World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/64

    11 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by the Honourable Dato' Seri Rafidah Aziz

Minister of International Trade and Industry

    This Singapore Ministerial Meeting is basically a review forum to evaluate the progress or otherwise of the implementation of the various Uruguay Round Agreements. The General Council's report has identified several problems and difficulties of implementation faced by many countries, and it is important that the WTO gives priority to the necessary measures to resolve the difficulties and assist the relevant countries to overcome their implementation problems.

    It cannot be doubted that notification problems, for example, arise because notification requirements are both complex and cumbersome, and necessitate substantial expertise and resources of Members. As notification is an essential part of implementation because it provides a transparency, and is the basis for monitoring compliance, it is important that we examine how these notification procedures could be further streamlined and simplified.

    As regards the rules of origin, work in formulating harmonized rules in this area is moving forward at a slow pace, resulting in some countries unilaterally imposing arbitrary rules of origin affecting the textile exports of developing countries. Such action thus renders meaningless the liberalization programmes under the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing.

    In the area of anti-dumping, we must ensure that work on anti-circumvention measures be completed as soon as possible, and we must address the flagrant action of some countries to resort to anti-dumping measures as a tool for trade harassment. Such measures are unjustifiable, and negatively impact upon trade and investment of the affected countries.

    Through various rounds of negotiations in the past, there has evolved a strengthened multilateral trading system that is rule-based and discipline oriented. However, the recent unilateral action by a WTO Member to pass and attempt to enforce domestic legislation with extraterritorial application, will surely undermine the efforts of over four decades to strengthen the multilateral trading system.

    Such an action is also contrary to the aspirations and objectives of the WTO, and I would like to urge Members of the WTO to reject such action, and to reaffirm the primacy of the multilateral trading system.

    On the issue of trade and environment, it is necessary to emphasize that environmental protection should be pursued in the context of sustainable development, and the fundamental WTO principle of non-discrimination should not be undermined in the pursuit of environmental objectives. For example, while we recognize the rationale for labelling and eco-labelling in providing consumers with information in order to make their choice, the indiscriminate use of such schemes is affecting exports of developing countries.

    We must ensure that in developing eco-labelling schemes, the criteria adopted are agreed to multilaterally, and not biased against particular exports of developing countries.

    There has been acceptance of the principle that countries, especially the developing economies, will liberalize their services sector at a pace commensurate with their capacities to do so, and with their levels of economic development.

    In order to enable the developing countries to positively contribute towards the liberalization process, in particular in the area of extended negotiations in financial services, maritime transport and basic telecommunications, it is important that the principle of progressive liberalization be fully adhered to and respected. No undue pressure should be placed on countries to extract more than what they can offer.

    The future work programme for the WTO has been clearly laid out, and this meeting in Singapore must ensure that all elements in the built-in agenda are duly implemented.

    This already heavy workload dictates that the focus of the WTO should not be detracted by extraneous issues, from the more important work relating to implementation, completing the unfinished business and the built-in agenda.

    During the course of this Singapore Ministerial Meeting, it is clear that new issues have taken centre stage, and debate has been dominated by how WTO should treat such issues, at the expense of weightage that should be given to the review process and the existing work programmes of the WTO.

    Discussion and debate on the issue of labour standards have proven to be a divisive factor. For Malaysia, we reject any attempt to link labour standards and other social clauses to trade and trade action, and we also reject any move to discuss and deliberate labour standards and other social clauses in the WTO.

    Malaysia accepts the fact that countries must observe internationally recognized core labour standards, but issues pertaining to labour and labour standards must be dealt with in the ILO, the only competent body to do so.

    Malaysia also rejects the use of trade measures to enforce labour standards, and reaffirms the stand that the comparative and competitive advantage of low-wage countries should not be put into question.

    On the issue of the relationship of investment to trade, Malaysia cannot accept or subscribe to any move towards the formulation of multilateral investment rules in the WTO, although work on an educative process can be supported, provided it does not lead to a negotiating process.

    Malaysia does see some merit in a WTO working group studying the issues raised by Members on trade-related competition laws and policies, along with anti-competitive practices and abuse of trade measures. However it is important that such a study does not lead to negotiations within the WTO.

    It has been reported that despite the expansion in global trade the trade of 48 of the least developed countries have deteriorated, and their interest marginalized. Certainly the WTO has the responsibility to assist these countries and ensure that they eventually benefit from the work programme of the WTO.

    Therefore I would like to reiterate that the WTO and the Secretariat give due priority to the existing work before them and not to be preoccupied with the new issues being introduced by interested parties.

    The WTO cannot be regarded as a multipurpose organization that can be called upon to debate and address the range of social issues affecting Members, and the various social ills of the world. These issues are best and appropriately dealt with by other competent organizations.

    The WTO should focus on trade and the promotion of world trade. The ensuing economic growth resulting from enhanced trade of WTO Members would assist to alleviate the social and socio-economic problems, including contributing towards better working conditions for their workforce.