Statement by Hon. Rishad BATHIUDEEN
Minister of Industry and Commerce
I take much pleasure in joining you all at the Ninth Session of the WTO Ministerial Conference in the exotic island of Bali. At the very outset, I would like to convey my sincere thanks to the government of Indonesia, in particular, Hon. Gita Irawan Wirjawan, the Minister of Trade and his team for the excellent logistics and the great hospitality they have been extending to us since our arrival.
The Ninth Ministerial is taking place at a very decisive juncture, as the global economy continues to move in a slow gear, taking much longer-than-expected to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. The sluggish growth has already posed serious policy challenges for all of us. The increasing figures of unemployment and the economic hardships in many parts of the world signal a disturbing trend. Downsizing its own forecast a few months ago, the IMF now predicts only 3.6% growth for 2014. Unfortunately, the LDCs and small and vulnerable economies are destined to suffer the most.
In recognition of the fact that the resource-poor, developing countries constitute the majority of the WTO Membership, the Ministers, who gathered for the launch of the Doha Round in 2001, reiterated that “development” should be the central theme of the Doha Work Programme. Sadly, the Round has produced only marginal benefits for the developing nations even after 12 long years.
Sri Lanka is a developing country with a small and vulnerable economy, which depends heavily on a few overseas markets and a handful exports such as apparel and tea. Ironically, most of these products are subject to high tariffs and tariff peaks in our main markets and this has seriously eroded our competitiveness vis-à-vis other foreign suppliers. On top of this, the Sri Lankan economy had fallen victim to nearly three decades of terrorism, which ended only in 2009. With the dawn of peace and stability, the country has turned a new page in its history. However, the post-conflict Sri Lanka now faces the formidable challenge of reconstruction of its infrastructure and rebuilding of its economy.
Against this backdrop, we looked forward to a successful outcome at the MC-9 in Bali. We sincerely hoped that the MC-9 would unblock the DDA impasse and pave the way for an early resumption of negotiations on a comprehensive post-Bali agenda. However, it now seems that the intended Bali-deliverables are still not within our reach. It is really sad that the Members, even after so much of efforts and consultations in Geneva, which went over many sleepless nights, including week-ends, could not pull the final strings together.
Nevertheless, I wish to take this opportunity to convey the most sincere appreciations of the government of Sri Lanka to His Excellency Roberto Azevêdo, Director General of the WTO for all his hard work and the excellent leadership. We are highly impressed with his knowledge, impartiality and the all-inclusive approach. We have no doubt that he did his best in exploring every possible avenue to make the Bali deliverables a reality. Director General, Sri Lanka is deeply grateful to you and your wonderful team at the WTO for all what you did during the negotiating process.
Although we could not clinch the expected package in Bali, we really should not be disheartened. Instead, we have to be positive. “The glass is half full”. We have achieved a commendable progress compared to a few months ago. As a matter of fact, we are in the vicinity of a deal and we should never let go this opportunity. Let’s take a long, hard look at all the contentious issues, which stood in our way, and be resolute with a stronger political determination, so that we sure can bridge the very little gap, which is left between us.
Being a strong advocate of free trade, Sri Lanka fully supports the proposed agreement on Trade Facilitation. However, as a small and vulnerable economy, we look forward to some capacity building assistance by our development partners, before we can undertake certain commitments in this agreement.
Sri Lanka recognizes the importance of the G-33 proposal, which seeks to support public stockholding programmes that ensure food security for millions of people, who live in many developing and least developed countries. Similarly, we are of the firm view that the Members should find a mutually satisfactory solution to the G-20 proposals, which involve Export Competition and Tariff Rate Quota Administration. We are also pleased that the Members have reached a great deal of consensus on the S & D Monitoring Mechanism and the LDC package. Of course, there is some more work to be done. An early convergence on these proposals will pave the way for us to expedite comprehensive negotiations on the rest of the DDA. We are deeply concerned that some of the most important areas such as NAMA and agriculture have been on hold for too long.
In order to facilitate effective integration of developing economies into the multilateral trading system with equitable benefits, it is critical that all DDA negotiations continue to remain development-focused. Enhanced flows of Aid-for-Trade, value-added S&D provisions, effective LDC and SVE Work Programmes etc., would certainly make a meaningful contribution in this direction.
An early outcome on the intended Bali package is an imperative in restoring the credibility of both the WTO and the multilateral trading system it leads. Erosion of confidence in the WTO will seriously polarise the Member interests with irreversible consequences for the entire global community. I am sure that no Member wants to suffer such a destiny.
Before I conclude, let me inform the distinguished delegates that the Group of 15, which brings together a Summit Level Group of 17 developing countries and currently chaired by Sri Lanka, also takes a keen interest in the global trade agenda, which is advanced under the WTO disciplines. The Group, therefore, calls for a fresh impetus at the MC-9 for an early conclusion of the DDA Negotiations, keeping the “development” dimension at its heart.
I wish the Bali deliberations every success.