PLACE DU PETIT-SACONNEX
1211 GENEVA 19, SWITZERLAND
Organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union
Geneva, 8 and 9 June 2001
We are now at the closing stage of our meeting and it is my duty to try to summarize our two days of intensive debate. Before I do so, I should say a few words of thanks on your behalf.
I would like to express our gratitude to the Director-General of WTO, Mr. Mike Moore, for his enlightening inaugural speech and for his enthusiastic participation in the question and answer session yesterday – the first parliamentary hearing of a head of agency which I hope will set a trend.
I should also like to thank all our keynote speakers and panellists, who provided stimulating food for thought on the themes chosen for our discussions. Our thanks also go to all the members of the Preparatory Committee who made the preparations for this confeconference and who drafted our Final Declaration. I am also personally grateful to Dr. Sorour and Mr. Imbeni for having graciously helped me chair the meeting.
Most importantly, I would like to thank all of you for having participated actively in this first global parliamentary meeting on international trade. You, some two hundred members of parliaments from around seventy five countries, have joined country representatives and international organisations here in Geneva in a unique dialogue on one of today's most pressing issues for our democracies: developing a free, just and equitable multilateral trading system.
During the two days of debate, you have discussed globalisation from a trade perspective, WTO and the current international trading system, and future trade negotiations. You have examined these issues from a parliamentary angle, highlighting your role and action as relay between the government and the people and your responsibility to enact legislation and oversee the government. You concluded your deliberations by providing suggestions for the road ahead, on how we can build together a parliamentary dimension to international trade negotiations and arrangements.
Globalisation provided the starting point for our discussions. Globalisation is not new. What is new is the speed with which it is taking place. We recognise that globalisation offers both opportunities and challenges. Globalisation creates winners and losers. Because trade policy is seen as a major tool for pushing globalisation, groups in societies and countries that oppose globalisation are also resisting the further liberalisation of world trade. The real danger, however, is marginalisation.
The point was made that globalisation poses a profound challenge to democracy, in general, and to parliaments, in particular. As a process, it has been mainly business-driven, by business strategies, for business ends. Often, it leads to a loss of national sovereignty and restricts the efforts and ability of legislators to regulate issues that are seen as beyond the scope of national legislatures. Globalisation also seems to hasten the decline of nation States by promoting both internationality and fragmentation, a state of affairs that tends to leave Parliaments, traditionally associated with the development of nation States, in a void.
National monitoring by parliaments of international agreements negotiated by governments, especially in the area of trade, is of vital importance to the future of democracy. In every country, parliament and its members have a constitutional responsibility to represent the people. It is their role to give voice to the concerns and aspirations of the people for a better life. In the area of international trade, parliaments worldwide want to see a more open, equitable, predictable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system.
However, for constitutional or procedural reasons, parliaments in many countries are often not fully involved in the preparation of international trade agreements that they are later asked to hastily ratify. Parliamentarians need to intensify their efforts to closely follow trade negotiations.
Many of you referred to the critical role of civil society, especially through the activity of the NGOs, and it is clear that we need to build partnerships at both the national and international levels to fill the democratic deficit on which so many of us have commented.
In some quarters, the multilateral trading system is seen as biased in favour of developed countries. Parliamentarians from developing nations are calling for a more balanced approach whereby WTO agreements would better reflect the interests of both developed and developing nations. In that respect, many of you have highlighted technology transfer as crucial for development. To reap the benefits of globalisation, developing countries need improved access to technology.
In our discussion of the current international trading system we devoted special attention to the concerns of the developing countries and countries in transition. Such concerns include, for example, significant differences in market access conditions for agricultural and agro-industrial products, as well as for textile and clothing. The gap between the rich and the poor must be narrowed.
Implementation of the Uruguay Round results remains a problem for many developing countries and countries in transition due to lack of capacity, resources and technical know-how. Some of them have been unable to enact legislation to bring them into compliance with their obligations after the agreed transition periods.
In this regard, some delegates voiced proposals that WTO trade remedies agreements should be reformulated so as to grant differential treatment to developing countries and in particular to ensure a simplified way for the application of anti-dumping and countervailing measures. Others expressed the view that trade rules and practices should not undermine sustainable development goals, good environmental practices and core labour standards.
Many of you voiced a common preoccupation that existing imbalances should not be accentuated by a new round of trade negotiations. The catastrophic situation of many African counties, especially the least developed ones, was particularly highlighted in this regard. We recognize that WTO is not a development agency: its mandate is limited to trade and trade-related issues. However, we all agree that future trade negotiations must have a strong focus on development.
