Substantive Session of the UN Economic and Social Council, New York, July 8, 1998
H. E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland
(Statement delivered on his behalf by H.E. Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson,
Director, Political Department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs)
Allow me to begin by recalling our constructive discussion on "fostering an enabling environment for development" at last year}s Substantive Session. In my statement I not only had the opportunity to emphasize the need to abolish barriers to trade, but also to observe that the increased integration of the world}s financial markets carried both promises and risks for developing countries. I expressed my concern over the threat of marginalization of many among these countries.
We have before us the challenging task to explore further the access of developing countries to world markets. Although globalization and liberalization in trade has brought prosperity and economic and social security to several countries, it has not benefitted a large part of humankind, which is still more or less excluded from active participation in world markets. It is therefore of vital importance that the benefits of the multilateral trading system are extended as widely as possible and that the particular trade interests and development needs of developing countries are taken into account. This applies especially to the least developed countries, as demonstrated at the High-level Meeting on the problems of these countries in Geneva last year.
The Special High-Level Meeting of ECOSOC with the Bretton Woods Institutions in New York on 18 April also underlined that the global financial integration should be to the benefit of all countries and all people. In my speech on behalf of the Nordic and the Baltic countries at the previous day}s meeting of the World Bank}s Development Committee in Washington D.C. I expressed our firm support of the Bank}s HIPC-Initiative and had the opportunity to commend the persistent efforts of International Financial Institutions to counter the financial crisis in Asia.
In his comprehensive Report to the Security Council on the Causes of Conflict and the Promotion of Durable Peace and Sustainable Development in Africa, the Secretary General stresses that "Long-term sustained growth in Africa will depend largely upon the capacity of Africa to diversify exports and to achieve export-led growth in manufactures alongside the production of primary commodities." I support his call for the question of eliminating trade barriers to African products to be placed on the agenda of the major industrial countries, with a view to the adoption of a common policy to be implemented on a bilateral basis and through the World Trade Organization.
The WTO has provided us with an independent institutional framework for the multilateral trading system, expanding global trade, fostering job creation, raising living-standards and thus enhancing food-security in the world. The Organization has proved to be the most effective tool to forge a real globalization in terms of trade. Negotiations have been concluded on financial services and basic telecommunications and the Information Technology Agreement is being implemented. Through this work a solid foundation has been laid for the technology-driven trading system of the 21st century.
More and more countries are becoming members of the WTO. Over thirty accession applications are now being negotiated. It is of vital importance that as many countries as possible participate in the WTO negotiations on services and agriculture mandated to begin by the year 2000. I also would like to emphasize the importance of the work programme to examine all trade issues relating to global electronic commerce, which takes into account the economic, financial and development needs of the developing countries.
As a nation heavily dependent on the utilization of natural resources, Iceland is firmly committed to the objective of sustainable development. I believe a more ambitious agenda could be pursued within the WTO and other international fora in the area of trade and the environment. Trade liberalization and environmental conservation policies must develop in harmony through multilateral cooperation, if this is to be realized.
This year the United Nations commemorate the International Year of the Ocean. My Government}s Declaration on the Year of the Ocean states, that this opportunity should be used "to increase public knowledge and understanding of the marine biosphare and the state of the world}s oceans. Through informed dialogue, nations should strive to find ways for humankind to utilize the living resources of the ocean, without diminishing the precious store of wealth handed down to each successive generation."
The interaction between economics and resource management is of paramount importance. In the Icelandic fisheries sector we have implemented the system of individual transferable fishing quotas (ITQs), in order to achieve economic objectives and to protect our resources. Our experience demonstrates that fishing industry should operate according to the principles of private enterprize and its products made to compete on the free market. There is no visible reason for approaching the fishing industry in a manner different from other economic sectors.
It is of paramount importance in this respect that government subsidies and various obstacles to free trade in marine products are eliminated alltogether, since there is a direct relationship between public subsidies and excess fishing capacity. No other single action could bring such positive results, in a short time, toward achieving sustainable development in fisheries, as would the elimination of government subsidies. These subsidies interfere with fair competition in fisheries to the detriment of those nations which export marine products. Iceland would support action to make rules on government subsidies in fisheries, preferably providing for their elimination, a special subject of discussion in connection with the next round of negotiations of the WTO.
We are all aware of the fact that the nature of development cooperation has changed considerably. The official development assistance has been supplemented with an active private sector involvement. Many developing countries now have a flourishing private sector, ready to compete in world markets. It is our task to identify the obstacles to their active participation and then remove the barriers. It is my hope that our discussion will be constructive and result in concrete actions, giving their export goods better access, easing their debt problems and enhancing the potential of the least developed among them.