World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/69

    11 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Leo Brincat

Minister for Commerce

    Mr. Chairman, may I, at the outset, on my behalf and on behalf of the delegation and Government of Malta, congratulate you on your election to the chairmanship of this most important Conference, and thank the Government of Singapore for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to us, and for the excellent arrangements made for this Conference.

    I would also like to associate myself with the leaders of other delegations in thanking the Director-General of the WTO, Mr. Ruggiero, and his staff for the excellent service they have rendered to Member countries of this most important Organization since its establishment two years ago.

    The World Trade Organization was established at the beginning of last year to promote the orderly development of world trade. Such development must have as its ultimate objective the promotion of sustainable economic and social development in all countries of the world especially in developing countries, and in particular in the least developed ones. The negotiators of the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations have given the Members of the WTO the basic legal instruments, and the institutional framework which they considered necessary for the achievement of this objective, through the implementation of the Agreements which make up the Final Act of the Uruguay Round.

    In Singapore, we have the opportunity to assess to what extent we are on the right track in the pursuance of our objectives and whether we need to make any changes in the legal and institutional framework of the WTO.

    The Government of Malta has a particular interest in the success of the WTO. Living on a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea without any natural resources we depend to a significant extent on trade for our livelihood and well-being. Malta is in fact a net food-importing country. Not only, but Malta imports a very large proportion of its consumer goods as well as almost all the raw materials and capital goods required for our industries. Malta also imports its fuel needs for the production of the energy required for domestic and industrial use.

    Malta's balance of payments is acquired through exports of manufactured goods and services, tourism, transshipment, shipbuilding and ship-repairing.

    The Government of Malta supports initiatives to promote free trade in all its aspects, as an instrument which can promote the sustainable development of our economy. Properly administered in a global scenario, free trade can be availed of to promote the better use and more equitable distribution of the world's limited resources, to promote development in hitherto underdeveloped areas, as well as the continuous development and better use of the skills and talents of the inhabitants of the earth.

    One of the most important achievements of the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations was the conclusion of the Agreement on Trade in Services. In its offer of concessions under this Agreement the Government of Malta manifested its belief in the liberalization of this sector by making a substantial offer in the tourism, insurance, and merchant shipping sectors. The Government of Malta is following the ongoing negotiations in the framework of the WTO in the sectors of telecommunications and financial services.

    Malta has a number of trade agreements with other countries, the most important of which is an Association Agreement with the European Union. The new Government of Malta which was voted into office less than two months ago, has, as one of its priorities, the negotiation with the European Union of an agreement establishing an industrial free-trade zone between Malta and the Union. This does not imply that Malta prefers regionalism to globalism in matters of trade, but it only underlines the fact that Malta attaches special importance to its commercial relationship with the European Union, with which it conducts about 85 per cent of its visible and invisible trade.

    Two of the most important issues under active discussion in the framework of the WTO are the issues of trade and the environment, and of core labour standards. The Government of Malta has, since it became a member of the United Nations in 1964, insisted on the preservation of the environment for present and future generations of mankind in all UN fora. Its promotion of the notions of the common heritage and common concern of mankind in the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea and on Climate Change is well known.

    The Government of Malta fully supports the work of the Committee on Trade and the Environment and wishes to stress its belief that free trade should never be allowed to prejudice the rights of future generations to inherit a healthy environment on which they can base their own sustainable living and development.

    With regard to the issue of the core labour standards my delegation has some preference for this issue to be discussed, primarily, within the framework of the ILO, which has, over the last 50 years, established itself as the supreme world body dealing with labour issues.

    After listening carefully to the discussion held in committee yesterday, my delegation feels that there is a widespread opinion among delegations that further studies, possibly involving both the WTO and the ILO, need to be undertake before a consensus can be reached on this very important question.

    My delegation feels that it would be very difficult to make further progress on this issue at this meeting, and my delegation would be prepared to join in what seems to be an emerging consensus, that further studies be held on this issue with the participation of both the WTO and the ILO.

    The WTO can look with a certain amount of satisfaction on its achievements in the two years of its existence: membership has grown from the original 76 to 128 and there are 28 other candidates, including some very important trading partners; international trade has been accelerating in the last two years and there are reasons to believe that concessions made under the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations Agreements have contributed substantially to such an acceleration; the WTO dispute settlement mechanism is firmly in place and is fast establishing itself as a credible forum for the settlement of trade disputes; and the WTO's reporting system has proved to be a very valuable instrument keeping Members in line with their commitments under the WTO Agreements. More efforts, however, are required to make the WTO more effective. Negotiations with prospective members and on pending issues need to be concluded as early as possible. Malta feels that our Organization would benefit from the early membership of countries like China and the Russian Federation. We also feel that more technical aid must be made available to assist small and developing importing countries to be in a better position to honour their commitments under the WTO Agreements.

    The establishment of the WTO has certainly been a step in the right direction. My delegation believes that the moderate success which the WTO has had in the first two years of its existence should spur us into further efforts to make this Organization a major instrument for the promotion of the sustainable development of the global economy.