Following is a speech by the Secretary for Trade and Industry, Mr CHAU Tak Hay, at the WTO in the New Millennium: Opportunities for the Business Sector today (Tuesday) : (English only)
Professor Cameron, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you to this Conference.
I am sure that the name "World Trade Organisation", or "WTO" as we call it for short, is no stranger to any of the participants in this Conference, not least because of the images of the riots and demonstrations that you saw on TV during the WTO's Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle in December last year; and because of the many recent media reports on China's application to join the WTO.
While much of the protests and radical criticism in Seattle reflected misguided perceptions of the WTO, they nevertheless underlined the need for member governments to do more to explain to their constituencies the benefits of trade liberalisation. As a small and totally open economy, we in Hong Kong do not have this problem. Our businessmen know only too well that keeping markets open is the only way to economic prosperity. The simple truth is that trade is our lifeblood. It accounts for over 200% of our GDP.
Indeed, empirical data tells us that trade expansion has sparked economic growth, created jobs and reduced poverty across the world. Over the last 50 years, during which eight rounds of multilateral trade negotiations took place, world trade increased 15-fold and world output grew 8-fold.
The WTO has played a vital role in promoting a fair and predictable international trading environment. It embodies a set of legally binding rules governing the conduct of trade in the area of goods, services, and intellectual property. This is very important, as it enables economies - large and small, and businesses - whether you are on the Fortune 500 list or an SME - to compete on a level-playing field. It guards against arbitrary trade actions, or bullying by the big boys, so to speak.
Hong Kong has always championed free trade. We firmly believe that it is in everyone's interest to start a further Round of multilateral trade negotiations. This will help bring about further trade expansion, and foster global prosperity and stability. We will thus spare no effort to re-energise the process in Geneva. It will take time, however, to rebuild the momentum for a new Round. Hard political choices will have to be made. Real flexibility will have to be shown by every member of the WTO.
Let me emphasize that it would also be wrong for us merely to dismiss the dissenting voices in Seattle as being misinformed. The labour unions, the environmentalists, the consumers lobby, etc, did have some valid reasons for their concerns. As responsible governments, we have a duty to respond to those concerns. At the same time, however, the WTO's critics should know that it is naive to blame the WTO for all of the world's ills, or to assume that it is the solution for all of the world's problems.
The WTO must also keep pace with the fast moving business world. Trade liberalisation and technological advancement have unleashed the forces of globalisation, which have radically transformed the marketplace. This means that the rules of the WTO must continue to be updated if the WTO is to remain relevant. In this regard, feedback from people such as yourselves, is most important.
I view the Conference today as a useful means to increase the awareness of Hong Kong's business and professional community of the value of the WTO. I am very pleased that we have here so many renowned experts, who will be able to share with you their views on the WTO and on the prospects for further trade liberalisation.
Another important subject of today's conference is the question of China's accession to the WTO. This subject has had a very high profile recently, partly because China is close to completing her long march towards Geneva and WTO membership, but more because of its likely impact on the world economy and, not least, on Hong Kong.
For Hong Kong, China's entry into the WTO will bring both challenges and opportunities. On balance, we have much more to gain than to fear. Because of our knowledge of the Mainland's markets, our world-class business and financial services and our excellent infrastructure, Hong Kong will be able to expand and enhance its traditional role as the gateway, the premier gateway to China.
The Hong Kong Government strongly supports China's WTO membership and looks forward to the time when China formally assumes its rightful place in the Organisation. Only then can the WTO be regarded as truly "global".
I wish you all an interesting conference and a rewarding day.
END/Tuesday, March 7, 2000