Dhaka, Bangladesh, 17 janvier 2004

International Business Conference on Global Economic Governance & Challenges of Multilateralism

Inaugural Ceremony

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honoured to join such a distinguished company here today. Today's gathering gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the International Chamber of Commerce and its Members in Bangladesh and around the world, in promoting international trade. It is also an opportunity for me personally to thank the Bangladesh National Committee of the ICC for its unwavering support for the multilateral trading system.

The support of the business community has been central to the huge successes of the multilateral trading system over the past half century. It is you who breathe life and purpose into what is agreed at the WTO. It is you who benefit from the predictability and stability of the rules-based multilateral trading system, backed up by a dispute settlement system with teeth. Add to that the benefits of new markets, sales of new products, intellectual property protection and lower costs for user industries.

Average tariffs on manufactured goods in industrialised countries are under one-tenth of their level half a century ago. Today, business is conducted in trade in goods and services at the pace of one billion dollars an hour, every hour of the day and every day of the week. The rules of the trading system have been strengthened and expanded. The multilateral trading system's membership has grown over six fold since its creation and together WTO membership spans 92 per cent of the world's population and 95 percent of world trade.

In spite of these great achievements there seems to be a worrying lack of urgency about the need to drive the multilateral trading system forward – to make it more relevant to today's market realities and to extend its benefits more widely around the world. We have set in train a major new trade negotiation — the Doha Development Agenda. This was launched at a time when the international community, at a series of conferences, pledged its commitment to address one of the foremost challenges facing our world this new millennium – that of poverty reduction. At each of these conferences, the role of trade was identified as central in providing the resources needed to tackle poverty.

Yet in spite of our hopes, the Doha Development Agenda negotiations have not progressed as far or fast as we had expected. Member governments have, time and again, expressed their determination to advance the negotiations. While progress has been made, and recent developments have been encouraging, we have not seen this translated into enough flexibility in negotiating positions. Meanwhile the poor of this world are not being afforded an opportunity to trade their way out of poverty. Developed countries, likewise, are not achieving more secure and liberal access to a wider range of markets, nor are their consumers benefiting from the lower prices that greater efficiency and competition bring.

To think that the issues before us are too difficult and politically sensitive to tackle multilaterally or to think that other forums for negotiation — whether bilateral or regional — would serve as an alternative, would be a mistake of epic proportions. We must remember that all multilateral negotiations have been tortuous, lengthy and politically difficult. We must also recall that multilateral negotiations — given political will and determination — have always borne fruit. The Doha Development Agenda is the ninth round of multilateral negotiations. None of the previous rounds have failed. Only the multilateral trading system can provide the broad-trade offs that make trade liberalisation possible. Only a multilateral negotiation can ensure that poor and vulnerable countries are not left out in the cold.

We need a change of perspective in order to move forward. Developed countries need to see further opening of their markets to exports of developing countries not as altruism or charity but as being in their own enlightened self-interest. And it is clear that many of the highest barriers to trade maintained by developed countries are on those products of export interest to developing countries — particularly agriculture and labour-intensive manufactures.

Likewise, developing countries need to approach these negotiations with a view to integrating themselves into the multilateral trading system — rather than shielding themselves indefinitely from competition. And it is in this light that we need to conduct the debate about the policy space needed by developing countries and the time needed to liberalise and implement commitments. Moreover, a lot of hard work needs to be done domestically by governments to create the right kind of business environment for trade and investment. Too often the multilateral trading system is used as a scapegoat for bad policies and practices that are home-grown.

The WTO, and the GATT before it, has the reputation of being a place where governments come together to do business and not to talk shop. My strong message to you, the business community, is that your governments and the multilateral trading system need your active support. Lets get back to business. We need a successful Doha Development Agenda for the greater prosperity of mankind.

Thank you.