"The evolving cooperation between the United Nations system and the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the last two years is a welcome sign of shared perceptions of the global development challenge, and of a willingness to devise solutions in common", the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Boutros-Boutros Ghali, stated in a message to the first Ministerial Conference of the WTO, which is being held in Singapore from 9 to 13 December. The United Nations system is represented at this Conference by the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Mr. Rubens Ricupero.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations saw three, interrelated, priority objectives for the WTO: strengthening the participation of developing countries, becoming universal in membership, and reinforcing its cooperation with the United Nations system. The further expansion of cooperation with UNCTAD, as a development-oriented organization, is especially important in his view.
Assisting developing countries in taking full advantage of the new opportunities that globalization offers for trade, investment and technology flows, would, he said, be a key common task in the period ahead.
Speaking in his capacity as Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Mr. Ricupero stated that the real test for the WTO would be to complete the full and equitable integration of all developing countries into the world trading system. UNCTAD has been called upon by the international community to assist developing countries, especially the least developed among them, in this process. This required a balance between the rigorous observance of disciplines and a flexibility in the light of the constraints faced by these countries, and their participation in the decision-making process on trade issues.
For Mr. Ricupero, the integration of the developing countries into the world economy is also the best prospect in the short term of reducing the sentiment of uncertainty and insecurity that pervades the world today. The huge untapped potential for the international economy was illustrated by the fact that for the past five years the volume of imports into Asia had risen by over 60% and if such a growth rate were to continue over the next 4 years, the expansion of imports into the 10 leading Asian economies could equal that of the USA and European Union combined.
"It is not hard to imagine the almost limitless possibilities that could materialize were we able to fully integrate into the world trading system the more than 100 economies that are today marginalized", Mr. Ricupero said.
Defining trade "frontiers"
Mr. Ricupero saw a danger, however, in extending the so-called "frontiers" of the trading system to non-trade objectives. This could destabilize the balance of rights and obligations which forms the bedrock of the system. He recognized that the process of globalization calls into question to what extent some traditional trade instruments, such as anti-dumping measures and rules of origin, can be used when production is integrated internationally. "Any eventual expansion of these trade ´frontiers´ should be the result of a conscious decision of the international community as a whole". Coherence between calls for the contestability of markets and the belief that competition should be limited whenever higher social values, such as core human and labour rights or the protection of the environment, are put in jeopardy, would, however, be essential.