

    As well, the call from some quarters for us to hasten the pace of adjustment and economic liberalization in our small and fragile economies does not seem to take into account the delicate balance we are trying to maintain in an attempt to ensure human development and democracy on a sustainable basis.

    The liberalization and globalization process must ensure sustainability and stability in the development of the smaller economies. Dislocations must be minimized to the very least. This is absolutely critical if we are to enhance democracy and good governance and advance our actions in the areas of poverty alleviation and human development.

    Guyana, like the rest of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), is a country which has traditionally emphasized the pivotal role of labour and the protection of the environment in its development process. We have more than a fair track record in these matters.

    We believe in the right of workers to belong to trade unions and to be engaged in the collective bargaining process. This to my mind is a reasonable undertaking in a civilized society and it explains why we have not hesitated to ratify and honour various conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

    However, it would be a backward step for all of us - for the process we are seeking to consolidate here - if concerns for the environment and for labour standards were to serve as a pretext for countries to institute new barriers to trade. This we must avoid at all costs.

    We agree that the process must be full and comprehensive but it must also be balanced and sustainable. This must be the bottom line of the partnership we seek to consolidate. For the effective participation and sustainable partnership of the smaller economies, concrete measures need to be developed and expedited as a matter of priority.

    Specifically, Guyana would like to see:

    1.    A special programme in the WTO that focuses on the (trade) development needs of developing countries.

    2.    A proactive work programme of collaboration and assistance among the WTO, World Bank and the IMF that pays particular attention to the constraining burden of debt in the liberalization process in small economies. I hope that this collaboration would take into consideration what Professor Michael Chossudovsky, of the University of Ottowa, Canada, submitted to the United Kingdom Parliament's Treasury Select Committee Hearings on the IMF which states inter alia:

        "With the formation of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, in 1995 a new 'triangular division of authority' between the World Bank, IMF and the WTO has unfolded. The IMF has called for effective surveillance of developing countries' economic policies and increased coordination between the three international bodies.

        Henceforth, many of the clauses of the structural adjustment programmes (e.g. trade liberalization and the foreign investment regime) are permanently entrenched in the articles of agreement of the WTO. These articles set the foundations for 'policing' countries (and enforcing 'conditionalities') according to international law."