Speeches and Presentations

WTO Seventh Ministerial Conference
“The WTO, the Multilateral Trading System and the Current Global Economic Environment”

Opening Session, November 30, 2009

Hong Kong, China

Statement by Mrs Rita Lau

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development

Chair, Director General, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Afternoon.

It has been four years since we last gathered in Hong Kong for the Sixth Ministerial Conference. Our meeting this week gives us a long-awaited opportunity to get together to review the activities of the WTO and provide the necessary guidance to this institution in moving forward.

The unprecedented economic and financial crisis in the past 15 months has underlined the need for us to take a critical look at all aspects of WTO work. Pascal Lamy in his recent annual report on trade developments has identified some areas that deserve our attention. We agree with these issues and fully share the sense of urgency for improvement. In particular, we support enhancing the completeness and coherence of the information systems and the monitoring mechanisms of the WTO. The availability of comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date information on trade policy developments will facilitate Members’ evaluation of their impact on the multilateral trading system.

Over the years, we have built a system that has served us well. We must now work to ensure that the WTO remains relevant, agile and responsive to the many challenges that will confront us, be they brought by a future economic crisis or other unpredictable occurrences. We must seek ways to continue improving the functioning, efficiency, inclusiveness and transparency of the WTO. Earlier, Hong Kong, China and some other Members have joined a proposal spearheaded by India, suggesting that a deliberate process be set in train to improve the WTO. I urge other Members to join us in this endeavour. This task calls for hard work. But I am sure that with commitments and perseverance, we can make it happen.

This Conference also provides us with an opportunity to stocktake and discuss how best we can further contribute to the recovery, growth and development of the global economy. Since the onset of the crisis, the rules-based multilateral trading system and the collective surveillance by Members have averted a downward spiral of protectionism. We have seen the WTO playing its role. But as unemployment may continue to rise and the road to recovery may still be bumpy, the real stress test lies ahead.

As a true believer in free and open trade, Hong Kong, China is convinced that this remains a proven way to realize economic potential - not just for ourselves, but for all. The successful conclusion of the Doha Round in 2010 remains our top priority. Despite the efforts that we have all put in and the many political pronouncements on the conclusion of the Round, there has not yet been sufficient progress made on the ground to get us there. The milestones which have been set, have come and gone. The credibility of this organisation and the multilateral trading system is at risk. We must demonstrate to the world that the system still works and merits our continued support. Indeed, we cannot afford to miss this critical window again. I urge that we, as Ministers, should be actively engaged. We must together build on the progress made over the years, lock in the consensus, and make practical compromises to clinch the deal. This is the most important, if not the only way to ensure that this institution remains relevant and contributes to the world economy.

Thank you.

Monday, November 30, 2009