Statement by OPEC Secretary General to the Arab Ministerial Meeting

Delivered by Dr. Alvaro Silva Calderón, OPEC Secretary General to the Arab Ministerial Meeting in preparation for the WTO 5th Ministerial Conference. Beirut, Lebanon, 24-25 July 2003

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the organisers for inviting me to deliver this statement to this Arab Ministerial Meeting on world trade.

The first paragraph of the ‘Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization’ refers to the Parties recognising that their relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living and meeting other economic objectives, while allowing for the optimal use of the world's resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development.

And the second paragraph recognises the need for positive efforts designed to ensure that developing countries, especially the least developed ones, secure a share in the growth in international trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development.

The world economy could not function without trade. But, if trade is to be conducted on a level playing field, then it must ensure that safeguards are in place, with regard to its domination by powerful global interests.

Arab countries have a rich diversity of economic cultures, interlinked by trading systems that have evolved since the dawn of history. However, this longstanding trading heritage has been steadily marginalized by that of the established international industrial powers. The same is true in many other parts of the developing world.

A major problem within the multilateral trading system over the past two decades has been the move towards substituting the role of development with that of liberalisation. Trade liberalisation, however, should not be allowed to undermine the national policy and development objectives of the WTO.

Developing countries should have the autonomy to develop active policies that stimulate the long-overlooked supply-side of the equation i.e. those policies and policy instruments that give them the ability to diversify their economies and become more competitive.

This should be coupled with changes on the demand side, to help poorer nations gain more effective market access and equitable terms of trade for their exports.

To achieve all of this, the concepts of special and differential treatment and non-reciprocity should be enshrined in the heart of the WTO.

In particular, the concept of special and differential treatment should go beyond the provision of longer transitional periods for developing countries to implement the same rules as developed countries, and should take the form of positive bias within the rules in favour of developing countries. After all, some WTO agreements can already be regarded as being in favour of consumer countries, by carrying provisions that can have negative impacts on developing countries. Obvious examples are textile quotas, agricultural subsidies and intellectual property rights.

One special concern of OPEC — and the majority of our Members are from the Arab world — is the trade in energy services. Here we must make sure that, in the trade talks, the interests of developing countries are properly represented in such important areas as the classification of energy services, the opening-up of our markets and the transfer of technology.

We therefore welcome the activities of the WTO, in providing us with a platform for discussion on issues of such central importance to all nations, at a time when rapid social, political and economic changes are combining to reshape the world.

Therefore, as we look ahead to the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Cancun, we, as developing countries, must prepare ourselves to present our case on all the principal trading issues in a comprehensive, compelling, consistent and coordinated manner.

This is why we are meeting here in Beirut this week.

In this regard, OPEC has applied for observer status to the WTO and I, therefore, seek the support of the Arab countries in obtaining such status.

Thank you.