Topics handled by WTO committees and agreements
Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

GENEVA WTO MINISTERIAL 1998: STATEMENT

Address by the Director-General Mr. Renato Ruggiero

Since our last Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, the multilateral trading system has achieved many successes. We have concluded agreements on basic telecommunications and on financial services, and implemented the agreement on information technology. Their combined value equates to a new Round - the finance and technology Round for the 21st century. We have a dispute settlement system which is functioning well, and increasingly used by a wide range of the Membership.

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Address by the Director-General Mr. Renato Ruggiero

Since our last Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, the multilateral trading system has achieved many successes. We have concluded agreements on basic telecommunications and on financial services, and implemented the agreement on information technology. Their combined value equates to a new Round - the finance and technology Round for the 21st century. We have a dispute settlement system which is functioning well, and increasingly used by a wide range of the Membership. Developing countries, in particular, are using it more than ever before. We have acted to improve the participation of the least-developed countries in the trading system, and to increase our cooperation in an integrated plan of action with other international agencies. We have held successful seminars on trade and the environment and trade facilitation, as part of our continuing dialogue with the wider community we serve. And now we have this Second Ministerial Meeting and the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the system, which will bring a very important group of leaders to the WTO for the first time to discuss the future of the system and its contribution to the world economy. 

This is a record of success in any terms, but we should not let it blind us to the fact that we live in challenging times where there is still an unacceptable level of poverty and inequality. The turmoil in Asian economies has reminded us how interdependent our world is. This means that the single most important message we can send out from this Meeting is a message of unity. More than ever, the multilateral trading system offers a force for stability and cooperation. This system has brought together 132 countries under shared international rules, agreed by consensus, and ratified by national parliaments. Its strength rests fundamentally on our solidarity and our unity of purpose. 

Unity means shared responsibility. And our first shared responsibility is the implementation of existing commitments. We all recognize that our system of trade rules is only as good as its implementation. Full implementation is essential to the credibility of our system - and its potential to carry the weight of future responsibilities. 

We need to consider how we can enhance the ability of each one of our Members to fully meet their commitments. And we need to recognize that a great part of the answer to this problem has to be found in improving the functioning of the existing bodies of the WTO, notably the General Council. 

There is no real issue that divides us on the basic question of implementation. But there is equally no real issue that divides us on the other main responsibility of this Ministerial Conference, which is to set into motion a broad-based process which responds to the basic statutes of the WTO and to the commitments you have already taken. This process has to prepare the decisions that you have to take at the Third Ministerial Conference in order to arrive at a balanced agenda for our future work. 

Lastly, let me say a few words about issues of a broader relevance. First of all, it would be wrong to underestimate the effects of the financial turmoil in Asia. The repercussions on current accounts are just beginning to be felt, which means that protectionist pressures could become much stronger. We need a strong signal from this Conference that you intend to resist these pressures, because keeping trade open is the main road to renewed growth. 

Secondly, we must be unwavering in our efforts to help the least-developed countries increase their participation, both in this organization, and in the trading system as a whole. I would like to repeat my call for a commitment to free trade for the export products of the least-developed countries. We have established a more integrated approach to capacity building in these countries. And we are rapidly linking the least-developed countries via the Internet to all the resources and expertise of the WTO - a powerful symbol of the new kind of dialogue that is made possible by new technologies. We should be very proud of this initiative - but we can do much more. 

Thirdly, you should not underestimate the growing pressure on the multilateral trading system to give answers to issues which are very real public concerns, but ones whose solution cannot rely on the trading system alone. Whenever people talk about trade now, other issues come up immediately: financial instability, development, marginalization, protection of the environment, social conditions, employment, public health, or cultural diversity. It would be wrong for the international trading system to ignore such issues, or not make the contribution that it is possible for it to make. We have to improve our ability to respond within our own rules and institutions to the interrelationships which undoubtedly exist, showing that the different policies required can be mutually supportive rather than contradictory. One example is our Committee on Trade and Environment, which clearly needs a renewed political impetus. But this is not enough. The fundamental need is for an improved global architecture to respond to the global questions we face. 

Progress in this direction clearly requires more information on our role and more dialogue. I will devote a considerable part of my time after this Conference to try to improve information and dialogue with the civil society, taking into account the point of view of all the WTO Members, and the rules which you have given to me. 

The essential point is that more and more the multilateral trading system is an essential part of a better management of the world economy, because of its rule-based, consensual, non-discriminatory nature. I hope this Conference will be above all an occasion which shows the unity of all the Members inside the system that belongs to all of you and an opportunity to send a clear message of confidence to the world.