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WTO NEWS: 2001 NEWS ITEMS

5 March 2001
WTO/FORSEC Trade Policy Course for Pacific island countries
Fiji 5-9 March 2001

Text of video message by Mr. Mike Moore, Director-General

Mr. Noel Levi, Secretary-General, Forum Secretariat,
Representatives of the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and France,
Course participants from the Pacific Forum Countries.

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This is the first-ever trade policy course the WTO is organizing, jointly with the Forum Secretariat, for Pacific Island countries. I regret I cannot be here with you in person.

In October last year I had the pleasure to meet with the Pacific Island participants attending a Trade Policy Course for LDCs in Geneva. That is where the idea for this specialized trade policy course for Pacific Island leaders originated.

Let me add that only a few weeks ago, I was in the Caribbean, seeing our brothers and sisters there who have similar problems to yourselves: problems of small and vulnerable countries with scarce resources and who have not been able to participate fully in WTO processes. This course is an important effort on our part to include you more fully in our work. We are undertaking similar activities in the Caribbean.

Let me pay tribute to Mr. Levi, the Secretary-General, for his able leadership. I want to thank him for his support of the work of the WTO. I will continue to rely on his advice and support particularly in the next few months as we prepare for the WTO Ministerial Conference to take place in Qatar in November. I also extend my thanks to the Government of New Zealand for providing the funding that has made the holding of this course possible. The governments of Australia and France continue to offer assistance in various ways, which is highly welcome.

As you begin this course, let me report to you on several key issues I believe are uppermost in your minds and to which I attach the highest importance.

First, the problems of small economies. WTO Members have expressed concern over the marginalization of LDCs and certain small and vulnerable economies and societies. There is a recognition that these concerns need to be urgently addressed. The problems are at several levels. They include the facts of geography, high costs of exports caused by distance and isolation from main markets, and elementary forces of nature which erase infrastructures and impose high tolls on national economic efforts. The problems have clearly been recognized and practical solutions can be worked out to address some of these factors as they relate to small vulnerable economies. For example, although it is difficult to change the facts of geography, modern electronic and high-speed communications can provide some solutions. Increased use of the Internet, e-mails, mobile and land-based telephony, are examples in this regard.

We are helping. You may be aware the WTO has installed 96 Reference Centres in 78 countries, including in the Pacific countries of Tonga, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa. I am currently consulting with governments in this region to try and secure funding for more Reference Centres to be located in the Pacific. WTO Reference Centres allow users access to WTO news, information and documentation. It brings you closer to our work in Geneva.

We are making other efforts. We have expanded our technical assistance programmes in the region. This course is one example. WTO Members are also continuing discussions on Special and Differential Treatment provisions in WTO Agreements with a view to making them more operational and to take greater account of the special needs of small and vulnerable economies. Improvements in market access will also make significant contributions for resolving the problems of small economies.

However, beyond the efforts of the WTO Secretariat and Membership, I believe small economy concerns can most effectively be addressed within the context of a wider set of trade negotiations. That is why I hope the Ministerial Conference in Qatar will succeed in launching a new round of multilateral trade negotiations.

Second, let me talk on WTO accessions. This is a subject of paramount importance. I know Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are in the process of joining the WTO. I have raised their individual applications with WTO Members frequently. I believe there is growing support amongst WTO Members for accelerating the accession process for these and all other LDC applicant countries, but without bending the rules which are critical to the integrity and credibility of the multilateral trading system. The WTO delegation at this meeting will address relevant technical issues that will facilitate your respective accession processes. But let me add; accessions are member-driven; each Member country has the right to seek from you certain answers. It is my duty as Director-General to ensure you receive all the necessary and possible technical support to accelerate your applications. I will also work to ensure that undue pressure beyond the established rules is not placed on acceding countries.

Third, trade-related capacity-building. This is an area where the WTO has made significant progress this year. Members of our Finance Committee have increased our budget for technical assistance activities by CHF 1.5 million. Although the increase is modest, it is an important step. I have requested Members to increase our regular budget further so we can plan ahead in a predictable way. I will continue to press them for this support. In addition to funds from the regular budget, several Members have been generous in providing extra-budgetary support for technical assistance.

Some of you will be familiar with the International Trade Center. This is another instrument to assist countries. The Commission assists you, in practical ways, to get your products to markets. Fifty percent of the Commission's core budget comes from the WTO.

I can report considerable success on a project called the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance for LDCs. This is run by the WTO and 5 other agencies: ITC, IMF, UNCTAD, UNDP, and the World Bank. Just recently, WTO Members (in the Sub-Committee on Least-Developed Countries) agreed to establish an IF Pilot Scheme, which will operate on the basis of the Integrated Framework Trust Fund. This Scheme will focus primarily on "mainstreaming" a trade integration Chapter into the overall development plans and poverty reduction strategies of LDCs. Another key objective in the Pilot Scheme will be to improve coordination among all bilateral and multilateral providers of technical assistance and elaborate a prioritised and sequenced programme of technical assistance in the beneficiary pilot LDCs. This elaborated programme will include infrastructural requirements to be considered at World Bank Consultative Group (CG) meetings or UNDP Round Tables. This is a significant degree of improvement in our efforts at coordination among donors, beneficiary countries and agencies.

So, for the first time after many years, we are getting all the agencies in a line to assist LDCs. It should have been done years ago. In fact Ministers first instructed agencies to work on this project in 1996. Notwithstanding the delay, the agencies are now working in concert to achieve a purpose as directed by Ministers. I hope this model, when successful, will be used more extensively to assist developing countries and the smaller and more vulnerable amongst us as well.

