World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/76
11 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
I hope that at the end of the Conference, we will have reached consensus on many issues on the agenda for this Conference. The issues that are being discussed here are many and by no means easy. To this end, it will require our combined efforts to ensure that the rules established to guide trade liberalization do not disadvantage any country, or group of countries.
The WTO was, from the time it was established, given a very heavy agenda. It is clear from the documents prepared for this Conference that the WTO has made progress on some issues. We must all commend the Director-General and his staff for their efforts over the two years.
There is a great deal of work still to be done on the consolidation and development of the initiatives approved at Marrakesh. Botswana, a developing, net food-importing country and following a policy of economic diversification, will take keen interest in these critical international negotiations.
The "built-in agenda" includes many complex issues which have serious implications for trade and development in the developing countries. Permit me to share our views on some of these issues.
Firstly, despite the successful conclusion of the Uruguay Round negotiations, tariffs remain an important issue for further trade liberalization. There is, in Botswana's view, scope for further tariff reductions. We believe there is an urgent need to accelerate all Uruguay Round tariff cuts commitments, particularly those involving products of importance to developing countries.
Secondly, slow progress in providing technical assistance is an issue of serious concern to Botswana. Many of us are struggling to meet compliance and notification requirements of the WTO Agreements. There is clear need to build and develop institutional structures in developing countries to enable them to cope with the requirements of the WTO. This work has not begun and it is critical that technical assistance to these countries be intensified and speeded up. We are thinking, for example of such technical areas as developing legislation and safeguard for intellectual property rights. Thus far, we have experienced a plethora of offers of assistance from various agencies that to us do not appear well coordinated to be of practical assistance.
It is my understanding that the current General Agreement on Trade in Services work programme envisages new negotiations on safeguards, subsidies and countervailing duties as they relate to trade in services. It will be important that WTO Members commit themselves to these negotiations and ensure the active participation by all in the rapidly expanding services sector.
The Agreement on Agriculture establishes a programme for the gradual reform of trade in agriculture with a view to establishing a fair and equitable market-oriented trading system. Botswana supports the general direction for reforms leading to reduction of tariffs and associated quotas and subsidies. However, it is important to acknowledge the sensitivity of this sector to the economies of the developing countries. For Botswana it would be important to retain domestic support measures to protect small farmers on a selective basis. We also support the view that existing trading arrangements in agriculture products, such as those under the Lomé Convention, or through the GSP concessions, should be allowed longer transition periods. This would give us more time to adjust to the challenges of increased competition.
Botswana supports regionalism as an important process in carrying forward trade liberalization. For us in the Southern African region, regional trade arrangements provide the first point of entry into the wider multilateral trading system. It is in this regard that Botswana has actively participated in SADC and the development of the recently concluded SADC Trade Protocol. We believe that the SADC region provides a new growth point on the African continent and should be fully supported and nurtured.
Botswana makes these observations to underline the fact that the WTO and the contracting parties have a very heavy workload relating to the implementation of new procedures, measures agreed at Marrakesh for assistance to least developed and developing countries as well as the completion of the built-in agenda.
The new issues on the agenda for this Conference therefore are of concern to Botswana. Many of these issues take the negotiations into areas in which many of the contracting parties have little experience. They are also technically difficult and politically sensitive. I am referring to proposals in respect of trade and labour standards, trade and investment, competition policy and government procurement. These issues have serious implications for developing economies. It would therefore be prudent for the WTO and contracting parties to leave these rather difficult and sensitive issues to be studied and discussed by the appropriate international organizations.
Finally, on the issue of trade and environment, we note that a committee has been established to examine the linkages between trade and environment policies to ensure that rules in both areas are complementary and consistent. It would appear that the discussions so far have focused on the effects of industrialization on the environment. We, on the other hand, believe that the issue of trade and environment should not be one-sided. For our part we are particularly concerned with the linkage between trade and conservation and management of our natural resources.