World Trade WT/MIN(96)/ST/87
11 December 1996
Singapore, 9-13 December 1996
I am honoured and truly proud to be able to address this esteemed assembly on the occasion of the First Ministerial Conference of the WTO, our fledgling but highly dynamic institution.
Allow me the pleasure of transmitting to you the assurance of the Government of Togo's support for the objectives pursued by this Conference.
I would also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Government and people of Singapore for the hospitality and care they have shown us since our arrival in this beautiful country.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the WTO Member States, whose generosity and spirit of solidarity have enabled the least developed countries (LDCs), including Togo, to be represented here at this Conference.
Although new, our Organization has proved, and must confirm, its role as an institution destined to relieve the LDCs of their poverty. I am not suggesting that the WTO represents the only remedy to the numerous troubles afflicting our economies. Indeed, the African continent accounts for half of the world's LDCs: hunger, malnutrition, endemic diseases, poverty and destitution continue to plague our countries, where water, not to mention drinking water, is a scarce commodity. All of these challenges must be overcome with the cooperation of the specialized institutions concerned if we hope to live in an economically and socially more balanced world over the next few decades.
Globalization, liberalization, integration: these are some of the themes dealt with by the WTO, and indeed, they are among the Organization's objectives. But what do the LDCs of Africa, in particular, have to offer in this new world economic and trade context? What do they stand to gain? What can be done to help them to meet the challenges of the third millennium?
We think that the integration of the African countries into the world trade system should be at the forefront of the WTO's concerns. We appreciate the exploratory work already done by the WTO Director-General and staff in that respect, and encourage them to continue and to spare no effort, since we are convinced that the right to eat is a basic human right. Consequently, we welcome the inclusion among the items under discussion under this Conference of the issue of social standards. However, we think that further consideration of the issue should take the form of coordinated discussions within the United Nations specialized agencies - the International Labour Office and the International Labour Organization - in cooperation with other institutions including the WTO.
Regarding the dispute settlement mechanism, notwithstanding the guarantees of fairness and the demonstration of that fairness in the decisions already taken, we suggest that the LDCs should be treated on a more preferential basis; indeed, we are afraid that there may still be some truth in the words of the French moral philosopher, La Fontaine: "According to whether you are powerful or destitute, so will the judgement of the court render you black or white."
Turning to the issue of trade and investment, we think that there is an urgent need to discuss the subject, since here again, Africa has been marginalized. The share of private investment in Africa is negligible, and there is nothing to suggest that better days lie ahead.
In 1947, the GATT Agreements provided for certain facilities for the developing countries in respect of quantitative restrictions and concessions.
In 1967, the Kennedy Round Agreements introduced the Enabling Clause allowing the developing and the least developed countries to depart from the Agreements for the purposes of their development, and the principle of differential and more favourable treatment for the developing and least developed countries, in order to help them to expand their economies and their trade.
The Uruguay Round Agreements, concluded in 1993, stressed the need to implement effectively the measures relating to differential and more favourable treatment and to devote special attention to the problems of the developing and the least developed countries with a view to helping them, on the one hand, to expand their economies and their trade, and on the other hand, to adapt to the new world economic and trade context, to become integrated into that context and to benefit from it.
But notwithstanding these good intentions, the results are not very convincing, and the share of the developing and the least developed countries in world trade remains insignificant.
It is true that in the framework of the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements, the developed countries are called upon to reduce their customs duties by 36 per cent over six years, while the developing countries must reduce their customs duties by 24 per cent over 10 years, and the least developed countries are only asked to bind them.
But given the negligible share of the developing and least developed countries of Africa, in particular, in world trade, these measures will in fact be of benefit only to the developed countries, which export on a large scale to those countries of Africa, which have little in the way of goods and services to trade in a highly competitive environment where the preferences they enjoy are largely undermined and where they will in fact be lumbered with additional charges on their net food imports.
In this context marked by diverging interests and power struggles, the threat of marginalization and exclusion of the developing and least developed countries is growing, and their need for assistance in improving their position and their share in international trade is becoming more urgent.
This is where the great challenges of the new international economic and trade system emerge:
- Will this economic and trade system allow the diverging interests and power struggles to gain ground at the expense of the spirit of complementarity and solidarity?
- will it be one in which the strong and the rich marginalize and exclude the weak and the poor?
- will it be one in which diverging interests and unequal capabilities and means are harmoniously managed with a view to a more just world?