Technical assistance needs are increasing. No single agency or individual donor can cope with the complexity and magnitude of demands for technical assistance from developing and least-developed countries. A coordinated response is the best possible response. We have made important progress in this regard. I remain committed to improving not just coordination, but also the volume and quality of technical assistance. I know that good quality assistance is vital for developing and least-developed countries if they are to effectively participate in the multilateral trading system, in and future trade negotiations. It is vital to assisting their full integrate into the global economy.

You all have problems with existing WTO decisions and agreements. We need to be able to provide you with assistance and capacity to enable you to meet your obligations and exploit the opportunities provided by the WTO agreements. We also need to be able to provide to our small and more vulnerable Members technical capacity so they can negotiate inside a new round. Because it is only inside a new round that we can do the best for the most of our membership.

Fourth, improvements in market access opportunities. We have been on this job for several months now. It has been a sad situation where the poorest countries on the planet have not been able to export to the richest markets in areas where they have competitive advantage. LDCs represent less than half of one percent of world trade. But even where they have advantage they have been locked out of wealthy markets (or have faced higher tariffs and more protection than any other group of countries).

I can report to you some progress. Some of you may recall that, post-Seattle, as part of WTO confidence-building, I initiated consultations on measures in favour of LDCs. Market access was a key component. As a result of these efforts, a large number of Members have proposed further market access opportunities for LDCs. Other countries are wanting to help even though it is politically difficult for them. Several countries, as I have said, have taken quite bold moves; Canada, New Zealand and Norway have notified us of measures taken. Others — Japan, United States — have announced or proposed new measures that will improve market access. Significantly, the European Union just recently made a decision that provides for duty and quota-free market access for exports from 48 LDCs, with the exception of arms. Bananas, rice and sugar will be phased in between 2002 to 2009. That is a positive development, it reflects well on the leadership in Europe and has pushed us to seek absolutely duty and quota-free market access for all LDCs.

Put together, we have achieved a positive step forward for LDCs. Is it enough? It is never enough. We want duty-free market access for Least-Developed countries in all markets. Again, the only way to achieve that - the best way - is in the context of a new trade round.

Five countries in the Pacific are LDCs. They can benefit from improvements to market access. But that in itself is not enough. It is about building capacity at home, infrastructure at home, marketing at home, education at home and, for some of our more distant friends, reducing the enormous cost that they face because of transport.

My fifth point. I want to report to you on the status of on-going work on mandated negotiations in agriculture and services. Agriculture and Services represent two thirds of the world's economic activity. These negotiations began last year. We were instructed to undertake these negotiations by Ministers at the Marrakesh conference. Special sessions have been held. Progress has been made. The Council for Trade in Services has been discussing guidelines for the negotiations on services. When these discussions are finalized and when the guidelines are agreed to, they will establish the objectives, principles, scope, modalities and procedures for substantive negotiations. The Committee on Agriculture is discussing many negotiating proposals from Members. We have 36 proposals in front of us.

By the end of March, we will undertake a "stock-taking" of these negotiations and across the board to see how far we have come and how we move ahead in the future. Then, in July, we will report to Ministers on our progress. By July we ought to have a good idea of our agenda for the Ministerial Conference in Qatar. We will have isolated those areas where we can get close enough so that Ministers and our leaders can find an agreement.

Finally, the Ministerial Conference in Qatar is just 8 months away. Ensuring we have a successful Ministerial is my major objective. By 'successful Ministerial' I mean one that launches a series of negotiations that all of us feel comfortable with, that provides enough space for all of our Members, and which ensures capacity building alongside some complex areas is put together.

Preparations are under way. It is an extremely difficult process. We are doing the consultations in an open and transparent way. I know of course the difficulties of small countries. A small country like New Zealand will never have as many officials as Australia or Japan. It is even more difficult for Pacific countries. But there are some ways in which we can increase their participation. This is why I established in my first year the “Geneva Week” which is an initiative designed to help officials from non-resident countries improve their representation in Geneva. Many of you probably have been on these courses. We had another one last year and we will have one this year. Even if small countries will never have the same representation as bigger countries, we have new ideas to enhance current participation and we have put in place assistance initiatives that never existed before.

I am sure that WTO Members clearly understand the stakes involved. We need to maintain the credibility of the multilateral rules-based system. We need to strengthen it. If there are injustices — and there are; if there are things that can be improved — and there are, they can best be improved if we have a wider set of negotiations that bring all these problems together.

There are ominous signs out there. Many countries are looking at regional alternatives. Sometimes, this is good, sometimes, this is a building-block. But regionalism must never be seen as a substitute for the multilateral system. Because we know that the ones who will miss out the most from regional and bilateral agreements will be the smallest, the most vulnerable and the poorest. There are plenty of people knocking at the doors of wealthy countries. There are not that many knocking on the doors of the poorest.

The overriding challenge today for the multilateral trading system, as a part of the global economy, is to join in international efforts to alleviate poverty, and to meet the internationally agreed targets of halving poverty by 2015. No challenge is greater. I see this as a moral issue as well. How can we deny opportunity for the most vulnerable of us and say that we are a fair rules-based system? I repeat — and this is my personal view, it is not the view of all our Members — if we are to redress these imbalances, to give the most distant and lonely of our Members a better go, we will do a better job negotiating inside a new round.

I hope that you have a successful seminar and course. I know some of my dear friends from Geneva are with you. I do wish I could be with you. I miss the region. I am homesick! I look forward to doing the job and coming back.

Thank you.