12 and 14 July 2004

Concluding remarks by the Chairperson

See also:
> Belize — Press release: WTO commitments could anchor future reform efforts needed to sustain growth

> Suriname — Press release: Expanded WTO commitments could foster trade and investment

The first Trade Policy Reviews of Belize and Suriname have shed considerable light on the trade and investment policies and practices of both countries. We owe this to the documentation prepared for the meeting, to the valuable contributions made by the delegations of Belize and Suriname, to the comments of our discussant, and to the involvement of several Members of the TPRB. I am very pleased that despite their heavy agendas Ministers Courtenay and Jong Tjien Fa chose to come to this meeting and see it as testament to their Government's desire to practically demonstrate their commitment to the multilateral trading system.

Members commended Belize and Suriname on their economic and institutional reform efforts, which include autonomous and regional initiatives to liberalize trade and investment The progress achieved on these fronts is significant. Members appreciated the efforts made by both countries despite their limited institutional capacity and lack of a permanent representation in Geneva. However, they also urged Belize and Suriname to fulfil their outstanding WTO notification obligations, if necessary with the aid of the WTO Secretariat.

Some Members pointed to the importance of the participation of Belize and Suriname in CARICOM as a stepping stone towards greater integration in the global economy and as an engine of growth. They also sought clarification on future developments in CARICOM and other preferential arrangements involving Belize and Suriname.

While noting the differences in the economic performances of Belize and Suriname, Members underlined the need to increase the coherence of macroeconomic policymaking in both countries to ensure sustainable growth. Belize and Suriname were encouraged to continue diversifying their export bases, both in terms of markets and products. In this regard, some Members pointed to Belize's success in developing its tourism sector as a step in the right direction.

Members welcomed the decline of average applied MFN tariffs in Belize and Suriname over the past years. Concerns were expressed, however, with respect to the relatively high levels of tariff protection enjoyed by the agriculture sectors in both countries. Belize and Suriname were invited to lower their tariff bindings to rates closer to applied rates in order to improve the predictability of their trade regimes. Members noted with concern that certain applied tariff rates exceeded their bound levels.

Members also asked Belize and Suriname questions related to customs, technical regulations, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, incentive schemes, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, and the protection of intellectual property rights.

On sectoral policies, Members appreciated the efforts by Belize and Suriname to liberalize trade in services, but highlighted the need to strengthen the regulatory framework, develop infrastructure, and promote competition. Members sought additional information on sectoral policies and market access conditions in electricity, telecommunications, banking, tourism, and distribution and business services. Noting their currently limited GATS commitments, Members invited Belize and Suriname to expand those commitments in the context of the Doha Development Agenda.

As regards specific issues raised in connection with Belize's trade policies, some Members questioned the application of certain domestic taxes to imports only. Several Members also expressed concern about the possible distortions induced by Belize's non-automatic licensing regime and encouraged Belize to bring it into compliance with WTO disciplines. Belize reiterated its commitment to fulfilling the relevant WTO obligations, and noted that it intends to undertake a review of its licensing system.

Regarding Suriname, some Members considered that the procedures for approving investments were cumbersome, and underscored the need to accelerate public sector reforms and reduce the degree of government interference in the economy. In this respect, the recent establishment of a one-stop window for business licensing is a potentially significant step. In relation to tariff bindings, they sought details on the status of Suriname's renegotiation under Article XXVIII of the GATT. Suriname was congratulated for eliminating the licensing system previously in place to protect domestic producers.

We appreciate the oral and written responses and explanation provided by the delegations of Belize and Suriname.

In conclusion, it is my sense that this Review has amply fulfilled the objective of expanding our understanding of the trade regimes of Belize and Suriname, and the context within which they are formulated and implemented. In this regard, we have been made aware of the real difficulties faced by Belize and Suriname in participating in the multilateral system. Overcoming these challenges is important as the WTO remains the best forum to develop a rules-based trade system. Drawing on the views offered by Members in this meeting, Belize and Suriname are now in a better position to chart future policy adjustments that would serve both the multilateral trading system and their individual development needs.