WTO news: what’s been happening in the WTO

6 juilllet  2001

“Open Societies, Freedom, Development and Trade” 

Plenary Opening WTO Symposium on Issues Confronting the World Trading System — Geneva

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a pleasure to welcome you, it is good you are here and I look forward to the discussions, debate, exchanges and differences over the next two days.

None of us has perfect knowledge; anything can be improved, that is why gatherings such as this are important. I would like to see them as a permanent, regular feature of the WTO's activities — budgeted for, planned for, and useful to Member Governments, our staff and the wider public.

I welcome scrutiny, it makes us stronger and more accountable. Thank you to those who have made this event possible through financial contributions: Canada, European Commission, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

The debate about globalization means we are now closely scrutinized. I welcome this attention. The WTO does important work and decisions taken by our institution affect the lives of ordinary men and women all over the world. It is right that we should be held accountable.

Governments recognized the need for international and regional responses to problems we have in common. No single nation alone can combat Aids, clean the environment, run a tax system and manage airlines without the cooperation of others. This is why we have established institutions and treaties such as the UN, ILO, WTO, World Bank, and the Law of the Sea. But there has not been a corresponding dedication of political resources, time, finance and focus to hold us more accountable to our owner Governments and the people.

Through our initiatives such as the recent IPU Meeting of Parliamentarians on Trade Issues and symposia such as this, we are encouraging greater involvement from all sectors of political and civil society to help us do a better job.

Voters and consumers want more information and control, greater accountability and greater ownership. They want to know what their governments are doing not just nationally but also internationally. This is a good thing. Globally, we are now more prosperous and relations between states are more peaceful than ever before in world history. Yet many people feel alienated from power and ownership. Ministers now often find their toughest negotiations are not with each other but at home inside their Parliaments and Congresses, with coalition parties, cabinet colleagues, civil society, Member states. It is tougher than in my day.

Globalization is not new. It is a process, not a policy. Historians argue that there were higher levels of trade, and certainly a greater movement of people, one hundred years ago than there are today. What is new is that everyone knows about it, has an opinion and that is good. The questions of how we manage change is what we are here to discuss. Some think if you abolished the WTO then you would abolish globalization. I believe that the civilized answer to differences is rules and law. What brings the WTO into this debate is our dispute settlement system, which binds outcomes legally. Good people are puzzled. Why, they ask, can we have a binding system for trade but not the for environment, labour, children and gender rights, human rights, animal rights, indigenous rights? Why can we not settle differences that drive nations and tribes to war in a similar way? Good point. I am sure that Kofi Annan would relish such a system. Critics, who are not all mad or bad, frequently say we have too much power. Some of them want to give us more powers and responsibilities. It is also about jurisdiction. In which international institution should these powers and responsibilities reside? We need to recognize the gaps in the international architecture. For example, there is no powerful, funded, global environmental agency. There should be. Heavy, fresh and creative thinking must be done about the roles, functions, jurisdictions, obligations, management and mandates of all international institutions and how we deliver our services. This is where those not captured by process and bureaucracy can help the debate. I would welcome your views. A dear friend called our process and culture “medieval”. Hopefully, we are moving into an age of enlightenment, made brighter by the illumination of the information age, which will allow us to communicate in ways never dreamed of by our founders.

The WTO is made up of 142 Members and operates on a basis of consensus. This means all Members are equal under the rules. It means all Members have the right to participate in decision-making. Consensus means all Members have veto power. WTO agreements are negotiated by Ambassadors representing their respective countries. Before the agreements enter into force, they are referred back to Governments. Governments are in turn accountable to parliaments who are responsible for passing legislation because our agreements must be ratified by legislators. Every two years, we are held accountable and given direction at a Ministerial Conference.

We are steadily improving the position and participation of non-resident WTO members and helping more modest missions in our work in Geneva. Work is underway by Members in important areas of internal and external transparency.

Our owners jealously defend their rights and prerogatives. Even having these symposia is controversial and not universally supported. Let me share why. Many Ministers and Ambassadors say it is not the job of the WTO to embrace NGOs and civil society. They say that should be done at the national level in the formation of national policy positions. They are correct but only 90% correct.

Now, because I have been so polite and have given you a message of welcome, may I ask for your assistance. Nothing upsets our owners more than the mindless, undemocratic enemies of the open society who have as a stated aim the prevention of Ministers and our leaders from even meeting. Imagine the attitude of the Minister from South Africa who was imprisoned during South Africa's struggle for freedom when faced with this attitude in the streets of Seattle. Or the Swedish Minister who wanted to focus on issues of sustainable development, Aids and how to extend freedoms we take for granted across a wider Europe, yet had his leader's conference attacked.

