Press Release



Speech by Secretary for Commerce and Industry at APEC Ministerial Meeting


Following is the speech by the Secretary for Commerce and Industry, Mr Chau Tak Hay, on "Building Stronger Foundations: Strengthening the Multilateral Trading System" at the Twelfth Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's Ministerial Meeting in Brunei on November 12:

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of Hong Kong, China delegation, I would like to express our deepest appreciation to the Government and the people of Brunei Darussalam for the warm and generous hospitality extended to us and for the excellent and most efficient arrangements for this morning.

We are meeting here in Brunei almost one year after Seattle. Too much has already been said on why we failed in Seattle. Each and every participant in that meeting probably has his or her own theory. I am not sure I agree with all or any of it. But of one thing I am sure, I am certainly not going to repeat any of it here.

Nor am I going to dwell on the apparent inability of WTO delegations in Geneva to make much progress whether on the mandated negotiations on services and agriculture or on the rebuilding of momentum for the launch of a new Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

The fact is that the set-back in Seattle was such that we are now in a much more uncertain state in the WTO than we were in during the run-up to Seattle last year. At that time at least we were still diligently preparing for the launch of a new Round.

Right now, however, there are some in Geneva who are advocating the de-linking of the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference from the launching of a new Round, for fear that linking the two would give rise to expectations that could not be met, thus dealing the WTO yet another blow.

But I am more optimistic than that.

Hong Kong, China is still fully committed to the early launch of a new Round. We believe that we can, and must, aim for a launch next year. We believe that between now and November or early December next year, which is the latest date by which the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference must be held, there is still sufficient time for us to make adequate preparations for the launch of a new Round, provided we have the will to do so.

However, if we are to achieve that, we must be less ambitious than some of us were last year. First of all, we should drop any idea of a comprehensive Round, which unfortunately a few WTO members are still seeking.

Secondly, we must give the developing countries a reason to want to launch a new Round. This is of utmost importance since the developing countries form the bulk of the WTO membership. If they are to support a new Round, an issue of vital interest to them - the implementation of the Uruguay Round agreements must be addressed. Most developing countries justifiably believe that they have not derived the benefits which had been promised to them in the Uruguay Round. Their concerns must therefore be adequately and sympathetically dealt with.

Thirdly, we must exclude controversial and non-WTO issues, which if pursued, would have the effect of turning most developing countries against the launch of a new Round. And I am talking here about issues such as trade and labour standards, competition policy and investment.

Instead of falling once again into the trap of an unmanageable agenda, we should focus on achieving progress in areas in which it is easier to build consensus, and gradually put the building blocks together to form the agenda for a new Round. One such area is industrial tariffs. There was general support around this table last year for the inclusion of this item in the agenda, and APEC trade ministers further agreed in Darwin in June this year to start preparatory work in Geneva in the WTO. But so far progress has been disappointing. It is incumbent upon everyone of us to instruct our representatives in Geneva to energize the process.

Apart from endorsing a clear message that APEC economies are firmly committed to the early launch of a new Round, APEC can also contribute to the WTO process in another significant way - through concrete action to help enhance the capacity of developing countries for full participation in the WTO. I am encouraged that we have in front of us a strategic APEC plan as the basis for such capacity building efforts. I would like to congratulate Japan in particular for this laudable initiative.

Someone once said that a week in politics is a long time. We have most recently been reminded powerfully of the truth of this saying by an election in another part of the world. Where the WTO is concerned, we have 12 months ahead of us and that is a really really long time. We can achieve a great deal in this time, provided we have the political will to do so. And the exercise of our political will, both individually and collectively, should start here and now in APEC. We played a leadership role in the past which provided the impetus necessary for the conclusion of the Uruguay Round. APEC now has another opportunity to play such a role and I most sincerely urge all my colleagues here to seize this opportunity.

End/Monday, November 13, 2000