World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/74

    11 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by the Honourable Abdul Rahman Taib

Minister of Industry and Primary Resources

    On behalf of the Delegation of Brunei Darussalam, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, the Government and the people of Singapore, for the warm hospitality, and congratulate you on the excellent arrangements made for this meeting. That an event of such magnitude and historic significance is being held here, in Singapore, is surely a recognition of your achievements and commitment to the ideals which our Organization embodies. As a fellow member of ASEAN, I assure you of my delegation's support in your search for a successful and balanced outcome to the Conference.

    We are moving into a new era. The process of globalization brings the world economy closer; and this poses challenges to us in terms of sustaining the momentum towards liberalization and successful integration of the WTO Member economies.

    This Ministerial Conference is crucial. It should provide political guidance and direction to the WTO's future work, whilst preserving the basic principles and objectives underlying the multilateral trading system.

    Nonetheless, the review of the implementation of the Uruguay Round commitments should be our top priority. We must collectively see to it that the gains we have achieved in the Uruguay Round are not eroded in any way.

    However, notification and legislative obligations, among others, impose a serious burden on the limited resources of many smaller developing countries. We ask therefore that measures be found, particularly through meaningful technical assistance, to overcome these genuine difficulties. We must also recognize other substantive problems of the developing countries in implementing some of the commitments. Here again, we ask that in integrating those countries into the system, special and differential treatment be accorded to those that are truly in need, where gradual and progressive liberalization should remain central in our approach.

    On balance, we are satisfied with the developments of the last two years. One striking success worthy of special mention is the working of the Dispute Settlement Understanding. Its growing importance and reliability are self-evident by the sheer number of cases before it. We are happy to note that Members continue to have faith in a system which is based, not on force, but on common and enforceable rules.

    The other bodies are also going about their ways to debate and define many unchartered areas. Most of the recommendations by the General Council and its various subsidiary bodies are generally acceptable.

    But in working towards the Conference's final outcome, fairness and balance, where there will be something for everyone, should continue to be our yardstick. Here, we should consolidate and build upon the balance that already exists in the Marrakesh Agreement. Treating the built-in agenda consistently across the board is indeed one sure way of achieving just that.

    On accession, Brunei Darussalam supports universality of WTO membership. To that end, we believe that the WTO should expedite its work to bring the current applicants into the system.

    Turning to new issues, there are still a number of areas which pose some problems to us. In approaching this question, we always maintain that the level of ambition must coincide with the political and economic reality. We agree with the general assertion that the WTO must be dynamic and relevant to today's world. But, the danger of overloading its agenda and overstretching its resources at this early stage cannot be ignored.

    On labour standards, its linkages and relevance to trade and the WTO have been questioned. We therefore feel that the issue is best dealt with in other fora such as the ILO.

    As for the environment - even though it is not exactly a new issue - the two years of discussions in the Committee on Trade and Environment have not been easy. Here, we wish to see that concerns for the environment be addressed in a manner which does not undermine market access. We urge the Committee to continue its work, with a strong caution against attempts to introduce and justify protectionist measures in the name of environmental protection.

    As for trade and competition and a multilateral agreement on government procurement, these two issues should be assessed in terms of the Chairman's three criteria; in particular, as to whether they have reached the level of maturity in the discussions. My delegation is of the view that they are far from being so.

    The present complex structure and functioning of the world economy add to the urgency for us to address the question of the WTO's continuing relevance. We are today faced with a new economic reality which gives additional dimension to the meaning of globalization.

    What this means to us is captured in the two following observations:

    -    First, the technological progress has dramatically changed the way we conduct our business; and

    -    second, those business corporations with multinational characters that matter so much to the world economy are here to stay.

    On the first point, the proposal for the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) is of relevance. We acknowledge that such technology can contribute to narrowing the gap between developed and developing countries. However, before finalizing the Agreement, the scope of coverage and the element of flexibility - which should incorporate the principle of gradual and progressive liberalization, especially for the developing countries - need to be further worked on.

    The second point is a clear proof that trade and investment are intricately linked. No one can deny that foreign direct investment brings more than just capital; it also provides opportunities for transfer of technological and managerial skills. But, the complexity of the relationship and the implications of any new disciplines to the developing countries, particularly in their promotion of developmental objectives, compel us to be cautious. We are ready nonetheless to explore this issue, along with UNCTAD, to ensure that the interests of developing countries, such as technology transfer, will not be subordinated.

    Let me conclude by reiterating what many have already said: that trade, important as it surely is, is not an end in itself. Even as the world is moving so rapidly, no effort should be spared to ensure that no one is left on the margins. The greatest challenge for us therefore, will be to reconcile the diverse needs and aspirations of Members without straining the Organization.