In the period 10-14 September 2001, the WTO has organized the third information week, already known as "Geneva Week", for non-resident delegations. The "Geneva Week" is designed to bring up to date on WTO activities those WTO Members and Observers who are unable to attend WTO meetings in Geneva. This event was organized by the WTO Secretariat with the financial support provided by the Governments of Germany, the Republic of Korea and the United States.

At the information session with regional representatives, H.E. Anda FILIP, the Ambassador of Romania, Permanent Representative to the WTO, was invited to speak about the cooperation between the members of the informal Group of "CEFTA plus" countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia) within the WTO.

WTO - Meeting with regional representatives

Intervention by
Permanent Representative of Romania to the
United Nations Office in Geneva
on behalf of CEFTA countries

Geneva, September 12, 2001

Distinguished representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to speak here today, on behalf of the current Romanian chairmanship of the CEFTA, which includes Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Slovenia, about the CEFTA Agreement, the coordination between its Signatories within the WTO and our views on the relationship between the multilateral trading system and regional agreements.

Background information on the CEFTA:

The Central European Free Trade Agreement was signed on 21 December 1992 by Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. As CEFTA is an open free trade agreement, other countries have joined the Agreement since then, namely Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria.

I should mention that two main preconditions are to be fulfilled by a country for initiating negotiations for accession to the CEFTA: the respective European country has to be a WTO Member and to have had signed an Association Agreement with the EU.

CEFTA's main objective is to promote through expansion of trade the harmonious development of the economic relations between the Parties and thus to foster the advance of their economic activities, to improve the living and employment conditions and ensure increased productivity and financial stability. All this directly comes in support of our countries' efforts to meet EU standards, particularly in the current stage of negotiations for accession to the European Union.

The aim of the Agreement is to eliminate progressively the obstacles to substantially all mutual trade of the Parties, in accordance with the CEFTA provisions and Article XXIV of the GATT 1994.

Another objective of the Agreement is to ensure fair trade between Parties and, through the removal of trade barriers, to contribute to the balanced development and expansion of world trade.

The Agreement covers industrial and agricultural products and contains general provisions which encompass rules of origin, co-operation in customs matters, internal taxation, general exceptions, security exceptions, state monopolies, payments, the rules of competitions concerning undertakings, state aid, public procurements, protection of intellectual property rights, anti-dumping, general safeguards, structural adjustment, balance of payments difficulties, re-exports and serious shortages, an evolutionary clause.

The Joint Committee of CEFTA is the joint body with competence to make recommendations and to adopt Decisions. It has been established in order to supervise and administer proper implementation of the Agreement, to exchange information and to keep under review possibility for further removal of the barriers to trade among the Parties.

When necessary, ad-hoc groups or sub-committees may be established, aimed at examining issues of interest for the well functioning of the CEFTA.

Experts' meetings, taking place regularly at the level of Directors within the Ministries in charge with foreign economic relations, have a very important role in CEFTA's functioning, acting for the accomplishment of the objectives and obligations established by the Joint Committee.

Since CEFTA was setup, there has been an established practice that Secretaries or Under-Secretaries of State in charge with foreign trade relations and Ministers of Agriculture meet annually in order to monitor the implementation of the agreement. The Prime Ministers of CEFTA countries participate in the Annual Summit, and their objective is to evaluate the results of CEFTA activities and to convey political messages on the future orientation of CEFTA.

CEFTA does not have a joint secretariat or head office. Joint Decisions are adopted within the Joint Committee by consensus, whose members are the Ministers of CEFTA countries in charge with foreign economic relations.

CEFTA and the WTO

The benefits of the multilateral trading system and of the regional trade agreements are well recognized by the CEFTA countries.

The deeper cooperation between CEFTA countries within the WTO, which practically started in 1998, has an informal character and is directed at identifying and discussing issues of common interest, drafting and presenting common statements and positions on different WTO topics, when such an approach is attainable.

As the cooperation of CEFTA countries within the WTO is of an informal and flexible nature, other WTO Members in the region, with similar interests and goals, namely Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are members of the Group, known as the "CEFTA plus" Group. This has proven to be an extremely constructive and useful exercise, which has led to "CEFTA plus" gaining a distinct voice and standing within WTO proceedings.

The experience of this cooperation has proven to be very beneficial for each and every member of the Group and the process of cooperation within the WTO has gradually improved and strengthened its feature. The CEFTA Group has established some ad-hoc rules of cooperation within the WTO, which include the following:

  • the CEFTA country having the presidency of the of the CEFTA (in conformity with the rules of procedure of the Joint Committee) in the respective year also coordinates the informal group of CEFTA countries within the WTO;
  • the main tasks of the coordinator are, among others: to organize, on ad-hoc basis the CEFTA meetings and as the case may be, to prepare drafts of common statements, to organize consultations with the EU delegation, WTO Secretariat representatives, or any other interested WTO Member;
  • certainly, each country has the right to promote and sustain its interests, there being cases where certain countries could not join the common positions and cases where some countries supplemented the common position of CEFTA by separate statements.

This kind of cooperation is facilitated by the strong commitment of each and every CEFTA country to the multilateral trading system, recognizing its benefits and obligations.

Taking into account the increasing number of the WTO informal and formal meetings and the small size of the majority of our delegations in Geneva, we believe that the existence of this kind of cooperation between CEFTA within the WTO does contribute to the facilitation of the understanding of the more and more complex WTO issues.

Being in full conformity with the WTO Agreement, CEFTA, as part of the regional integration process in Europe, is aimed at serving as a stepping stone towards multilateral liberalization.

It is obvious that the contribution of the regional agreements to the liberalization of world trade is a positive one, supporting also a better integration into the global trading system of a large number of countries.

In our view, the view of CEFTA countries, regionalism, as a tool for liberalization, has been often a source of new ideas for the multilateral initiatives, offering in the meantime basic solutions to complex issues that are at times more difficult to be resolved in a wider multilateral context.

Surely our goal must be to keep regionalism as a complement to and support for multilateralism, and to preserve the right balance between the two of them.

An important challenge facing the WTO membership is to guarantee that regionalism and multilateralism converge in their objectives and aspirations, ensuring that regional efforts are directed towards fulfillment of the multilateral goals.

Regional trade agreements, as a complement to the multilateral liberalization, can also help countries - particularly developing countries and transition economies - build on their comparative advantages and strengthening their economies.

It is obvious that we need stronger and larger global rules, wider and more open markets, in order to ensure that the development goals of all countries are best served by a strong and forward-moving WTO.

While regionalism is a positive force, both politically and economically, providing an important complement to the multilateral system, it cannot be a substitute for it.

This is the reason why the CEFTA Group of countries considers that we need to push hard for a new round to be launched in Doha, as the surest way to secure the convergence of the regional and multilateral interests.

Within this context, we need to find new and creative ways to channel the energy of regional arrangements into multilateral negotiations. A possible answer to this question might be the one presented here today about the creative cooperation between CEFTA countries within the WTO, aimed at strengthening the multilateral trading system.

Thank you all for your attention.

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