World Trade Organization:

Observations on the Ministerial Meeting in Singapore

T-NSIAD-97-92: Published: Feb 26, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 1997.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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GAO discussed the results of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) ministerial meeting in Singapore that took place in December 1996, focusing on: (1) trade liberalization; (2) implementation of Uruguay Round (UR) agreements; (3) areas of ongoing WTO negotiation; and (4) emerging trade issues that are being debated in the WTO and in other international forums.

GAO noted that: (1) the Singapore ministerial meeting produced progress toward greater trade liberalization and a continued commitment to full implementation of existing UR agreements and planned negotiations; (2) it also took the first steps in the WTO toward addressing a new generation of issues that challenge free and fair trade; (3) nevertheless, the true promise for furthering U.S. interests lies in the review, negotiation, and enforcement of commitments to be done by the dozens of WTO committees, councils, and groups, rather than in the outcome of what was the first of periodic trade minister gatherings; (4) more specifically, the United States, as well as many of our major trading partners including the European Union, Canada, and Japan, declared the ministerial meeting a success and a reaffirmation of the WTO; (5) while at Singapore, the members laid a foundation for an Information Technology Agreement that would cut tariffs on certain high-technology products; (6) the ministers were able to achieve a consensus on a final declaration that encompassed several contentious subjects despite their differences; (7) in the declaration, the ministers summarized their progress regarding implementation to date and reaffirmed their commitments to finish the "built-in agenda' of ongoing negotiations; (8) however, most of the work regarding these two areas took place earlier in committee meetings in Geneva as members prepared for Singapore: (9) finally, the ministers took steps to address some contentious new issues that were previously outside the scope of detailed trade negotiations; (10) these new issues involved transparency in government procurement, investment policy, competition (antitrust) policy, trade and the environment, and trade and labor standards; (11) after much debate, ministers agreed to language about all these issues in the declaration and in some cases they agreed to form WTO working groups to address them; (12) nevertheless, just as important to judging the success of the meeting were some things that did not happen at Singapore; (13) differences on a variety of contentious issues often seemed to divide the WTO members along developed/less developed nation lines before the ministerial, but fears of a stalemate in the talks never materialized; and (14) for example, besides the new initiatives, implementation of the Agreements on Textiles and Clothing and on Agriculture were sources of friction between members before Singapore, but they reached consensus on language for the ministerial declaration.

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