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Seminar on Special and Differential Treatment for Developing Countries

Closing Remarks by Mr. Ouedraogo, Deputy Director-General at the Seminar on Special and Differential Treatment

I wish to thank all participants for this very fruitful discussion, made possible because of the large number of participants and also because of the excellent quality of the different presentations and pertinent contributions. May I at this point thank the delegation of Morocco, who first proposed the holding of this seminar. Let me attempt to summarise the broad themes which I believe came up in today's proceedings.

To begin with, it appears to me that the main distinction between countries is that which separates countries which are integrated into the world economy from those which are not. It appears, as mentioned by Mr. Michalopoulos, that there are varying levels of integration, which do not always fit happily into neat categorisations. The fundamental questions to my mind are how therefore can special and differential treatment help to address the question of integration. And how can special and differential treatment enable countries to implement policies which, from experience, can be shown to promote development.

A number of speakers have pointed out that special and differential provisions have not provided many substantial benefits to developing countries as a whole. The point has also been made that potential benefits from such provisions may have been outweighed by advantages and exemptions which have in practice favoured developed countries – something which we might call “reverse S&D”. Finally it seems clear that years of liberalisation at the multilateral level, and the extension of rule-making into new areas of trade-related activities, has changed the setting within which S&D operates. All this points to the need for a fresh perspective.

I think that the point has been made clear that the process of trade liberalisation can be a great benefit. Benefits accrue from the opening up of markets, and there are of course gains in economic efficiency from the opening up of one's own economic regime. The issue of preference erosion should not side-track us from the real benefits of liberalisation. What is clearly needed now, however, is thoroughgoing liberalisation in areas of interest to developing countries, including the elimination of tariff peaks and escalation. Many speakers, including Mr. Sharer of the IMF, have emphasised now that successful structural adjustment in developing countries needs to be supported by adjustment efforts in developed countries.

We had a very fruitful discussion on the subject of preferences. It is clear that we need to undertake work on how to ensure that preferences can be a useful tool for integration into the world economy. In this respect I found Ms Page's comments very useful, and notably her linkage of the issue to the subject of rules of origin. I also noted the increasing importance of preferential market access in the context of regional trading arrangements.

I think that the seminar has revealed some of the thinking about how S&D might be developed and interpreted in the future. One suggestion is a possible move away from “one size fits all” prescription, to a more fine-grained approach taking into account the specific circumstances and vulnerabilities of countries. It is a simple fact that developing countries vary widely in terms of their size, their sectoral specificities, their administrative capacities and so forth. I think Dr. Stevens and Mr. Michalopoulos have discussed quite eloquently some of the pros and cons of differentiation among developing countries in relation to S&D.

The subjects of supply-side constraints and capacity shortfalls received much attention in our work today. There is obviously a close link, as pointed out by Ambassador Narayanan, between these subjects and the question of implementation. Clearly, we have at our disposal now better information on the difficulties faced by developing countries in implementing WTO agreements, than we did 6 years ago at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round. We need to take into account this information so that we might constructively explore how problems regarding implementation can be addressed. In regard to technical assistance, I must stress that during this year we shall be reviewing the WTO's technical assistance efforts in terms of their efficiency. We should also review them in terms of their aims and objectives in terms of capacity building, and explore how best capacity-building efforts can be supported by financial assistance through multilateral and bi-lateral sources. Many speakers have also raised the important issue of technical and financial assistance to developing countries in implementing WTO agreements and in creating a favourable infrastructure for trade, including institutional capacity.

I would like to conclude my observations by thanking you all again. I think the best tribute I can give you is to say that the points raised today will be a very valuable contribution to the work of this organization, and that as a first step, they will be an input into the work of the Committee on Trade and Development in the coming year, beginning this Friday. Ambassador Diallo will be reporting to the Committee on this seminar, and we hope to have an equally productive discussion then.

Thank you all.