It would strengthen the hand of those who seek change if NGOs distance themselves from masked stone-throwers who claim to want more transparency, anti-globalization dot.com-types who trot out slogans that are trite, shallow and superficial. This will not do as a substitute for civilized discourse.

Who is to blame? There is enough blame for all of us to share. Perhaps we could consider new principles of engagement. A debate should be held and understandings reached between civil society, the international institutions and Governments for a code of conduct that could include:

  • The rejection of violence
  • Transparency from NGOs as to their membership, their finances, their rules of decision-making
  • Governments, business and foundations should insist on rules of transparency and adhere to an agreed “code”, before they provide funding.

Governments and their institutions should, in return, give those who follow such rules a stake in the process. And we need to accept that there is a fundamental difference between transparency and participation on the one hand and negotiations on the other — which in the end only Governments can do.

If a group wish to help draft such a set of guidelines, I promise to look at it and talk to other institutions and Governments.

Let me turn briefly to the current WTO work programme. Key decisions will be taken in the weeks and months ahead — decisions that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of the world trading system. At the Ministerial Conference to take place in Doha in November, we must leave the WTO stronger and more open, ready to play its full part in international trade relations. To achieve this, I believe we must launch a new round or a wider set of negotiations. There are several reasons why we need this.

The economic argument for a new round is compelling. Cutting by a third barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services would boost the world economy by $613 billion, according to one study from Michigan University. That is equivalent to adding an economy the size of Canada to the world economy. Doing away with all trade barriers would boost the world economy by nearly $1.9 trillion, or the equivalent of 2 Chinas. Of course, these are only estimates. Reasonable people can quibble about the exact size of the gains from a new round. But the basic message from study after study is clear: a new round brings huge benefits.

We are making progress on market access for LDCs because of EU leadership, the US-Africa bill, and other initiatives. Twenty-nine countries have made more access available, we must do more but can best get final progress inside a wider negotiation.

OECD agricultural subsidies in dollar terms are two-thirds of Africa's total GDP. Abolition of these subsidies would return three times all the Official Development Assistance put together to developing countries. Kofi Annan wants $10 billion to fight Aids; that is just 12 days of subsidies in dollar terms.

The development argument is compelling. Notwithstanding the advances over the last 50 years, 1.2 billion people are still living on less than $1 a day. Another 1.6 billion are living on less than $2 a day. It is a tragedy that while our planet is blessed with sufficient resources to feed its 6  billion people, many are going hungry and living in misery. Poverty in all its forms is the greatest threat to peace, democracy, the environment and human rights. The poor fear marginalization more than globalization.

Samuel Brittan produced a chart recently in the Financial Times. Over the past fifty years, less-developed areas' life-expectancy has risen by over 20 years, adult literacy from 40 per cent to 70 per cent. For China, literacy is up by 34 percentage points, India 33, Sub-Saharan Africa 39, and North Africa 41. Life expectancy for China is up by over 27 years, India by over 21 years and Northern Africa by over 20 years.

What does this prove? Little, other than in general the past 50 years has seen the condition of our species progress at a pace unparalleled in history.

Can I be politically incorrect? Just because the great economic powers want something, that does not automatically make it wrong. The truth is a stubborn thing. The EU, US and Japan account for over sixty per cent of the world's imports. Some observers have suggested recession for all three. If that is true, it will be the first time all three have been in recession in twenty-five years. There is a slow down, how slow we have yet to experience. That cuts jobs and revenue everywhere. I am now reluctant to predict the economic future, because I have accurately predicted five of the last two recessions.

A more open world has its dangers, but a closed world divided into tribal compartments has proved lethal in the past. The tribes of Europe are a good example. Where the tribes appreciate and respect each other's differences — culture, music, religion, food and commerce — we enjoy a united Europe. Human rights and living standards are high. A united Europe is a force for good. Where tribalism flourishes human progress and human dignity are imperilled. Compare the Baltic States and the state of the Balkans. Compare North Korea and South Korea. Night and day, open or closed. Before the Soviets moved in to the Baltic States, they had a living standard comparable with Denmark and now they are bouncing back; pre-war Czechoslovakia was comparable with France. Is France less French because she is in the EU? No. Does trade prevent development? Ask Korea, which had a lower living standard than many African States forty-five years ago. Korea now has a living standard closer to Portugal and look how Portugal has prospered since she opened up and joined the EU.

I know trade alone is not the answer, but it is part of the cocktail necessary for progress. Good governance, debt relief, infrastructure investment, education, sustainable development, health programmes, all have a role to play.

I welcome you all and what you have to offer. I look forward to solid debate and ideas that Ambassadors and Governments and our officials can pick up, so we can improve our performance and all do a better job.