- what steps must the developing and the least developed countries take and what means must they apply to become effective and valid participants in the new system?
- what assistance has the international community given them, and what assistance will it give them to that end?
These are some of the issues in connection with which I appeal to the developed countries represented at this Conference to examine the past activities of the WTO and to determine the best possible course for its future work.
But already, terms such as globalization, interdependence, solidarity, integration - which represent the positive side of the new world economic and trade context - are beckoning the international community away from notions such as conflict of interests, balance of power, marginalization, and exclusion, which represent its negative side.
The First Ministerial Conference of the WTO thus affords the international community an opportunity to endorse this fledgling but great international institution and to provide it with the wherewithal to work towards a more integrated and united world.
We welcome the generally positive achievements of its first two years of existence, its initiatives in favour of the least developed countries, in particular the meeting of Trade Ministers of least developed countries held last November, its ongoing concern to include the LDCs in international discussions with a view to their effective integration into the new world context, its willingness to seek complementarity with other international organizations, inter alia through the Integrated Programme with UNCTAD and ITC to assist the LDCs, and so on.
The past, which has produced controversial results - positive for some and negative for others - represents a challenge for us; the present points to the need to redirect our activities in quest of solidarity; and the future offers new hope.
To benefit from this promising future, the developing and least developed countries of Africa must improve their competitiveness, which means:
- Participating more actively, being more dynamic and more motivated and working more closely together in present and future negotiations;
- better defining and putting across their concerns so that they may be taken into account by the international community.
Like many others, our country is also weighed down by debt, poverty and the pernicious effects of ill-controlled trade liberalization. There is still a question mark over economic and trade expansion. Prices are rocketing as a result of the devaluation of the CFA franc and the elimination of subsidies and domestic support for exports of foodstuffs, which Togo like other countries must import. The preferences granted to ACP products on European markets are dwindling away because of the implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements and the loss is far from being made good.
As you may well imagine, Togo's presence at this meeting is evidence of its intention and resolve to learn more about the facts and issues being discussed in the new international economic and trade setting, to be more involved in the Group of 77 and the African Group, and to make common cause with the developing and least developed countries, specifically in calling for:
- The identification and effective and universal implementation of differential and more favourable treatment for developing and least developed countries in the WTO framework;
- technical assistance in:
- identifying and taking advantage of the different services available at the WTO;
- managing problems and constraints;
- diversifying production, improving productivity and quality;
- stimulating domestic savings and foreign investment;
- identifying and exploiting the opportunities provided for the developing and least developed countries under the Uruguay Round Agreements in the spheres of trade in goods and services and investment, so that they may effectively participate in the new world economic and trade system.
I should like to conclude by observing that this First WTO Ministerial Conference comes at a time of transition, which brings with it challenges, but more especially new hope. As the twentieth century draws to a close, the First Ministerial Conference of the WTO provides the international community with an opportunity to take decisive steps in order to:
- Ensure that the risks of marginalization and exclusion of the weak by the strong do not materialize;
- confront and overcome the various challenges;
- identify and seize the opportunities provided for developing and least developed countries under the Uruguay Round Agreements;
- strengthen the provisions and practices aimed at bringing transparency to international trade and encouraging economic globalization and the integration of the economically weak countries into the new economic and trading system, in the interest of a more just and fraternal world;
- improve cooperation between the WTO and other international organizations so as to provide adequate and effective assistance to developing and least developed countries;
- to support WTO initiatives aimed at the effective achievement of these goals.
I am confident that the conclusions of this First Ministerial Conference of the WTO will allay fears and boost confidence and hope among the economically weak countries, including the least developed.
I would also like to underline the fact that the presence of so many of these countries at this meeting has been made possible thanks to the spirit of solidarity within the international community. May I express the hope that the same spirit that the Director-General of the WTO mentioned in his speech will prevail for a long time to come within the international community.
I am therefore hopeful that all is not lost, that the rich will still be able to lend a helping hand to the poor and that the spirit of complementarity and solidarity will thrive, flourish and spread in the future and be translated into a range of specific actions that bring concrete results favourable to economic development and the expansion of the trade of least developed countries, thereby improving their share in international trade and their integration into the world trading system. We believe that, at the same time as they are giving us fish, our partners in the WTO should also be teaching us how to catch them.
It is my hope and wish that time and circumstances will enable us and future generations to proclaim that the hope engendered by the creation of the WTO has become a reality.