With respect to the role of parliaments in relation to the current international trading system, we know that most WTO agreements make no attempt to guide member States on the content of their laws, since they concern only the external effects of laws or regulations. However, the task of adapting domestic legislation to the basic rules and regulations of WTO is as important as it is complex.
Parliaments have a responsibility for ensuring that the legislation they pass or have passed is in full conformity with the treaties their States have concluded. It is an "up-front" responsibility.
Moreover, parliaments should play an important role in all stages of the trade negotiation process. Unfortunately this is still not the case in many countries, especially developing ones.
We are convinced that parliaments should be consulted in setting national objectives of major trade negotiations and should establish their own control mechanisms in this regard. Creating national partnerships with regard to trade negotiations is essential for democracy. We therefore welcome the fact that, irrespective of whether they are legally required to or not, trade negotiators in many countries are spending more and more time in consultation with their national parliaments and showing deference to the views of parliament on the agreements under negotiation.
We share the view that, if there is a real guardian of a nation's sovereignty, it is the national parliament. Parliaments are custodians of domestic policy priorities and, as such, should not hesitate to exercise that role in relation to the executive branch that is effectively involved in international trade negotiations.
That is what is rightly expected from us by the people of whom we are the legitimate representatives and to whom we are accountable, and we are fully committed to carrying out this mission.
Nowhere is the role of legislators more important than in countries that are now in the process of acceding to the WTO. It is the responsibility of parliaments of these countries to scrutinise all "pros" and "cons" of the accession in order to avoid disproportionally high expectations generated when political decisions are taken before economic ones, without paying full attention to consequences
Once the accession process has started, the ability and willingness of the national parliaments to enact WTO conforming legislation becomes a key factor. A positive attitude within the national parliament can greatly reduce the length of time required to accede to the WTO. A hostile parliament can severely handicap the government’s negotiators in Geneva and make a misery of the WTO working party's required review of national legislation.
It is no less important that parliaments of WTO member States follow the ongoing negotiations with all due attention and perseverance. We should listen to the advice of those of our negotiators who tell us that, in order to be credible in their arguments, they must be seen to be subject to genuine parliamentary oversight.
The point was made that parliamentary oversight at home keeps governments accountable, and through them, the international trade agreements they negotiate. Parliamentary involvement can also help make the trading system more transparent and inclusive, and more widely understood and supported. This could be matched at the international level where parliamentary involvement can help Governments and international organisations ensure that trade negotiations reflect the aspirations of all citizens.
Trade is no longer the exclusive domain of foreign affairs. Indeed, more and more parliaments are now requesting government trade negotiators to appear before them to debrief them and, sometimes, to receive a specific negotiating brief.
Let me conclude my remarks by saying a few words about the way forward. I think we have a universal agreement to build together a parliamentary dimension to international trade negotiations and arrangements. Parliaments are paying increased attention to these issues in their daily work and, from what we have heard from you these last two days, this trend can only accelerate and grow. At the international level, the phenomenon has grown, starting with the first meeting in Seattle which was quickly followed by others and culminating in this first global meeting.
As highlighted in the Declaration, our focus is on transparency and human-centred development. This is the perspective which we want to impress upon the future trade negotiations.
The next step in this evolution will be to organise an informal parliamentary meeting to coincide with the fourth Ministerial Conference in Qatar. I believe we agree that the IPU should take the lead and establish a preparatory mechanism. I will consult with our own Executive Committee and with relevant parliamentary assemblies and organisations with the hope of establishing such a committee later this summer. In doing so, I will also take the advice of the members of the Preparatory Committee which so ably prepared this meeting.
Beyond that, we have heard a great many suggestions for different forms of parliamentary involvement. There are those who have suggested the establishment of an official parliamentary assembly of the WTO. At the same time, many of you have recognised the role that the IPU can play by simply building on the experience gathered here in two days.
For the IPU, you have proposed that we set up a special committee within our organisation to undertake follow-up with the WTO. You have also made suggestions that we undertake studies, develop data bases for exchange of information on trade related legislation and that we strengthen our technical assistance programme for parliaments in relation to trade. The need to be specific and down-to-earth has been underlined, as well as the need for the IPU to have sufficient resources to carry out such activities.
I would like to assure you that we will study all these suggestions. We will make a full report to both the Union's governing Council later this year and to you in Doha. I hope that we should then be ready to share with you some practical proposals for action. I wish to assure you that we take follow-up seriously and that we will urge all Member Parliaments to do the same.
With these words, let me thank you all once again for your active participation in this unique event. I think we can proudly say that it has been a great success. I wish you all a safe journey back home and I hope to see you again soon, why not in Doha.