World Trade    WT/MIN(96)/ST/98

    12 December 1996



    Original: English


Singapore, 9-13 December 1996


Statement by H.E. Mr. Edwin Laurent

Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the WTO

    Mr. President, let me at the outset extend sincere thanks to the Government of Singapore for the excellent and meticulous organization of this major Conference, the graciousness of its reception and the lengths to which it has gone to ensure that our deliberations will be conducted in a most favourable environment.

    The Government of Saint Lucia is cognizant of the dynamic nature of the world environment of which we are a part; one of rapid and often unpredictable change. Amongst the many important changes within the international economic environment of the mid-nineties was the conclusion of the lengthy Uruguay Round Negotiations and the establishment of the World Trade Organization, with its mandate to oversee the various Agreements reached in the Uruguay Round.

    It is not three years since we gathered in Marrakesh to sign the Accord which gave birth to the WTO in April 1994, a truly momentous event; for this Agreement represents the broadest, most historical and comprehensive trade agreement which builds a new foundation for the global trading system. This was an occasion of great euphoria and most of all hope, hope that a strengthened and rule-based multilateral system would lead to improvement of living standards of the peoples of the world. These months since Marrakesh have provided us with the opportunity to assess the extent to which the changes have led to or promise any real improvement to the prospects of our countries.

    Saint Lucia became a Member of the WTO on its entry into force on 1 January 1995, signifying its desire to be party to the world trading system established by the Marrakesh Agreement. As its commitment to this Agreement, Saint Lucia has provided trade offers on goods and services.

    The unfortunate conclusion which has to be drawn from an objective assessment of the process set in train by the WTO is that many poor countries have not seen any improvement in their prospects since the WTO. Like all contracting parties, they too have made concessions, imposing on their fledgling economies rigid commitments and burdens way beyond their capacities to bear - but what can their governments show to their people as compensation or reciprocity for the high price which was committed.

    It must be admitted that the marginalization of these countries and their exclusion from the much-vaunted benefits of globalization are becoming increasingly apparent along with a genuine desire to address their disadvantages.

    My Government though has two concerns:

    Firstly there are countries though not officially recognized as least developed, which, because of their smallness and insularity, fragile, vulnerable and open economies, dependence on single commodity exports, etc. are just as structurally disadvantaged and unable to compete in the global economy. Existing in this "grey area" they too lack the economic and institutional ability to take advantage of benefits of liberalization. Therefore they too need special attention if they are not to be further marginalized.

    Secondly, recognizing that the inability to compete stems from economic factors, if the problems are to be seriously addressed, then concrete measures must be taken to overcome or compensate for impediments of these disadvantaged groups.

    Saint Lucia has already submitted some of its notifications. Cognizant of the fact that the fulfilment of notification requirements is vital for a credible and transparent WTO system the Government of Saint Lucia will endeavour to solicit the introduction of special measures and technical assistance to ensure greater participation and to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the liberalization process in the WTO. Attempts by the WTO Secretariat in simplifying notification formats are highly commendable.

    Our inability to maintain a continuous presence in Geneva is again a manifestation of our limited resources. We are aware of the benefits of active participation almost on a daily basis. The issue of a strengthened representation in Geneva is however receiving attention. The business of the WTO with respect to its work programme must however be advanced.

    Technical assistance and other such measures are indispensable for helping less developed countries as well as small vulnerable economies such as Saint Lucia. If their lot is to be improved at all, they will have to benefit from special trade measures. The laudable and no doubt sincere good intentions of so many countries will only make a real difference if they are matched by the adoption of supportive trade policies and practices. In this regard, this is the real challenge facing the WTO.

    Let me use a concrete example from my country's own experience. The ongoing campaign against the preferential arrangements enshrined in the Lomé Convention which enables several African and Caribbean countries to sell their bananas to their only market, the EU. How can these attacks be reconciled with any sincere intention to enhance my country's participation in world trade, for should the attacks prevail, the result would be to exclude us from our only export market. The proof of commitment to the noble cause of helping the disadvantaged can only be through concrete action and its reflection in trade policy measures. For us, it is on this that the very credibility of the trading system hinges.

    Saint Lucia has been a participant to several regional and international agreements which by their nature serve to complement to the rules of the WTO. In terms of response to the global liberalization process, CARICOM (and Saint Lucia as a member of CARICOM) has put in place a phased reduction of tariffs against extraregional imports.

    Saint Lucia is a signatory to the Association of Caribbean States Agreement signed in 1995. This Agreement brings Member States into an Agreement with trade liberalization and functional cooperation objectives.

    Attempts at tabling new areas for consideration to the Ministerial Conference have been noted. Caution needs to be exercised in ensuring that such initiatives are not introduced as a pretext for protectionist measures. Consultations with international organizations such as UNCTAD and the ILO with requisite expertise would be essential. Small developing economies such as Saint Lucia within the context of our constraints will, whilst attempting to participate in the new areas if adopted will of necessity give immediate priority to the implementation of the current Agreements as well as the completion of the work programme of the WTO.

    During the transition periods afforded to developing smaller economies, attempts will be made by Saint Lucia at acquiring our fair share of the potential benefits which compliance offers. It is in this context that we should be assured of a more level playing field amongst all free trade partners.

    While my country and so many others are disappointed with progress to date, we remain hopeful that the system will not continue to evolve as one based on power relations but rather will become one characterized by fairness, and equality of opportunity.