World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/66

    11 December 1996



    Original: Spanish


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Rodrigo de Rato y Figaredo

Second Vice-President, Minister of the Economy and Finance

    I should like to begin by thanking the Government and people of Singapore for the warm welcome and excellent organization we have been enjoying over the last few days.

    I consider it an honour to take part in the first WTO Ministerial Conference, which confirms the role of this Organization as a forum for trade negotiations and administrator of a multilateral trading system based on agreed rules and disciplines.

    In this connection, I wish to congratulate Renato Ruggiero and the WTO Secretariat on the excellent work they have performed over the last two years.

    Trade liberalization, the reduction or elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers, has led to the expansion of trade flows and spurred economic growth in the developed and developing countries alike. This rule-based system also provides a reliable, stable and predictable framework for international trade, which is what our business community needs.

    Ever since joining GATT in 1963, Spain has been firmly committed to this liberalization process. In this connection, I should like to highlight the effort made by the Spanish Government to liberalize the telecommunications sector, among other wide-ranging structural reforms.

    Our experience has shown us that regional integration is a good instrument for achieving and fostering higher degrees of trade liberalization, as a factor supplementing the general system embodied in the WTO. We therefore take a very positive view of the initiatives currently under way in Latin America to achieve greater integration.

    We attach great importance to the collective implementation of the WTO Agreements by all Members and hope that the Conference will lend new impetus to keeping this process on track, by remedying its inadequacies and shortcomings. The credibility of the system negotiated at Marrakesh hinges on strict compliance with the Agreements reached, especially as regards the timetables and scope of the work to be carried out in a framework of mutual concessions. Everything that is on this agenda appears to lead to a new process in the year 2000.

    Furthermore, we must not overlook a number of issues which are daily gaining in prominence and importance in world trade, and which the WTO neither can nor should neglect. I am referring to what have been called the "new subjects", whose inclusion in the WTO agenda is a matter of debate. I have in mind in particular the relationship between trade and environment, trade and investment, trade and competition, and trade and social rights.

    Reconciling the objective of sustainable development with the attainment of a steadily increasing volume of world trade is a complex task, but also a necessary one, involving a challenge that the WTO has already taken up by establishing the Committee on Trade and Environment.

    Only seldom are trade and foreign investment independent processes. The way that States regulate their trade and investment policies also affects trade flows. We believe that it is in everybody's interest, both those who invest and those who receive investment, that there should be a stable, multilateral framework to encourage investment flows in a context of legal security. We must take fully into account the work already carried out by UNCTAD, as well as that of other international organizations such as the OECD in the framework of the Multilateral Investment Agreement.

    Thirdly, I should like to refer to the relationship between trade and competition. International rules for the defence of competition need to be drawn up in order to prevent restrictive practices from nullifying or impairing the benefits accruing from the trade liberalization commitments made by States in the WTO. We are all well aware that trade problems exist as a result of the lack of competition discipline in many markets, and in practice this diminishes the benefits of trade concessions which are the outcome of a balance struck in multilateral negotiations.

    I wish to state that my country is in favour of the WTO carrying out an analysis of the function of trade liberalization in improving living conditions in all countries of the world. Trade liberalization and the economic development which it generates have to lead to improvements in standards of living. It is important to support right here and now the fundamental work carried out by the International Labour Organization with the aim of defining basic labour standards and promoting their application worldwide. As we see it, in these cases we are talking about fundamental human rights, which are non-negotiable.

    To conclude, the WTO must fulfil its role as a leading player in international trade, in a system that brings benefits to all, within a framework of concessions and rules of universal application. It is important that all major trading partners (such as China and Russia) should join this framework and help to define and develop it.

    Once again, Spain supports world trade liberalization on firm foundations, through the fulfilment of the undertakings entered into at each stage, reaffirming the importance of forums such as the WTO and of active participation by all its Members engaged in a process in which there is no turning back.